I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘stans—Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Growing up, the names fascinated me. According to World Atlas, the suffix "stan" is an ancient Persian or Farsi word meaning country, nation, or land of.

As an adult, I was intrigued by them as homes of a wealth of textile techniques—stunning ikats, beautiful suzanis, hand-knotted carpets, felted rugs, and much much more.

A few weeks ago, on my way home from work, I was delighted to learn that my uber driver was an Uzbek. We spoke of the beautiful textiles of Uzbekhistan. Together we counted off the ‘stan’s. Was it five? Or seven? Seven. He nodded emphatically—seven.

But here I am, looking at book entitled Kaitag: Daghestani Silk Embroidery—another ‘stan? Why had I not heard of it before?

Brightly colored mythical beasts swarmed the glossy book cover. How could I have not known about this fabulous form of embroidery?

It was time to investigate the republic of Daghestan, part of the Russian Federation. It was time to take a virtual journey through the Caucuses Mountains, to learn of this Kaitag embroidery. Another article for WARP (Weave A Real Peace ) in the making.

Omar's Shop

This was my first time striding purposefully through the alleyways in the Old City of Jerusalem. During previous visits, I’d always strolled along taking in the sights and smells of the bustling market surrounding me, peeking into a pottery shop here, stopping into a textile shop there, pausing to breathe in the aroma of herbs and spices.

But this time was different—we were headed to Omar’s shop.

Jonathan, my older brother, knew it wouldn’t take much to convince me. “He has fabulous textiles, traditional ones, not like the newer shops—you’ll love it.”


As an ethnic textile aficionado and collector, it wasn’t a question of going or not going, it was a matter of timing—how soon could we go?

It took a couple of years, but we finally made it to Jerusalem, to Omar’s shop. I waited impatiently at the entrance to the shop as Omar and his brothers greeted Jonathan enthusiastically. Finally, it was time to cross the threshold.

As soon as we entered, my eyes popped out. Piles of pillow covers saturated with Palestinian embroidery, Druze designed place mats in earth tones. And what was this, suzanis? Pillow covers, wall hangings, embellished with the chain stitch embroidery in the Uzbek tradition. What were they doing in the region, in the Old City of Jerusalem? How did they get here?

Omar displaying a gorgeous suzani.

Omar displaying a gorgeous suzani.

After Jonathan told Omar of my interest in ethnic textiles, he pulled me away from the entrance to his shop, to guide me into a well lit interior. I forgot to breathe—wherever I turned, I saw stunning textiles. Even more spectacular suzanis, lively block-printed wall hangings from Persia, Indian mirror-work, and so much more.

Mouth agape, my gaze swept back and forth, not knowing where to start, until a pile of suzani pillow covers caught my eyes and held them. Unlike those in the entrance to the shop, these were silk on silk, the embroidery even, the yarns variegated in color… natural dyes? I was mesmerized.

I turned to Omar. “I don’t understand—these aren’t locally made.”

He smiled and nodded. “Suzani, from Uzbekistan.” then added, “You know textiles. Sit down and I will bring to you.”

And boy, did he. He disappeared into yet another room in the back and came back, laden with a pile of folded suzanis. He spread one gorgeous textile after the other at my feet. I gasped at each one. The colors… the designs…

The bigger ones, the most exquisite ones, cost more than a thousand dollars. Perhaps one of the smaller ones. But no, though less expensive, the prices were in the hundreds. Perhaps… No. I couldn’t. I’d set myself a one hundred dollar limit when we set out on our trip. I tried to rationalize—I could justify two hundred if I promised myself not to buy anything else. But I’d originally come here for Palestinian embroidery… Perhaps... No. There was no way I was walking out of here without a piece of Palestinian embroidery.

Omar saw my struggle. “I have some pillow covers you might like.”

He trotted out to the back room, and returned with his arms laden with beautiful suzani embroidered pillow covers. I breathed a sigh of relief—I’d be happy with a couple of those.

After choosing two of them, Omar unrolled a rug out on the floor. “You know textiles. Where is this from?”

I took a close look. “It looks like a Berber rug from the Atlas mountains in Morocco, but the design is not traditional.”

Omar beamed. “That’s right. It’s a modern design.”

I could see Jonathan beaming too. With pride?

I wandered around the shop, admiring the ikat woven coats from Uzbekistan. I looked at the prices and turned away. Maybe on my next visit.

I noticed a pile of the Palestinian embroidered pillow covers in the front room. I pawed through them but couldn’t find what I wanted. I approached one of Omar’s brothers and pointed to them. “Do you have better quality ones?”

Like Omar, he went into the back room. He approved of my choices. “You have good eye.”

I came away with four stunning pillow cases, a Persian wall hanging, a book about Palestinian embroidery written by Omar’s father, a goofy smile on my face, and the conviction that I’ll be stopping by on my next visit to Israel.



When I wore skirts or dresses, I walked differently, my hips swayed more, it was almost a floating sensation, as if… as if I was a girl.I felt awkward, ungainly, like I didn't quite fit in the role, like I wasn't myself.

I haven’t worn one in more than a decade. When I needed to dress up, I usually wore a nice top with slim fitting black pants, occasionally harem pants.

And now, I wanted to wear a skirt. I needed a skirt.

I was off to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where I was to interview several of the artists, two of whom were Muslim. I thought that by wearing more modest clothing, i.e. a skirt rather than a pair of pants, or, worse, a pair of shorts, I’d reduce potential causes of unease. I also regarded it as a way of showing respect.

It was time to go shopping--one of my least favorite activities.  I wanted something that didn’t restrict me too much, not too expensive either. This was a one-time deal. Made in India should do the trick. Not an Indian wraparound skirt—I never liked those. A broomstick skirt, perhaps. But not too long—I didn’t want to get tangled up in it and trip.

I was surprised at the one I chose, the one that felt right. It was made in India, it was the right length—mid-calf. It had an elastic waist and gave me a full range a motion. And it was soft. But it was sparkly. I didn’t wear sparkly. Ever. This one had sequins. And it jingled with my every step, with each sway of my hips.

I loved it. It felt good. It felt right. As if a side of me that had been hidden for too long had resurfaced. I bought it. I also bought a feminine top to go with it.

The morning of the interviews arrived. I pulled the sparkly skirt off the hanger and the top out of the suitcase. I chose the most stretchy bra I could find—I had to find comfort wherever I could find it. Next knickers. I had a choice of Thor, Spiderman, or Superman. The choice was clear—superman. The Thor and Spiderman underwear were covered in comics. The Superman underwear just had the emblem on the front. I could be Superwoman under my feminine finery. In my mind I could be flying around, one arm outstretched the other bent at the elbow, toes pointed, one leg straight the other bent at the knee, and my skirt streaming behind me.

Yup. That would work. With a goofy grin on my face all residual doubts about wearing the skirt disappeared. Not only could I do this, but I would actually enjoy it, wholeheartedly.

The King and I

Hand towel to the king

Hand towel to the king

Rinzin pointed at her mother, Leki. “She’s a weaver to the king.”

Leki nodded and smiled. She didn’t speak English.

My friendship with Rinzin Wangmo, began in the summer of 2006 at a weaving conference, where Rinzin and Leki were selling their gorgeous handwoven textiles. Apparently, Leki is well known in Bhutan for her weaving. (She is a master weaver.)


The next time I saw them was the following summer. I was in Pheonix for a consultation with Dr. Spetzler, my soon to be neurosurgeon. Rinzin and Leki passed through there after participating in the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. They just happened to be holding a trunk show shortly after my consultation. They had heard of my ill health from a mutual friend, and had lit butter lamps for me in their local (Buddhist) temple.

The textiles were fabulous, all woven by either Leki or Rinzin. But one stood out from the rest--an exquisite silk piece that Leki had woven on a backstrap loom. before Rinzin opened it up all the way, I thought it was a table runner--it was more than two and a half yards in length, beautifully patterned with stupas and human figures, Buddhist monks perhaps. Apparently, Leki had originally woven it as a Hand Towel to the King, intending to present itto the (fourth) king. I couldn’t begin to to imagine anyone drying their hands on it, royal or otherwise.

Between the beauty of the piece and the story that went with it, I had to buy it.

Only recently, more than nine years since I purchased the Hand Towel to The King, did Rinzin tell me why I got the towel and not the king. Apparently, Leki needed money for that trip to the U.S. so she brought it with her for sale instead of presenting it to Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan.

Ah... the king and I.

P.S. Druk Gyalpo means "Dragon King," which is the title that all five of Bhutan’s kings have held. An apt title for the kings of Bhutan, also known as Drukyul, or "Land of Dragons." (The people of Bhutan call themselves the Drukpa, meaning "Dragon people.")

P.P.S. Given the timing, Leki must have planned to present the piece to the fourth king just before he abdicated in favor of the current king, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

To Market

The only direction that remained open was behind me. I wriggled through gaps in the crowd until I found myself against the railing at the back of the stage. A tad disappointed I wouldn't see the parade of nations as they made their way along the street, I took in my surroundings--the railing marked the boundary between me and a ramp to the stage.

Tuareg jewler

Tuareg jewler

Here I was, in a prime spot to watch the parade for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. I was within an arm’s length of artisans from Italy, France, Laos, India, Ghana, and Vietnam. I was close enough to see details of their traditional costumes, translucent pina cloth from the Philippines, indigo dyed jackets from Nigeria and Thailand, and colorful bhandani shawls from India.

The next morning, before I entered the market, I promised myself I would act with restraint, unlike the last time I attended the folk art market. I'd only get a sample of pina and adire cloth, kantha embroider, and perhaps... what else did I need?

I wandered around, entering textile booths to examine the wares more closely. I kept performing the “weaver’s handshake,”  fingering hand woven cotton robes, fondling flowing silk scarves, running my hand over knotted-pile rugs. I breathed in the scent of indigo dyed cotton and caught whiffs of sericin emanating from handwoven silk.

I bought samples of textiles I wanted to write about, a chikan embroidered napkin, a handwoven table runner from Mynamar, and an adire cloth tote.  I splurged on two items—an oh-so-soft indigo dyed jacket from Laos with classic H’mong embroidery on the sleeves, and a gorgeous machine embroidered white blouse from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec.

I also bought a suzani embroidered wall hanging and an origami cap from Uzbekistan. Oh, also a felted cap from one of the other ‘Stans. And yes, a piece a of kantha embroidery. And a… I know there was something else.

But there was so much I could have bought and didn’t. Beautiful Mexican rugs, indigo dyed vests, hand embroidered huipiles, and handwoven jackets. I would have loved to buy one of Fofana's indigo dyed garment. And I managed to resist the Tuareg jewelry, consoling myself by having my picture taken with the artisan.

When it got too hot, I entered the folk art museum to cool down, where I spent more money, in the bookstore. I bought two books on textiles. Or was it three?

So yes, I came away with a much lighter wallet and a much fuller suitcase. But I had such a fabulous time indulging in two of my favorite vices—textiles and books.

Dare I attend next summer's market?


I hold up the bag. “How much?”

Saturnino holds up four fingers. “Fifty.”

Shocked by his answer, I shake my head. “That's not enough. Fifty is too low.”


I look to Hedy who is sharing a table with the Oncebays. Unlike me, she speaks Spanish. “No. Más.”

Saturnino looks at me askance. I nod. “Más.”

He turns to Vilma, his younger sister. After a brief whispered exchange. He turns back to me. “Eighty.”

I make eye contact with Vilma, who speaks no English whatsoever. “Okay, eighty.”

Saturnino points at her. “He... she make embroidery. I weave.”

I was attending a WARP annual meeting. WARP, an acronym for Weave A Real Peace, is an organization that fosters a global market network of enthusiasts who value the importance of textiles to grassroots economies.


I'd been meandering around the vendor hall, when the Oncebays' table caught my eye—Vilma's three dimensional embroidery on Saturnino's hand-woven fabric. Ants marching across bags, crocodiles engaged in... Combat? Conversation? I had to have one.

But the price Saturnino had quoted was far too low. If that had been my work, I would have been insulted. It didn't even begin to do the work justice.

I strongly believe in fair trade. I'll happily pay a couple extra dollars for fair trade coffee and twenty or more dollars for a beautiful ceramic bowl in a fair trade shop. But I have a particular weakness for ethnic textiles.

As a textile artist myself, I am very much aware of the difficulties in pricing handmade items, let alone works of art. How do you put a price on years of study, hours of hand-weaving and needlework? How do you measure skill? How do you place a value on invaluable work?

But I saw much more than skill, time, and effort in that lovely embroidered bag.

The Oncebays are indigenous textile artisans from Peru, who replicate textile techniques of ancient Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. The entire Oncebay family was involved in the making of the bag, in spinning the yarn, natural dyeing, weaving, and needlework. Every step in its creation was steeped in tradition and history.

Textiles are an important component of the human experience. Their history gives us a frame of reference—how can we know who we are without referring back to our past, who we were? We can't afford to lose our textile traditions.

Like many indigenous artisans, their work is their sole source of income. I want to encourage people like the Oncebays to continue their important work and enable them to earn a living through it.

When I handed Vilma the eighty dollars, I was sending a clear message that I value her work and all it represented. Perhaps I should have offered her ninety or a hundred.

After I left their table, the Oncebays raised their prices, and despite the price increases, their gorgeous textiles sold well—I was among like-minded people, members of WARP.

Flying High

Here I sit in the U.S. at my computer, yesterday my thoughts were on Ghana, today, I dream of Haiti.

I researched weaving in Morocco and the Philippines, and studied embroidery in Thailand and India. In Scotland, I learnt about kilt hose, and in Panama I found molas, the colorful reverse applique of the Kuna Indians.

When I mentioned a couple of my trips to a friend, he asked me when I got back. I laughed—I don’t travel in person. I wish I could.

I write articles about textile techniques from around the world. And now I’m working on a book, each chapter based on one of those articles. I have fabulous photos of the textiles. But I have none of the artisans at work. I want, I need such photos. For the book. For myself.



I wish I could travel as much as I do virtually. I would like to go to Morocco and hang out with some of the Berber rug weavers. If I could only watch the Jalq'a weavers of Bolivia in person, there's so much I want to ask them. To be able to get an up close look the double ikat weaving in Patan, India... I’d love to visit my friends in Bhutan, one of whom was a weaver to the king.

Marilyn shook her head. “But the altitude...”

But— But— I’ve wanted to go for so long. I was planning to go within the next few years. I hadn’t thought of the altitude. That ruled out Ayacucho and Cusco in Peru as well, both places I wish I could explore, where I have friends.

I was in the highlands of Guatemala when I suffered my acute brain bleeds. According to many members of the Angioma Alliance, high altitudes can trigger bleeds. Some members won’t travel by plane for fear of hemorrhaging.

I refuse to give up on traveling. It’s an important part of my life. I fly to visit friends and family in Israel at least once a year. Colorado is another of my regular destinations. A few months ago, I was in New Mexico. My brother lives in Massachusetts. I’m long past due a trip to England. And Iceland sounds good, as does Laos, and Ghana, and New Zealand, and, and...

Yes there’s a danger of a bleed, and travel is beyond exhausting fatigue exacerbated my deficits. But…

Maybe I won’t go to Peru, and hold off on Bhutan. But I will go back to Santa Fe in February, and Israel in March, and Iceland… sometime. I just have to watch myself, to pick and choose.

Most of the time I'm fine about giving up on my dreams of travel, but whenever I work on one of my textile articles, I feel a brief twinge. Then I remember the shemagh (or keffiya) that Ghofran brought me from Saudi Arabia, the piece of Assisi embroidery that Matteo found for me in Italy, and the gorgeous shawl Poonam sent me from India. And I realize, that really I'm very lucky. When I travel vicariously through friends and family, I feel fulfilled, especially when I know they've been thinking of me. I can feel the goofy smile on my face as I listen to them recount their adventures as they searched for the glorious textile they just presented to me.

There's something about a thoughtful gift from a good friend accompanied by a story that counteracts all the twinges in the world.

The How of Weaving

I am a weaver.

My loom is a support mechanism that holds everything together until the entire piece is woven. When I finish weaving, the fabric becomes an entity unto itself, no longer requiring support. I then free it from its temporary support, the loom.

My loom.jpg

The warp, the lengthwise threads that stretch along the loom, front to back, forms the foundation of the fabric. Warping the loom includes all the preparation to create a strong foundation. An effectively warped loom ensures that the weaving will proceed smoothly, resulting in a woven cloth that not only holds together, but is also beautiful.

Many weavers feel that preparing the foundation is tedious, but I’ve always enjoyed it. Yes, warping the loom requires several steps, some of which can be frustrating, and the potential for mistakes is always high, but I always reveled in the challenge of the trickier steps and found peaceful meditation in the more tedious ones. I might make a mistake or more along the way, but the mistakes are usually easily remedied.

When I warp my loom, I attach one end of the warp threads across the width of the back of the loom and tie the other end of the threads to the front of the loom, while creating an even tension across the warp. Between the back and the front of the loom, the warp threads follow a journey that determines the pattern in the weaving. I guide the warp threads through this journey by threading each thread along its individual path. Each warp thread is a part of a whole; all the warp threads together, following the entire set of pathways, form the overall pattern.

The weft is the thread that is used to bind the warp together. The weaver passes it across the width of the warp, over and under, back and forth, weaving, interlacing. As the weaver advances row by row, the pattern emerges, giving birth to the fabric.

The journey to reweave myself into being in the wake of my brain injury is ongoing. The beauty in the patterns emerges as I continue to pass my shuttle to and fro. I make mistakes along the way. Some are easy to remedy, others become design elements. My days are filled with surprises, some good, some bad. But overall, I am happy with the fabric of my life, my new life.

Weaving Life and Death

As I weave, I breathe life into a textile, and when I free it from the loom a textile is born to take its place in the world. The Berber of the Middle Atlas of Morocco also see weaving as a metaphor for creating an entity with an essence of its own. But to the Berber weavers, at its completion the textile dies.

I didn't understand—how could anyone possibly regard textiles as dead objects, let alone their creators. Each handmade textile I own comes alive with its own stories, the making of it, its previous life, and its place in the world, its ethniticity.  

My Mongolian rug evokes an image of it laying on the floor of a yurt. When I trace the pattern on my Laotian silk scarf, I remember the lovely lady from Laos who told me the mythological stories behind the patterns. And as I look at the wall hanging in my living room, one of the first textiles I wove, I think of my friendship with my weaving teacher, Nancy.

Photo by Thomas Quine 2006 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinet/97069383)

Photo by Thomas Quine 2006 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinet/97069383)

I couldn't accept the Berber belief. Dead was too final, too flat. There had to be more to the story. And indeed, after a good amount of research, I found that there was more to the picture. Much more.

Apparently, to the Berber weavers, weaving represents the life-cycle of a son growing up in a male dominated society. The preparations for the actual weaving embody the male child's years under his mother's supervision. The transition from boyhood to adulthood, marked by circumcision among the Muslim Berber, is represented by the final step in setting up the loom, when the top and bottom beams are affixed to the loom, the warp stretched between them.

A boy is male in gender only until he comes of age, which is when he also acquires a soul, a male identity. Once the weft first crosses the warp, the textile too acquires a soul.

As the weaver starts passing the shuttle to and fro, the young adult sets on his way through life away from his mother's sphere of influence,. No longer subjected to his mother's guidance, his life may go well, or not, as a weaving may or may not go smoothly. A broken warp thread or a delay in the weaving signify difficulties that cross his path.

I like the analogy between the progress in the weaving and the journey through life, the notion that the weaving itself is a story. And I love the idea of breathing life into it, giving it a soul, an essence. Though to me, breathing life into a textile I weave is not a sharp transition, but a process that starts with the first row of weaving and culminates when I cut it off the loom.

I also learned that in Islam, death is not an end, period. Death is merely the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, depending on the viewpoint—it is just another transition into another phase in the human existence, into the afterlife.

As long as I can remember, I've seen textiles as live entities with a story to tell. But I never thought of the act of weaving as a story in itself. When a warp thread snapped, I sighed and fixed it, and when I was unable to progress as quickly as I had hoped, I huffed in frustration.

My weaving enriches my life, but as a contemporary weaver, I have no rich traditions of my own to draw from. Instead I live vicariously through others' traditions. I delight in stories about indigenous weavers, of Bedouin weavers in the Sinai Desert, of backstrap weavers by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and of silk weavers in Gujarat, India.

When I sit at the loom, immersed in a rhythm of throwing the shuttle back and forth, I daydream of weavers across time and space, sitting at their own looms, advancing row by row, creating beauty. Now, I'll also daydream of Berber mothers telling their sons' stories through weaving.