Telling my story through Saffron

Telling my story of immigration and cultural displacement was the driving force behind the creation of the Saffron series. This little 9 year old know it all travels the world with her family. Described as hilarious, quirky and spirited Saffron was a joy to write and a great company as I was also travelling the world with my young family.

Her insights, her humour and her ability to always get into tricky situations while visiting different cultures was something that I wanted to share with young children who may have never been exposed to other cultures and customs.  Being an author/illustrator in New Zealand also  gave me the opportunity to visit many schools in the Auckland area and talk to sons and daughters of immigrant parents. It was my pleasure and delight to meet all these young children who were so welcoming of my thick Spanish  accent and so eager to share their own family stories of immigration into New Zealand.

Meet my little Saffron’s family :

These are: Sage, Mum, Star Anise and Saffron. Illustration by Victoria Martinez Azaro

Saffron in Taiwan.

Saffron eating Yum Cha

Saffron in trouble in Siena, completely lost!!!!

 

So To learn more about Saffron go here

We teach best what we need to learn…

I have been telling my immigration story for the last 22 years. In different formats and through different vehicles I have been re creating my immigration realities and supporting my own identity transformation. My self representation and self identity has been an on going process which has gone through many different stages.

However, in the process of documenting my story as a way of understanding my new surroundings and my own journey as an immigrant in New Zealand I realized that the sense of lack that was with me all the time came from the lack of belonging… a lack of community around me… a lack of family…a lack of warmth from an extended group of caring people. Realizing and accepting this truth was not easy, but as I was processing my AHA moment I was writing “The traveling sewing box project” as a way of sharing, teaching and coming together to fill that void that unfortunately happens when we leave our family and everything that is familiar to us behind.

My story is a positive story, is a story of growth, a story of transformation and appreciation. It is my mission to create safe and encouraging spaces for immigrant women to get together and support each other in their own immigration journeys while sustaining and preserving their own culture, speaking their own native language and documenting their migrating realities in an ongoing piece of cloth.

It is with great pride and appreciation that I share this video of the first “Travelling sewing box project” which was implemented in association with ALAC in Hamilton New Zealand with a wonderful group of women from Colombia.

 

How the travelling sewing box is changing lives

Photo by: Sebastian Vidal Bustamante

When I first came up with this project, my intention was simple: To provide a safe and warm space for Latin American immigrant women in NZ to tell their stories, to share their journeys of migration and to sustain their language while stitching their  memories into a piece of cloth that keeps growing and extending.

What I didn’t expect was to witness the transformation that would take place within the group and within the women themselves as the project evolved from week to week. I know first hand that when you arrive in a  new country, no matter the surrounding circumstances, you are forced to evolve, develop and review your position in the world. In my case this generated a main shift in my own identity which created a horrible sense of dislocation, disengagement and an identity crisis which took me many years to overcome. This project gave me the opportunity to make other women’s journeys a little bit better and to share my own story of migration with them.

It was very moving for me to witness all the energies in motion as these women stitched their lives into our cloth. It was very moving also to experience that the stories and memories which were being stitched were creating new memories as the craft process was happening, and in doing so, new connections were being made, new processes were being learned and new possibilities were being conceived in front of all our eyes.

It was a privilege to work with these women, it was a privilege to work with ALAC and its wonderful team and a fantastic start to the cloth that will keep extending, will keep growing and will keep travelling as the travelling sewing box project travels from city to city in NZ and beyond!

Meet the amazing group of Latin American immigrant women from Hamilton, NZ. Wow, what a fantastic, talented and committed group of women.

 

The group working together, connecting individual stories into a bigger community piece.

 

Stories of migration

“The travelling sewing box project ” has another fabulous day. I am speechless at the talent, the dedication, the passion and the respect that these women have towards each other’s journeys and the commitment to make their dreams come true in their new adopted land!

It’s with utmost respect that I share these images! 

Travelling sewing box project – Hamilton 2018

 

Women stitching their lives through cloth

What a treat! We launched the first “Travelling Sewing Box” in partnership with ALAC. It was so fantastic to meet these courageous Latin American immigrant women who spent the day sharing their immigration stories with me, we smiled together, we laughed together, we were sad together and we certainly stitched together.  What a fantastic experience for us all.

A big thank you to our sponsors Ingrid Starnes for donating their workroom waste and Fabric Merchants/Drapers for donating the backing fabric. Also, a big thanks to the Fashion Department at Whitecliffe  College of Arts and Design for donating their own studio waste. We are re purposing all the textile waste by giving it another lease of life, treating each little piece of fabric with respect and love and definitely saving it from landfill. We couldn’t do it without you!!!!!

How to tell a story through fashion, craft and textiles

A very clever lady called Mandy, told me yesterday that we teach best what we most need to learn. This really resonated with me since I have a passion to help people tell their stories through fashion, textiles and crafts but I feel that for the last many years I haven’t been telling mine.

Flowers, marigold and dyers chamomile

The need to document my physical existence in this world has been a burning driving force behind my creative practice since I emigrated from my home country more than twenty years ago.  However, this has taken many different formats in terms of output. For a while there, I decided to stay home and look after my children and as I fell in love with the spontaneous and creative ways of  children’s inner world I  got immersed in children’s literature. The Saffron series  was a very happy experience which allowed me to work in different schools around New Zealand drawing,  writing, sharing stories and creating imaginary scenarios with little minds.

Sketch book, Victoria Martinez Azaro

My illustrations were obviously very much embedded of my fashion style of drawing and because I was mainly collaging and composing through mixed media I started doing the same with textiles. It was then that I became passionate in using waste to collage my everyday life with meaningful objects. The love of natural dyeing and repurposed waste expanded as the years went by and as I became more and more aware of fashion sustainability issues.

Naturally dyed yarn and work in progress, Victoria Martinez Azaro

So, as I am about to launch the first pilot of the “Travelling Sewing Box Project” in association with ALAC, in which we will create a community textile piece which will depict social narratives and memories of immigrant women in Aotearoa New Zealand, I will also be narrating my own personal stories through my textiles and will be sharing them through this blog.

How to change the world a stitch at a time?

All my life I have been involved in the fashion industry in one way or another, but I always felt that I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t contributing enough.  I guess that’s what created this passion I have for teaching since I feel its a way of passing on knowledge and facilitating the environment for people to learn and absorb knowledge.

Immigrant women series by Victoria Martinez Azaro

That passion to contribute has been the guiding force behind “the travelling sewing box project”. I am happy to say that in association with ALAC we are launching the first workshop in Hamilton New Zealand. We are all very excited and I will be posting the progress here.

The project involves a travelling sewing box and its journey around Aotearoa-New Zealand to wherever a Latin American group of women is located. The travelling sewing box contains sewing materials donated by the local fashion industry as well as second hand items gathered from the community. Local materials from Aotearoa – New Zealand will also be introduced as a link to the New Zealand environment. Different kinds of wool yarns sustainably and naturally dyed with local materials will be explored in combination to textiles, yarns and dyes which originate from Latin America as a vehicle to celebrate cultural background as well as to develop strong connections with the richness and variety of the new adopted country. Through the process of making and understanding personal and community history through textile craft, women will be given a safe space to foster a strong identity within a cohesive and resilient community of women through empowerment and empathetic relationships.

Participants will have the opportunity to work with materials to sew, stitch/decorate and create by using their own cultural background and creativity to design their own work (they can also bring along their own materials if they desire) that will be part of a major piece of art, seemingly the construction of social tissue and strengthening communities on the basis of common cultural values, aspirations, experiences and lessons in the context of the never ending journey of migration.

The travelling sewing box is a celebration of participants’ cultural backgrounds, life journeys and memories through any particular crafts inherent to their own culture and language.

How has the New Zealand Fashion scene contributed to make this possible? Well, Ingrid Starnes has donated her workroom waste, Fabric Merchants/Drapers has donated rolls of fabric and Charles Parsons has donated off cuts and workroom waste. Its  a fantastic thing when one’s industry is so supportive and keen to work together to welcome Latin America immigrant women into Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The Travelling Sewing Box Project ©

Cloth with Memory

A project created by Victoria Martinez Azaro

As an immigrant myself, this project is very close to my heart and its main objective is to give immigrant women a voice and a sense of participation within society by giving them a space to slowly stitch their thoughts and feelings on a  piece of cloth while talking and sitting around other women in a safe and supportive environment.

flyer alac blog

Natural dyeing. The process behind the label

 

Five years after typhoon Haiyan, weavers from Basey, Philippines are still weaving their lives together.

 

Viahera stands for fairly made, fairly sourced and above all ethically produced accessories.The process is the base foundation of Viahera’s products and naturally dyed plant fibres are used to create beautiful accessories like scarves and bags.

In her own words, designer Jeanny Buan explains the process and here is what she says:

  1. The process starts with harvesting the raw material- pandan, abaca or tikog when it reaches the proper maturity. Younger plants are not used as they tend to be shorter and softer.
  2. Removal of thorns- the sides of the leaves are manually sliced off, leaving just the middle part.
  3. Drying- Depending on the weather, the leaves are sun dried between 2-7 days. The hotter it is, the faster it dries up. This poses a problem during typhoon season (end of May- September) as the weavers cannot constantly dry the raw material
  4. Flattening/ pounding manually using flat sticks- the dried leaves are manually pounded and flattened using logs of wood in order to prepare for weaving
  5. Drying- 2nd drying process that can take 2-7 days depending on the weather
  6. Plant based dyeing process- the dried leaves are submerged in dye. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
  7. Drying- Dyed leaves are sun dried for the third time
  8. Flattening- To ensure that the consistency of the thickness and width is the same, the dyed leaves are flattened again and then cut into equal portion of strands
  9. Weaving- Once the weavers have lined up the dried and dyed leaves, the make the designs according to Viahera’s requirement

An experienced weaver holding freshly harvested tikog grass

SCARF DYE

  1. Plant based dyes are manually planted in a local farm in the Philippines such as indigo, turmeric, mahogany and cogon grass
  2. Dye is extracted by boiling the leaves, barks of trees or the plant itself
  3. Natural yarns made from pineapple fibers or organic Philippine cotton is soaked in the dye- detailed ikat dyeing discussed below
  4. Yarns are air dried
  5. “Warping” is done with hands- this is the process where the yarn is stretched on a loom to ensure the tightness before the weft is manually weaved, this is the first stage of the weaving process.
  6. Heddling and Reeding- Two of the most crucial parts of a loom is the heddle and reed. The heddle allows the warp thread to be separated so the weft can be added while the reed looks like a comb, which is used to push the weft in between the threads during the weaving process. Instead of using a loom, the threads from our scarves are manually inserted one by one.
  7. Weaving- once the heddling and reeding is done and the design is finalizes, it is then tightened using a loom.

 

IKAT

Ikat is a beautiful dyeing process which is widely seen in South Asian and South American countries. It is a dyeing technique where bundles of yarn is wrapped or tied together and dyed as many times as it needs in order to come up with the desired pattern. Unlike other dyeing techniques where the dye is applied to the fabric already after woven, ikat is a process where dye is applied BEFORE the yarn is woven together.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is then sun dried between 2-10 days depending on the weather. After it has dried, the thread is lined up together to form the desired pattern.

Ikat weaving

 

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