The Making of a Mingei Mask | Mingei International Museum

"Every culture has found a textile vocabulary to express their identity in a unique, yet unanimous way, and that aspect of textile craft is an endless source of fascination for me."

Mingei is the philosophy of embracing the ordinary objects in our lives, finding beauty in them and cherishing the work of their often unknown makers. This year, we have all found an unexpected appreciation for one particular everyday object, the face mask. When the Mingei team set out to create a useful and beautiful mask, we connected with two inspiring women, both using their craft to serve their community. Sarah Winston, textile preservationist and Mingei’s former Textile Collections Manager, and Claudia Rodriguez-Biezunski, owner of Sew Loka, combined their dyeing, weaving and sewing skills to create a face covering worthy of the name Mingei.

To make the masks, Sarah found a rare tussah silk, traditionally made in India, for the warp (vertical threads) and primary fiber. Tussah silk is handspun, creating a variegated look, and harvested from the tussah moth. This silk was also chosen as the primary fiber because of its antibacterial property. The weft (horizontal threads) are linen and organic cotton naturally dyed by Sarah using cochineal, madder, osage, pomegranate and turmeric. Cochineal, an ancient traditional South and Central American dye, provides the bright fuchsia and purple tones. Madder, is a root and one of the oldest natural dyes used for centuries in Turkey, Iran and India.

From her studio space in Spanish Village, Sarah wove two sections of six yards each, using different color schemes to create a pattern called “undulating twill,” a traditional pattern used in coverlets and 19th century North American hand weavings. Then, to add her own spin on things, she found inspiration for the colors and warp thread pattern from Central American textiles.

In addition to being an adept artisan, Sarah has a profound understanding of the historical significance and functionality of textiles in our every day lives. She reminds us that textiles are not only practical but also embedded with traditions, memories and meaning.

Where does your passion for textiles come from?
My profound interest and fascination for textiles were deeply influenced by my mother's extensive collection of rugs. Our apartment floor was covered with beautiful kilims, North African flatweaves and knotted Persian rugs while our walls were adorned with tapestries. Our place looked a little like a Matisse painting, a far cry from the Scandinavian minimalist design that was the standard where I grew up in Switzerland!

What do you love most about textiles?
One of the first memories I have is of me walking barefoot on my mother's rugs and the soft, luxurious feel of wool under my feet. This is what is irresistible about textiles, they are the material closest to our skin. In fact, they are our second skin. We are swaddled in a textile when we are born and wrapped in cloth when we are laid to rest. Because they are so close to us, we as human beings have found ways of expressing ourselves through the textiles we wear and use in our daily lives—tent, yurt, rug cover or blanket—and that identity is apparent in the technique, the color of the dyes, and the material used. I couldn't possibly separate process, history or finished product because they are so intricately interwoven. Every culture has found a textile vocabulary to express their identity in a unique, yet unanimous way, and that aspect of textile craft is an endless source of fascination for me.

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