Making Fashion

Doll-making drives creative empowerment

 "What does knitting mean to you?" We asked 25 women artisans, upon commencing a doll-making workshop in Lampa, Peru. One artisan after the other, of this charming Andean town near Lake Titicaca, responded: "we are in love with knitting"; "knitting makes us happy"; "knitting helps us forget our problems"; "we discuss our concerns"; "we have so much fun together."

Interestingly, the women’s answers confirm what neuroscience tells us: textile craft, especially knitting, has therapeutic effects on people. Its rhythmic coordination combined with its visual, emotional and tactile stimulation, are soothing and relaxing, creating a positive mood and creative mindset. The benefits of knitting augment in a social setting, says researcher-psychotherapist Betsan Corkhill.

With a participatory design vision, the workshop focused on developing a collection of contemporary handknitted dolls, involving Lampa’s women artisan association and NGO Manuela Ramos in the co-creation process.

The workshop dynamics were fascinating and intended to leverage collective creativity, and simultaneously boost the imagination of individual knitters. The artisans were encouraged to develop their ideas, name the dolls in the vernaculars of Quechua and Aymara, and personalize their hairstyle, clothes and accessories. Creative styles varied, and engagement levels evolved over time. Many artisans were enthusiastic from the onset and enjoyed the creative freedom, others needed tailored encouragement. Considering that the knitters were used to replicating products typically conceived by others, the co-creation endeavor was a novel experience; they were not to reproduce a sample; they were to create it! In doing so, the women were stretching themselves, expanding their boundaries and developing new skills.

We agreed that the dolls should manifest a strong connection with their makers and doll fashion to be inspired by women’s local attires. This challenged the artisans to reinterpret their ‘traditional’ outfits in a contemporary context and triggered an outburst of striking ideas and unexpected innovations. As the dolls were taking shape, the creative confidence of their creators was growing, evidenced by a rich variety of outfits, earrings, hairdo’s, bags, shoes and even pets. Artisan Santusa proudly exclaimed "we are making fashion without ever having seen a magazine!"

"You cannot use up creativity, the more you use, the more you have," Maya Angelou said. Our co-design experience taught us the same: tapping into women’s resourcefulness, ignited their self-expression and resulted in a joyful display of creative diversity. The women made one-of-a-kind dolls in a more playful and personalized style than we had anticipated. They were able to give the dolls a modern look and embody a sense of identity of themselves as creators, thereby according the doll collection heart & soul.

The women hold their knitted offspring close to their hearts, treasuring them as soulmates, whom they are keen to see trotting the globe and making friends (of the soulful type).

The collection SoulMates will be exhibited in Peru Gift Show 2015 by Casa de la Mujer Artesana, Manuela Ramos. Conception and workshop facilitation was conducted by Tulp & Mezcla.

Gerry Hofstede practices design anthropology and is the founder of Tulp & Mezcla, a social enterprise that promotes participatory design & artisan innovation. www.mezcla-tulp.com

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