Approaching the village of Waraniéné in the late afternoon is a humbling experience. The village, nestled at the base of Mount Korhogo, seems to be in perpetual sunset. Golden light bounces off the rust-colored earth and lush, green vegetation, just catching the indigo blue emanating from the freshly dyed cotton hanging in the sun.The sound of clinking shuttles as they move almost imperceptibly from one side to the other between expertly positioned warp threads of a hand built upright frame loom creates an almost visceral experience.
Today, the Dyula weavers of Waraniéné create rich textiles that blend practices learned from cross-cultural exchanges. The mobility of both the people and the cloth have allowed motifs and techniques to travel across vast distances, incorporating new patterns into the cloth’s history. Dyula weavers settled in Côte d’Ivoire sometime during the 16th century and are master textiles producers. The ancient town of Kong became an important hub of trans-regional trade and was known for its large variety of quality cloths produced and sold by local Dyula weavers. The Dyula textile innovators, renowned for their ikat designs that date back to pre-colonial times, also incorporated imported yarns into their pieces. The onset of Colonialism drastically changed the economic and geographic environments, and the Dyula - known for their mobility - dispersed, taking their weaving knowledge with them.
The Dyula also incorporated designs from others and added them to their repertoire. The checkerboard pattern - produced using ikat dyeing techniques - and zaza - meaning a mixture of patterns - are characteristic of both Dyula and neighboring Baule craftsmen. Originally, Dyula handwoven cloths were worn as clothing but as times have changed and demand declined, the weavers have shifted their focus to creating textiles with a more utilitarian purpose.
Dyula weavers began creating utilitarian textiles in the 20th Century. After Independence in 1960, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny saw the importance of building up artisan workshops. The weavers of Waraniéné incorporated in the 1970’s by missionaries from France. This commercial focus, although informative, had adverse effects, shifting the focus from innovation to creating cloth for mass consumption. Thirty years later, Côte d’Ivoire entered into an rebellion between the North and the South. This rebellion lasted for 10 years (2002 - 2012). During this time, craft and art production dropped drastically.
Waraniéné, however, was unique. Its proximity to Korhogo, the largest city in the North, meant that two years into the rebellion, the need for woven material returned. This time, they moved away from the cooperative model and back to functioning as a workshop. With the return of limited consumer interest they were able to earn some money to continue training younger weavers and innovate new styles. Today, the cloth produced at Waranéné still carries the history of the community’s aesthetics, but the weavers are free to create, develop, and modify as their artistic eye sees fit. Each motif is a modern interpretation of traditional patterns, re-imagined for the contemporary eye and passed down from generation to generation. The collective has more than 300 members who contribute in a myriad of ways towards the production of these textiles.
In 2014, while working as a researcher for a museum in New York, I traveled with a group of curators to Côte d’Ivoire. I was interested in the development of contemporary craftsmanship and jumped at the chance to spend time traveling around to different artist workshops. One of these workshops was Waraniéné. During our conversations with the weavers, they expressed an interest in working with someone on product development who could bring their textiles to an international audience. Interest in the work was still diminishing and the industry of weaving itself on the verge of becoming an undesirable career path due to increased demand for mass-produced imitation cloth. Growing interest in their business beyond the borders of their community was vital to the sustainability of their craft.
Upon returning to the States, I enlisted the help of Laine Henry, a designer, and together we started Five | Six Textiles in partnership with 15 master weavers from Warniéné. Five | Six has grown in tandem with the weavers ever since. We add to our group of master weavers, tailors, and dyers every year.
Five | Six Textiles are woven by hand using the highest quality raw cotton which is sourced locally. Woven in strips on a handmade upright double heddle loom, these textiles are produced using the same materials and techniques that the Dyula have been using for hundreds of years. This process produces quality cloth that is significantly durable, reminiscent of linen, and softens with use.
The design, in keeping with Dyula practices, is a blend of aesthetics and patterns. Marrying motifs pulled from textiles they are creating today and vintage patterns, each piece is produced in order to preserve their one-of-a-kind artistry, to ensure that it continues to thrive and evolve. This collaboration allows us to design a collection of homes textiles that tell a story through their use and bring global communities into local homes.