One of Philip’s former textile students, Kyley Schmidt, graduated from NC State University’s College of Textiles department with a degree inTextile design and later joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. While there, Kyley met a group of women who make silk scarves called lambas (LAHM-buhz). Sometimes the lambas are called “Malagasy silks”. For centuries, lambas have been used in religious ceremonies to honor the dead or by island royalty (prior to their disbandment in the late 19th century). Today lambas are still used to wrap the dead for burial. The cloth is considered so special that only a very few Malagasies (the natives of Madagascar) have it in their homes, not because they cannot afford it, but because it still bears such a social connection to an exclusive practice honoring their ancestors. After learning about the extraordinary process involved in making the lambas, Kyley contacted Philip for assistance with developing a market for the beautiful scarves.
Lambas are definitely suitable as scarves for men and women. The earth tone colors in many of them make matching outfits easy and stylish.
The word lamba, in the native Madagascar language of Malagasy, simply means piece of cloth. Lambas are made from a natural light brown or tan silk which is indigenous to Madagascar. When Philip visited Madagascar in 2005 to meet the women of the village Soatanana, where he received an extremely warm welcome, he learned more about the remarkable process the women undergo to create the beautiful lambas from raw silk. The women first gather cocoons that have been created by silkworms. They boil the raw cocoons in soapy water for an entire morning in order to release the silk. They then air-dry the raw silk fibers in the sun. Once the fibers are dry, they are hand spun on drop spindles to create the yarn for the lambas. The fibers are so delicate that they cannot be spun by machine. Spinning yarn is the most labor intensive part of the process. It takes one woman a week to spin yarn for a large lamba. They do all of this without running water or electricity in their village.
To give the yarn some color, it is dyed using local plants, roots, seeds, berries and clay, or whatever natural resource is available. In order to add the color blue to their work, the women made a choice to include one synthetic dye in their work. Crafted by Friends has conducted careful research to ensure the dye the women chose is extremely safe and low-impact. We agreed to work with this dye in order to help improve sales for the women.
In 2003 the women of the village formed, and registered with the government, the first all-women cooperative in the history of the country. There are 115 women who are divided into 13 groups. Each group contains at least one woman highly skilled in each step of the weaving process. The women weave the lambas in addition to performing all the work required to tend the children, crops, and animals. All of the work is done without electricity or running water. With some of the money they have received, they have built a simple one room school that also functions as a clinic for the monthly government nurse visit. They were also able to send three children off to boarding school to finish high school. Some of them will return to teach in the village.
Lambas are among the world’s most unique textile product and are featured in the Smithsonian. We hope that by learning more about the amazing process of creating the lambas, our customers will appreciate not only their beauty but the incredible skill, dedication, and love that goes into making each one.
From the cocoon to the final product, lambas are totally hand crafted.