| Oct 18, 2022
Creating better ways to make birds and butterflies
Over the past five years, some very talented artisan partners have steadily made more and more beautiful and life-like bird and butterfly ornaments with chambira palm fiber. Our experienced facilitators have also been increasingly successful at showing other artisans how to make these ornaments at our workshops. We have had a hard time, however, getting large numbers of these ornaments for sale.
One of the main reasons for this shortage is that it takes a lot of time for even a good artisan to make one of these woven animals really well. While more artisans can now make these top-quality crafts, some choose not to because other buyers will pay more for the same kinds of crafts made more quickly with less attention to the details. Even our “rejects” are much better than the mediocre animal ornaments found in the souvenir shops in Iquitos.
We are trying to charge more for our premium quality crafts to incentivize the artisans to do their best work. This may work to some extent, but even socially conscious buyers have a limit to what they are willing to pay for a fair trade ornament. Fortunately, we are developing three new techniques with artisan partners to make their ornaments with greater efficiently, quality and consistency.
Artisans usually use a woven sample or photo as a reference to make a bird by themselves from start to finish. In a workshop, a facilitator provides some guidance for this process, but even artisans working together often produce a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. In the past month, we used a local version of an “assembly line” or "chain" process at two workshops to make four kinds of birds. We first tested this method at Brillo Nuevo where our facilitator Pablo organized six artisans to make a batch of Atlantic puffin ornaments. Two of them made six equal bodies and heads while their teammates cut and bent wires to make sets of wings, tails, and feet. Once the main pieces were put together, individual artisans took over filling in the details under Pablo’s guidance.
The experiment was successful. The group produced six puffins with higher quality and consistent design in much less time than it would have taken each person to do their own. It also allowed one less-skilled artisan to make an important contribution to the group instead of floundering on her own. To be sure, this method requires good cooperation, coordination and appropriate division of tasks to function well. The participants, however, all felt very good about their collective effort and results.
We repeated the process at the next workshop in Amazonas where small groups made woven ornaments of purple gallinules, kestrels and orange-breasted falcons. Pablo showed three other facilitators how to use the “chain” process, and they all found it helped their groups make their bird ornaments in less time than their usual individual method.
Seven years ago, our artisan partner Doilith placed real butterflies on tracing paper to outline the wings and colorful patches. She used these lines to shape the wire perimeter of the body and embroider the interior. This method worked well, but it still took a fair amount of time to draw these patterns for a few dozen butterflies in one order. Last month, we used Doilith’s drawings to make a rubber stamp for each set of wings for each butterfly she makes. In one hour, she and a helper used these stamps and an ink pad to create templates for over 200 butterflies – a task that would have taken an entire day by hand. At both workshops, Doilith easily showed young artisans how to cut out the shape of each wing on the butterfly they were making and use it to make a high-quality craft.
Doilith’s innovation in progress is weaving a long solid strip of chambira fiber. She will neatly fit a series of wing templates on this strip and cut them out. This process will then provide a tightly woven background for each wing and just leave the task of embroidering the colored patches and accents. This process could be a game changer for artisans who would like to make butterflies to sell. While it may not be worth their time to make one butterfly per day, it would definitely be worth it to make five or six.
It’s exciting to see our artisan partners applying their imagination and talents to increase the productivity of their process as well as the quality of their crafts. Seeing an artisan making one craft at a time in their home alone has some poetic appeal, but very few artisans have so far been able to use their skills to do more than buy some basic things for their children attending the primary school in the village. We want to make it possible for dedicated artisans to send their children to a technical school or college if they want.
Wesceslao showing orange breasted falcon ornament
Blue crowned mot mot bird ornaments
Amazonas artisan Joddy with a Papilio butterfly
Puffin ornaments made with chambira palm fiber
Rubber stamp templates for making butterfly wings
Doilith showing Bora artisan to weave a butterfly
Maria from Brillo Nuevo with two woven butterflies
Marisela from San Francisco with purple gallinule
Purple gallinule chambira palm fiber ornament
Orange breasted falcon photo and chambira ornament
Misael and kestrel chambira palm fiber ornament
Marianela making bird ornament at workshop
Chambira fiber strip with butterfly wing templates
Edson making chambira bird ornament at workshop