In a village in the Ayeyarwady region of southwest Burma, everyone weaves. Rattan – which grows voraciously in the northern Burmese rainforests, regrows rapidly once harvested and is totally biodegradable – is piled up under the eaves of the villagers’ bamboo homes, ready to be woven, threaded, flexed and transformed into something beautiful. It’s a quiet, peaceful process, not tainted by the clicking and whirring of machines, but instead soundtracked by chatter amongst the weavers, or the odd light hammer tapping on the nails which keep the frames in place.
There is always this dance between maker and material. Neither is more or less important than the other. They’re mutually beneficial. Both necessary for creativity to flourish. The form and function of a material like rattan informs the design, the shape, the purpose. But the hand of the maker transforms its flexibility and strength and turns it into an object built for life.
Where some materials might flourish under the metallic watch of a machine, rattan fares better under handmade conditions. For rattan products to be characteristically strong, they have to be woven by hand. Only a human can judge the nuance of how hard you can pull the strand before it snaps. And only a human can weave a planter strong enough that you can turn it upside down and use it as a stool (a handy not-enough-seats-in-the-room trick).
It’s why our makers are so important to us at Kalinko – the materials would be lost without them. The same goes for our business and community. Our rattan weavers have strong hands, nimble fingers, and a strong grip on their toes. They can sit cross-legged on the floor for days without tiring, working reeds between their fingers and pulling them tight.
In so many parts of the world and so many industries, fast technology has taken over slow handmade production. But in Burma, and at Kalinko, we're trying our best to keep the latter alive. Because hands can feel the tension is tight enough where a machine can’t. Hands can work around an imperfection in the strand where a machine will splutter. Hands can create something perfectly imperfect, each slightly different from the next, where a machine will produce identical pieces lacking in character and soul. Oh, and a machine doesn’t need to be paid, but hands do. We’d rather pay the hands.
At Kalinko, our main priority is creating a sustainable economic future for our makers. Weaving from home means they can run their homes and tend to their families alongside their work. Their children can play with the rattan, and weave their own little designs while their parents work. It’s a family business after all.