Designer Sara Ferrari explores Mexican craft traditions for Design Week Mexico

In Chiapas

Italian designer Sara Ferrari is one we’ve had our eye on recently. She generally divides her time between Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK, but recently she found herself in the Chiapas region of Mexico, where she participated a weeklong workshop with local artisans at the invitation of Design Week Mexico. The goal was to develop a new, collaborative project set to be unveiled next month in Mexico City. When we saw the pictures from Sara’s trip, we knew we just had to share them with the world.

Wava Carpenter: How did you end up going to Chiapas to work with these artisans?

Sara Ferrari: Each year Design Week Mexico organizes a project where they invite a “Guest Country,” and this year it was Italy. For the first time this year, the organizers also decided to invite a “Guest Mexican State,” launching this new format with Chiapas. As part of this three-way, collaborative bridge—Mexico City, Italy, and Chiapas—Design Week Mexico brought nine Mexican designers and six Italian designers to Chiapas to develop a new work in collaboration with local artisans.

WC: Which sort of artisanal methods did you encounter? And which most appealed to you, and why?

SF: We visited different artisans who worked with textiles, wood, ceramics, and lacquering. They mostly work with their hands or very basic tools. For textiles, for instance, the most commonly used looms are called backstrap looms. They consist of a very basic, simple arrangement of sticks or bars between which the warps are stretched. One bar is attached to a fixed object (it could be a tree or any kind of pole), and the other to the weaver with a sort of belt that goes around his or her back. It’s incredible to see how such beautiful, complex textiles can be made from a very simple and ancient method.

It was the same for the other artisans: their hands were the most precious tools they had. Basic chisels or a small lathe for the wood was the furthest they could go in terms of added technology. They were all incredibly skilled. I think the textile world is the one that fascinated me most; the colors used and the ability these women had to create these masterpieces were breathtaking. It’s incredible to witness just how much work goes into each small piece they produce.

WC: What was the outcome of the workshop supposed to be?

SF: The idea was to pair each designer with a different artisan to create a collection of objects that will be displayed during Design Week Mexico in October, with an exhibition called Vision & Tradition. I was proposed to work with Francisca Pérez Gómez, an artisan specialized in textiles from San Andrés Larrainzar. When we went to visit her place, it was love at first sight! I knew I wanted to collaborate with her when she told me that working with textiles had always been her dream. She was so happy to have us there and to have the possibility to share her knowledge with us, but also to learn from us and find new inspirations. She was wonderfully enthusiastic. It was just beautiful.

WC: Can you tell us a few highlights from the trip? What did you learn? 

SF: I was really impressed by the relationship these people have with nature. Their work is strongly connected to it. I find it very poetic that, in textiles, the seasons dictate the colors you can produce. It’s nature that decides—isn’t that nice? It was also very nice to find confirmations: I always believed that it is through relationships, conversations, feelings, and shared experiences that the best projects take shape, and this is exactly what happened in Chiapas.

WC: Do you know already what you will present at Design Week Mexico?

SF: Yes! I’ll present a small collection of three textiles, designed with Francisca who is working on them now. The pieces were designed and conceived as a tool to tell a story about the process hidden behind textiles, their colors, and their connection with nature. The pattern is designed with stylized flowers or leaves that are used to extract the colors they will be dyed with. Each piece will be in natural rough cotton and the pattern will be in monochromatic, naturally dyed wool. Each piece will also give the name of the plant or flower from which the color was extracted: the scientific name, the common name in Spanish, and the name in Tzotzil, the language spoken by Mayan people living in Chiapas, like Francisca.


Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to see the finished product at Design Week Mexico, set to open October 28, 2015.