Thursday, July 26, 2012


Can I tell you a secret? I slipped away.  All by myself!  I grabbed my camera and ended up at Sabahar in Mekannisa.  I've been hearing wonderful things about Sabahar since we moved to Addis Ababa 6 months ago.  It was time for me to stop waiting for someone to show me Ethiopia and instead go discover it for myself.

Sabahar is a textile company that creates gorgeous silk and cotton woven goods.  The entire process happens in this lush haven. Starting with the silk worm eggs and ending with the gorgeous handmade products for sale.  The company is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and is fiercely committed to creating local jobs for Ethiopian men and women.  More than 100 Ethiopians are currently working at Sabahar to support their families! Isn't that phenomenal?
Walking onto the compound transports you into a vibrant garden oasis.   Looking closer, the garden gives way to the textile working being done all around.  At Sabahar the textiles, at every phase of creation, have a beautiful symbiotic relationship with the nature that surrounds them. It all starts with treating the silk worm's life cycle with the respect it deserves.  
Sabahar sources all their silk worm eggs from local Ethiopian farmers.  They harvest the silk worms. 
Few eggs mature to moths which mate and produce more eggs.
It’s a wonderfully sustainable process and I was lucky enough to see the silk worms busy at work.  After just a few days the worms have spun themselves into a cocoon of white silk.  
The silk pods are then pulled and spun on the spinning wheels to create long silk threads.  Women are primarily in charge of this task.
The silk thread is then dyed with natural colors. 
The thread is then hand pulled and stretched to be made ready for the weaving looms.  
Men work in the weaving room at the handmade weaving looms surrounded by brightly dyed thread.  The loom is their instrument and they orchestrate their movements with swift ease. Bare feet working the loom treadles like concert pianists. Arms pushing and pulling the wooden beams and throwing the shuttle back and forth through the shed.  Patterns emerge and thread becomes cloth all in the matter of moments.  

Natural cotton is also spun, dyed and woven here. Brightly dyed cotton is washed many times and hung to dry around the compound. 
The small retail shop at Sabahar is full of vibrantly colored and textured shawls, scarves, table runners, pillow covers, place mats and napkins.  The designs are simple and constructed with precision.  The silk has a homespun feel that reminds you of the small silk worms busy at work in their cocoons of thread on the other side of the compound.  The cotton is wonderfully soft and natural feeling.  
Sabahar is an outdoor sanctuary; for the people who work here and for anyone who visits.  Vivid textiles rustle in the breeze just as naturally as the branches they hang from.  Cotton is perfectly content in the same space as the potted hydrangeas and drying thread merges with the landscape as if it's been hanging for eternity.  Everything feels organic and in it's rightful place even though it's clear that nothing is styled.  Even the people at work are absorbed into the background of moss covered cobble stone and dense greenery.  The picturesque scenery blends with the artistic process seamlessly. 
At Sabahar, there is a sense that beauty is created naturally, every step of the way.


Anonymous said...

The photography is beautiful and you tell the story so well! I've been thinking I'd like to get into feature/travel writing when we get to India and your posts lately have been just such great inspiration, you make me want to visit Ethiopia! I can't wait to read more!

Sara said...

Yay! What a nice comment. Thank you. I think I'm catching my stride. For me it is all about the photos. The story just flows from the photos. Instantaneously I get a feeling about a place and see the photos unfold from there. It's so great getting feedback.

Ethiopia is surprising me every day!

Jeff and Marissa said...

Sara!!! You have beautiful photos and your story just drew me along and I could almost imagine being there!! What an absolutely beautiful place. I would have to say it is the last place I imagined I would want to visit but after seeing your photos it looks/sounds incredible. What a wonderful experience/journey for you. Did you buy anything? How does E. compare to the couve price wise?

Emily Joy said...

Sis, Your blog is the highlight of my day! Wow you are a great writer, and fantastic photographer! Love you!

Daniela Swider said...

Sara, this was another delightful post. It's such a joy to read these and look at the beautiful pictures. You do such a terrific job.

When I was a child in Bulgaria, I went to a silk weaving factory. It was a field trip from school and I remember the silk worms and the cocoons. They were feeding the silkworms mulberry leaves. I also remember the smell of the place where they were soaking the raw silk before they spun it. It was very strong, not sure why. The whole process was fascinating though.

I have been fabric shopping and going to tailors here in India and it's been interesting as well. Not as organic as what you have found in Ethiopia but still. I need to blog about it. Time has been escaping me lately, plus, I've been dealing with some domestic help drama but I will get to it. One of these days.

Sara said...

Jeff and Marissa- I'm so glad you liked the photos and story. You should come visit. Keep in mind I focus on the great things about this country...I didn't buy anything yet but I have a few things in mind. Ethiopia is very cheap for most things but somethings like cheese and other Western things are very expensive.

I love you Em! thanks sis

Daniela-I love your memory of the silk factory. I bet the smell was from chemical dye. At Sabahar they use natural dye on the silk so there was no smell at all!

The Bear Family said...

Beautiful!!! I'm so glad you took & shared these photos! What an amazing experience for you! And I'd love one of those scarves too! :-)

The New Diplomat's Wife said...

what beautiful silks and colors - definitely want one!