The stories of women hidden in handcrafted textiles


To kick off 2022, I wrote my first newsletter on the importance of finding – and spreading – joy in these difficult times, reflecting on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s life work and his belief that joy can to be found in a life of service to others, in striving for justice, in leading from a moral compass and unwavering faith.

This week, I think of a different kind of joy. The joy of creating and the joy that comes from enjoying and share beauty, culture and community.

Susan Hull Walker embarked on a journey to find all of this…and then to find a way to share it. In 2015, she founded the Ibu Movement which works with women artisans around the world to preserve and elevate the cultural arts, heritage skills and community stories she found on her travels.

Today, the Ibu movement collaborates with more than 100 artisan groups in 40 countries providing a path to financial self-sufficiency for artisans via a website, brick-and-mortar store, and pop-up shops.

“I am humbled by the trusting and reciprocal relationships Ibu has with women around the world. These artisans rely on Ibu to work, and we rely on them to bring the best of their craftsmanship to the world,” says Susan.

In many cases, these handmade textiles and jewelry are created with skills that the Western world has lost or devalued. More importantly, they also carry stories of women who might otherwise be lost to history.

Susan with artisans from the BeadWORKS collective in Kenya.

It was this – the stories Susan discovered while sitting down and working with the bead collectives, the textile weavers, the glass engravers, the bone jewelry makers – that drove her to quit her first call. as minister to pursue this mission. She had studied world religions at Harvard Divinity School and served as a minister in Maine, San Francisco and Charleston, SC.

But, she says, it was her study of textiles that opened her eyes to something she lacked as a minister… the way a woman records her mind and soul. What she didn’t find in sacred texts written by men, she found in textiles – spun, woven, dyed and embellished – by women.

She went back to school to study the arts of fiber, learn to weave and interpret the languages ​​of fabric, then she went in search of this language and the stories that the artisans shared in their trade.

Textiles, she realized, had for centuries been a woman’s text.

Susan at a textile embroiderer in Chiapas, Mexico.
Saina, left, overseeing the sampling of her design at the BeadWORKS center in Kenya.

“Before I started this work,” says Saranto, a member of the BeadWORKS collective in Kenya, “I depended only on my husband. I was sitting at home with nothing. Since I joined BeadWORKS, I have my own source of income and can decide what I want for my family. I feel like a queen in my own house. I support my husband. I pay for school, I buy food, I dress well – I support the whole family. I am in a very different place.

The Ibu Collective includes more than 10,000 women artisans. Ibu’s design team collaborates with 50 artisan groups to create unique designs for Ibu, and for the other 50 design groups, Ibu serves as a global distributor in its online store – – and in the Ibu’s flagship store on King Street in Charleston, SC

Allies in over 200 countries visit the Ibu website, and over 35,000 movement allies (subscribers, customers, donors) support the Ibu movement. Susan also writes an electronic newsletter, ibulliance, highlighting the beautiful creations and perspectives of artisans each week. You can sign up for the newsletter on the Ibu Movement website. (Scroll down and click “Join the movement.”)

Susan with a textile artisan in Indonesia.

Ibu is a Malay word, an honorary title for a woman, addressing her with respect, and recently, Susan honored me by inviting me to be a global ambassador for the Ibu movement. As I am committed to elevating women’s work at every opportunity – and yes, I enjoy wearing and buying artisan work – becoming an Ibu Artisan Ambassador is a privilege…and like Susan, I find joy in sharing their creations and their stories.

“When a woman turns her craft language into a livelihood,” says Susan. “When she achieves independence, seizes choice, finds respect; when she leads a village, sends her daughter to school; and joins other women around the world to stand up, there are joy. This is the reason for the Ibu movement. Joy moving. The women who make and wear Ibu work hard, walk proud, and earn their place in the world. Beauty matters. Joy wins!



PS – To celebrate and introduce Ibu to those who haven’t yet discovered it, Susan is offering a 15% discount to those who purchase women’s handicrafts here in the next two weeks! Redeem Code PatMitchell15 at the register. Enjoy!


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