In the wetlands of Northern Colombia, where lush green marshy landscape is home to diverse wildlife, the ‘palma estera’ grows in wild and farmed pockets. In and around the small fishing town of Chimichagua, the palm is a unique species to this region of Colombia and has always been used by local people to weave everyday practical objects.
The native indigenous Chimila people first wove the palm for use as a sleeping mat, and as time went by and other ethnic groups began to move to the region, Afro-Colombians living on or close to the coast and ports of Colombia found refuge in the tranquility of this beautiful area and the access to water and therefore fish – an essential and familiar food. As these communities from different ethnic groups began to mix, the once simple and practical weaving of the palm, began to become more decorative, plant dyes were used and more complex patterns and motifs began to emerge.
While some of the traditional plant dyes are still used, when we first visited the town the majority of the weavings were done with synthetic dyes due to the demand for bright highly decorative pieces in Colombia.
Local palm harvested, simple wooden looms constructed by the women themselves and a weaving technique passed down from their indigenous ancestors and further developed by their afro-Colombian ancestors.
We loved some of the traditional patterns and the muted tones of the natural plant dyes they occasionally now used, we also saw the potential to incorporate our own designs and wanted to encourage the use of natural local dyes – partly because we loved the colours and more importantly because we saw this as a fading art, and knowing it was a far more sustainable and safe option for the women to be working with daily.
The palm itself has a rough finish when woven and the natural dyes come with slight variations in colour throughout the piece. In honour of this beautiful natural material and process, our unique collections have been designed and named with the natural world and its elements as inspiration.
Weaving in this community is so embedded into daily life, looms are mounted in the front or back of houses, natural dyes are left to ferment in the earth in the gardens of these women, and dyed palms hang in every shady corner of their home waiting to be woven.
Having worked with these weavers, this fibre and theses dyes intensely over the last year and a half we now feel particularly connected to these pieces, knowing each one communicates the stories of peoples, cultures, fibres and plants, they represent through their aesthetic, history and process a beautiful connection to the natural world and the diversity of both culture and wildlife in this magical region.