Rolling Back Time; Rolling out the Yarn

Without donations of cotton yarn, weavers will be unable to continue making natural dyed textiles

This pandemic is changing things in Indonesia’s natural dye weaving communities that may affect the future of Threads of Life. If you look at our old Field Notes you can read about how, in the early days of our work, it was arduous to access many of the remote communities. Back then, roads were in disrepair, rented cars broke down often, or we had to walk much of the way when bridges had collapsed. Over recent years, we have seen local governments investing in the infrastructure of roads and electricity, and the cost of living has increased everywhere as the economy has generated more jobs and better salaries. The pandemic is putting a strain on these improvements and given this year’s La Nina-driven monsoon, heavy rains, floods and erosion will strain infrastructure and begin to isolate communities once again.

This last week we asked our Timorese field staff, Willy Daos Kadati, to visit some of the weavers’ communities to purchase textiles. It took him two days to find a driver who would risk going outside of their own district, given Covid and the Covid measures taken by regional and local governments to restrict who comes in and who goes out. After finding a driver, they had only gone three hours from Kefamenanu before the car broke down. For over a year, the driver had only taken local journeys and had never put more than 75 cents of gas in his car at a time. So when Willy paid for a full tank of gas, rust that had formed in the upper part of the tank was drawn into the engine and the car died. The driver (or rather Threads of Life) had to replace the tank, and they had to wait all day for it to be installed before they could go on. When they finally arrived in Soe, having not eaten all day, they found all places to eat were closed.

We are sure that Willy will have other adventures before he is done with this trip, but what we already know is that there will be problems with cotton yarn supplies. The cotton yarn sold in Timor comes from China, and there have been no cotton imports since the pandemic started. Local prices have already trebled and 100% cotton threads are necessary to make high quality natural dyed textiles. With the pandemic driven loss of income, weavers are struggling to pay for these cotton threads and are abandoning traditional natural-dyed work completely.

Threads of Life will have to send cotton yarn to weavers so that they can continue working. However, over the years we have learned that it is better to sell the yarn at cost to the weavers than to give it as an advance. Especially at a time like this, using yarn as an in-kind advance can create three problems. The first problem is that financial need can lead weavers to sell textiles that we made an advance for to the first potential buyer they meet (and at a discount since they did not buy the yarn). The second issue is that a significant advance always reduces the quality of the textiles produced: accurately gauging that we will need to buy what they make to get our investment back, weavers tend to be less concerned with quality control when we make a big advance. The third problem is that, even assuming no such losses, advancing yarns to a meaningful number of weavers will stretch our current finances.

Giving yarn to weavers as a Covid-support donation rather than as a deposit would immediately overcome the first two of these problems. Better than direct financial aid, in-kind yarn donations will yield many times their value when a weaver sells a textile to Threads of Life or one of their other customers. To overcome the third issue, however, Threads of Life will need your support.

A donation of USD 35 will buy one pack of cotton yarn and ship it to weavers in Timor. This can be used to make textiles that are worth over USD 300 to the weavers.

Support our cotton yarn donation program by making a gift through the Bebali Foundation.