November 22, 2016
It is an honor to share with you a post written by a friend and maker movement champion, Kate Murray. Kate is on a multi-continent trek with husband Alex, which began in Austin, Texas in August, 2o16. Her journey has allowed her to take in and learn about makers all over the world, and from that perspective, she shares her thoughts here on diversity, cultural history, equity, and how, ultimately, we are all connected as one people who make things. I am absolutely in love with her ability to tell rich and inspiring stories about the people she meets and hope this post is but one of many that we get to share with you here. On a tiny island off the eastern coast of Panama, an old woman named Oti sits fused into a couch. She is small and frail by all accounts, and disappears among the folds of fabric that are so accustomed to her presence. In front of her stands a TV whose display crackles with grey, behind her an array of colorful goods, and between her hands a creation she has been working on for eight months. In the detailed movements of her fingers, amidst needle and thread, all thoughts of feebleness dissipate – they are expert, skillful movements. My Spanish was poor as I asked her questions about her life and craft – the two of which are intimately intertwined. Despite my simple words, Oti communicated clearly about her process and her motivations for creating. Layers of fabric and intricate stitching take on various forms – headbands, patches, wall hangings, hot mittens, molas (blouses) – all depicting her various interpretations of the life that surrounds her. A bird represents the spirit of the human heart, an octopus the plenty of the sea and ability to provide. The intricate and colorful designs are all based on the patterns which the indigenous Guna Yala women used to paint on their bodies, before textiles arrived with the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. That’s right – these beautiful, geometric designs sewn together in reverse application have been a part of the Guna traditions for over 500 years. Oti learned her craft and style from her grandmother – and her grandmother did the same. At 77, Oti is now teaching the very same techniques to her own grandchildren. The creations of all the Guna women and “algunos hombres” – some men – carry the stories, perspectives, and traditions of a people that have persevered through numerous attempts at subjugation… but who have prevailed independent time and time again. Oti is a maker, though she’s never heard the term. And she’s not the first or last to say so. Oftentimes the mindset around “making” as a culture seems unfamiliar to many true makers that I meet. “Maker” is a word strongly associated with high-tech gadgets and surrounded by proprietary information and limited access. The “maker culture” itself is, in fact, commonly considered a technology-focused branch of the DIY movement.