Kyley Schmidt graduated with a degree in Textile Technology with a design concentration from the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. She entered the Peace Corps and was sent to the island of Madagascar. She resides in a village where these lambas are produced. In the spring of 2003, she emailed three people including me about helping her develop a market for these lambas in order to improve living conditions in this village where $25 will feed a family of four for a month. I was the one who contacted her back and the rest has been a result of her concern for the people and my interest in being involved. Damascus Road Productions handles the sale of these items at this point and could serve as the wholesale distributor for the world.
First, the word lamba in the native language simply means rectangular piece of cloth. Madagascar is a unique island much like the Galapagos Islands because about 80% of the plants and animals on this island are found only here, nowhere else in the world. The lambas are made from a native natural silk the type of which is only grown on the island of Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa.
At this time, Damascus Road Productions has entered a marketing program with the village in Madagascar, Anjoman'Ankona where Kyley works, to sell their lambas world-wide. The village is now a coop and receives payment for the lambas through Damascus Road Productions. The money they receive is being used to improve their lives in many ways.
The villagers, mostly the women, gather the cocoons from the tapia trees and boil them to remove the silk. Then they spin the silk into yarn. The weavers in Kyley's village buy cocoons of the Borocera silkworm from a neighboring town about 30 miles away in Madagascar's Central Highlands. The Borocera silkworm, known locally as Landibe ("Big silk worm") grows only in Madagascar in the island's native forests of tapia trees.
The weavers boil the raw cocoons in soapy water for a morning. Then they put them in an insulated bag and pour small amounts of boiling water intermittently over them for a week which loosens up the fibers and turns it into a fibrous mass.
Then the yarn is dyed using local plants, roots, dirt or whatever is available.Here a weaver is using passion fruit leaves to produce a green color. The leaves are boiled with the yarn.
The weavers use about 15 types of plants and clays to give them their colors. Bark of the nato tree gives the deep red. Black rice paddy clay mixed with soot or mulberry seeds gives black thread. Curry and onion give yellow. Passion fruit leaves and local green leafy vegetable leaves give green color. Cactus roots produce a pink. The weavers use eucalyptus leaves and salt as a fixative. In general they pound the raw material, boil water with the pulp, then add the thread boiling repeatedly according to how dark they would like the color.
All the thread is hand-spun on drop spindles because the thread is too delicate to spin by machine. Spinning thread is the most labor-intensive part of the process, and it takes one woman a week to spin the thread for a big lamba. Those pods in the back are shells of beans, which is one food they farm and eat a lot.
The simple hand loom the weavers use is shown here. Usually there are one or two looms per weaving family. They insert small sticks into the warp to hold up the yarns when weaving patterns into the fabric. The bamboo stick across the width close to the weaver is to maintain an even width throughout the weaving of the scar or lamba. The weaver pushes down the yarn to perform the shedding mechanism. They thread the loom so every other thread lifts forming a simple basket weave.
Some women in the capital are starting to use the silk in interior decoration and accessories. Pillows, handbags, bedspreads, tapestry, table lays, throws. The cloth often uses the raised mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) along with the wild Malagasy silk (Borocera madagasicarensis) used in the traditional cloth.
Modern Malagasy silk producers often have a hard time finding foreign markets because they don't stress or understand the importance of the fabric- its history, its unique look and texture, and the rarity of this wild silk AND bulk buyers often don't care as much about this but care about general look and price only. Also shipping is expensive and raises the price of the item. The problem is the price the buyers are willing to pay is not high enough to make it worth the producers' work. The fabric is hand made- the thread hand spun, the fabric woven on the most simple hand looms, and it takes a long time. But the final product is unique, natural, culturally interesting, and extremely classy.