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In this month's newsletter we share how we are pushing the envelope of what Threads of Life does, though without compromising the values of sustainable livelihood, cultural continuity and care for the environment that have guided us for the past two decades. We start with what we are good at -- textiles -- and a piece about Nusa Penida. 

We follow this with news of some exciting, but time-consuming, sisal carpets we are making. And conclude with a story about virgin coconut oil production in Timor that we are facilitating.
El NiƱo to Indigo
Gede Diari weaving a weft ikat cepuk cloth
Gede Diari weaving a weft ikat cepuk cloth

Ngurah Hendrawan and Gede Diari are master weft ikat makers from Nusa Penida, the island next to Bali. They spent a week at the Bebali Foundation dye studio in Ubud, Bali, being taught by our staff how to use indigo paste, while in turn teaching our staff how to tie ikat resist bindings. The exchange came about because of each group's needs. Ngurah and Gede, like most dyers across eastern Indonesia, struggled to maintain production last year without access to enough indigo plants through the harsh El Nino drought. 

To help them continue working after the indigo plants (Indigofera tinctoria) die back, they were taught how to make indigo dye paste for storage, and how to use that paste when needed. This anticipates work we will be doing later in the year with indigo we are helping communities cultivate in Timor (see the coconut oil article below). Sharpening our staff's ikat tying skills in return is part of maintaining high skill levels at the studio, and it is always just a lot of fun to try something new!
Indigo Sisal Carpets
Weaving an indigo-dyed sisal carpet
Weaving an indigo-dyed sisal carpet

When we first saw at the deforested and eroded mountainside above the village of Nuapuu in Flores ten years ago, we were struck by two things. First, the hillside was dotted with Symplocos trees, hardy forest remnants and important sources of the leaves used to mordant (fix) the traditional red dye from the Morinda tree.  Second, there were extensive thickets of sisal, planted sometime after the forest was cleared in an attempt to control erosion. Initial work was to set-up a Symplocos leaf collectors group, but in recent years we have been encouraging the group to harvest sisal fibre at other times of the year, teaching people how to extract the fibre and make twine.

With this fibre and twine we have been experimenting with products and markets to justify the villagers' work and the costs of transport to Bali. Following our usual high-value low-volume product-with-a-story model, we have been making handwoven natural-dyed sisal carpets. 

Each piece takes thirteen days to dye and weave, and we have found strong support for our initial production from the new Katamama hotel
in Seminyak.
Virgin Coconut Oil in Timor
Coconut oil producers in Timor
Coconut oil producers in Timor

Threads of Life is working to develop a community-based cold-pressed oil business in a village in Timor where we have a weavers' group. Though a departure from our normal field of work, it is a test of whether what we have learned over the years working with weavers cooperatives is applicable to other community enterprises.

Threads of Life has been involved in an Australian government funded research project on the island of Timor that is coordinated by the World Agroforestry Centre. This work has taken two forms. First, we have been trialing cultivation of indigo with farmers, though harvest and processing of this will be later in the year. Second, we have been working with the University of Western Australia (UWA) to develop the cold-pressed oil business. We facilitated a UWA training in the village last August, when a group of villagers learned how to make cold-pressed virgin coconut oil (VCO), candlenut oil and calophyllum oil. In late March 2016 we were back in the village to develop a business plan for the new community business.

Much of the workshop time was spent discussing questions that shaped the business plan: How many coconuts can be processed each month? Where will the coconuts come from? How can the work hours of each group member be recorded so that everyone gets paid, and so that the end-of-year profits can be shared out according to the effort each person puts in? How many hours work for how many people are estimated for each step of the production process? The answers to these questions were revisited several times as the plan developed.

Working from their estimates and data from the 2015 workshop we worked out that: the VCO production season was May to November; 600 coconuts can be processed per month, but that 4 months would be needed to get up to that scale of production; and that 25 person days of work (about 2 days per member) would process 200 coconuts. We visited a forest honey producer to see how bottling, sealing and labelling were done, and visited local markets to see the competition and set prices. We decided to use a small clear glass 150 ml bottle because there is a supply in the form of recycled vitamin C drink bottles.

Overnight, all this information was put into spreadsheets to calculate profit-and-loss statements and cash-flow, and then brought back to the group as simple summaries that they could understand and make decisions upon. The members decided to pay themselves 2 or 3 months in arrears during the start-up period at the poverty-level wages they currently live on from their agricultural activities. They were willing to do this because they see that cash-flow will be tight at the start but that when the group does its internal profit sharing at the end of the year those wages could double. Trust that any profits would be safe until the end of the year was established with the simplest of bookkeeping systems, and promises that our field staff would photograph these books and have them audited and corrected by our accounting staff.

So far, so good. With production starting in May and marketing in June, we will soon see how much we have all learned together. With a local market then established, we will be looking for Bali-based market partners for the candlenut (kukui) and calophyllum (tamanu) oils.
Best wishes,

W illiam, Jean and everyone 
at Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation
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Adding a kabikil edge to a Sumba man's hip cloth-a secondary weaving process.

Gallery display
Want to learn more about what we do? Come to the gallery and explore our display. Touch the raw materials and watch videos showing you how it all happens.

An incredible rangrang
An incredible rangrang from a Seraya textile tour with Threads of Life.

Natural dye from bark to thread
Natural dye-from bark to thread.
Umajati Retreat, proud to sponsor TEDxUbud 2016, plus 10% on direct bookings

Umajati sponsors TEDxUbud 2016
Umajati Retreat is happy to support TEDxUbud 2016 by providing accommodation for two of the speakers this year. Take a look at their  blog  as they release the lineup, looks like another exciting day ahead.

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