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Creative Women

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

- Handweaving using cotton, silk and natural dyes

Creative Women was founded by Ellen Dorsch, whose background and experience is in the area of public health, specializing in women's/reproductive health. She started traveling to Africa 21 years ago and worked as a consultant in developing countries.  When she retired she still wanted to do something that would work with women and enable her to continue to travel to Africa.

While visiting Ethiopia Ellen saw sex workers training to be hairdressers, only to find there were no jobs available.  She visited rehab centers where women were sewing and embroidering beautiful table cloths, but the only market for their products was a small bazaar for the ex-pats living in Addis Ababa.  Ellen realized an opportunity existed to improve women's lives and to maintain a centuries-old art form by introducing to the US market the beauty of Ethiopian textiles.  Creative Women was started.

Weaving is a family activity in Ethiopia: sometimes a supplement to a family's farming, sometimes the entire source of income.  Women are responsible for gathering the cotton grown in the Rift Valley lowlands, carrying huge loads on their heads and climbing steep mountains back to their villages.  Women of all ages spin cotton, using a simple drop spindle to make the thread used for the weft (horizontal) threads on the loom.  Most of the cotton used for the warp is factory made.  Traditionally, the men do the weaving.  Their pit-style looms are typically set up outside the house.  Whenever possible, they are built into a hillside and the weaver digs a hole, and sitting with his feet hanging into it. 

Working with three women-owned businesses, Creative Women creates elegant wearable accessories and accents for the home. Each of these energetic businesses brings something unique to their array of textiles. Menby's Design's weaver/artisans produce the centuries-old tibeb, an intricate hand-woven border; the seamstresses at Menby's Design transform the tibeb into pillows, wall hangings, table runners and mats, shawls, scarves, and handbags.

The artisans at Sabahar spin the silk from local cocoons, handweave the textiles, and use natural dyes to create vibranly colored shawls, scarves, throws, and blankets.  Thanks to Sabahar, and its commitment to creating jobs for a broad spectrum of women, silk production has returned and continues to grow in Ethiopia.

At Negist, another textile studio in Addis, Ababa, dyes are adding vibrant and unusual colors to traditional Ethiopian blankets and scarves using low-impact. plant-based dyes.

To learn more about Ellen Dorsch view the video at the right of her talk at the 2009 Disruptive Women Holiday Program: Health & Economic Security in the Developing World.



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