Meet Cynthia Alberto, a multi-hyphenate Filipina: an artist, weaving activist, teacher, and founder/director of the Brooklyn-based weaving studio, Weaving Hand. Her advocacy as a fiber artist "bridges traditional and contemporary weaving and draws inspiration from ancient communities of Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa." Through the artisanal process of weaving, she makes use of unconventional materials "to create expressions of form, structure, and function," all of which aim to address femininity, age, beauty, and today's culture in general.
Apart from teaching the youth the art of weaving, she also delves into environmental initiatives like zero-waste programs, recycling, and sustainability. She uses the art of weaving as a method of healing and strengthening interpersonal relationships. Below, Preview talks to Cynthia to know more about her inspiring work and how she plans on preserving the craft through her organization, Weaving Hand.
1. Hi, Cynthia! Can you share with us what sparked your interest in weaving?
"My journey into weaving began at [Fashion Institute of Technology in New York], where I went to college. Closely afterwards, I worked with Stephanie Odegard at Odegard Carpets, where we collaborated on developing products. At this time, I learned a lot about carpet and rug production, as well as the industry itself. This was my first introduction to the world of weaving and artisans. It was so inspiring to learn from them, collaborate with them, and meet them."
2. For you, what is the importance of this art form?
"The art form of weaving needs to preserved and honored. One of my beliefs is that the tradition and knowledge must be passed on to the younger generations. There must be a balance between technology and the artisanal 'DIY' world. Although everything moves so fast now, weaving is a reminder of where we came from. Things are made with hands, and this tradition should be passed on from one generation to another. Weaving is still very alive and being revived all over the world. Additionally, it's very important to learn how cloths are made cloth. As one of the basic human needs, it provides clothing, comfort, and shelter. Otherwise, we would be exposed to the world in a dangerous way.
"In 2014 with Weaving Hand, I developed Weaving Together, a series of ongoing collaborative weaving events that focus on healing the community and create interpersonal relationships. Typically, members of different communities are invited to bring recycled materials to weave alongside their neighbors."
3. You mentioned your organization, Weaving Hand. How did this venture come about?
"It started in 2007 as a small Brooklyn studio. It was a manifestation of a turning point and change in my life at the time. Looking back at this period, my kids were still very young and I wanted to create a place to heal as well as make art for ourselves and people who wanted to join us. So far, it has grown organically to where we are now.
"Fast forward to today, we celebrate traditional and contemporary weaving with all of our offerings, ranging from classes, workshops, commissions, outreach programs, and exhibitions, all while embracing sustainable and ethical practices. With our healing arts programs, we use weaving as a creative tool to enhance developmental programs for adults and children with disabilities.
"As we grow and evolve, we continuously develop our teachings and hope to further conversations around this rich art form!"
4. What motivated you to put up this community?
"One of the main reasons why I started this community was to further a message of awareness, patience, and compassion as opposed to highlighting various clashing conflicts of the modern day. I really think we are are in time where we need to take care and help one another. Technology is great and has done wonders for the world, but we are slowly losing our human sensitivities towards one another. One of my hopes for the community is to re-focus and re-shift our ideals towards honoring and building up the 'processes' that build our world. In many ways, weaving connects us to the past; today, we can use it for the future. A great example of this is the innovation of smart textile. Based on the process of weaving; these textiles allow for the building of incredible problem solving materials that have only begun to scratch the surface. Along with textile, we hope to inspire and incorporate new innovations such as the new TC2 loom, which is promising to be a great step forward in the history of our weaving culture."
5. What was the reception like?
"People are really responding on an emotional and physiological level. While the overall reception has been good, we also get a lot of people who are interested in pursuing the art form as a means of dealing with trauma and other mental stresses, which for us is incredibly rewarding."
6. How long does it usually take for one to learn how to weave? What are the necessary skills one should have to be a weaver?
"As with most things in life, it's important to be persevering and patient! You can learn how to weave in one hour, depending on complexity of the weave structure you want to create. However, for more traditional looms, like the back-strap loom or a Tibetan rug or carpet loom, a week or more. Truth be told, it's important to remember that this is a continually evolving process and you can only get better over time!"
7. What are the misconceptions in weaving?
"One misconception I can think of is that people seem to intimidated by the size and scope of certain looms, especially the larger ones. Like anything else, it's important to break the process down to it's major componentsâ€•people will find that looms are actually quite intuitive, safe, and 'friendly'! They're all pretty much functionally similar."
8. What's the best part in learning this craft?
"My favorite part about the craft of weaving is that you can make your own cloth. At the end of the day, it's you, the loom, and the fabricâ€•to me, this is about creative expression and expressing your individuality. Simply, you're learning own and make your own creations while learning not to be dependent on others. There is a huge sense of pride that I get as well from meeting and getting to see people who love this craft, as well as meeting people who understand weaving's ability to heal."
9. In the Philippines, weaving is slowly being revived. What piece of advice would you give to young weavers and designers who are interested in fully resurrecting the craft?
"Just two things: to be proud and thankful that they have tradition, weaving knowledge, and a cultural identity associated with this art form. Please make sure that it continues to be taught and appreciated by the future generationsâ€•I have done this with my own kids; they are probably better weavers than some people I know!
"Finally, it's extremely important to make sure that weavers, especially in indigenous communities, are getting the right recognition. We need to stop the rampant fashion culture of untethered cultural appropriation. We're off to a great start though, and it's up to the future generations to help."