Our interactive qualifying project (IQP) was to work with a Worcester nonprofit organization called Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW) to develop adapted, custom crafted weaving looms for refugee artisans from Bhutan and Nepal. Specifically, we adapted large American floor looms to become more portable, user friendly, and ergonomic for the refugee artisans.
Project Sponsor: Refugee Artisans of Worcester
Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW), is a Worcester non-profit organization that provides support to local refugees, with a special emphasis on their art and identity. RAW was established in 2010 after co-founders Ellen Ferrante and Joan Kariko met with two recently resettled refugee weavers from Bhutan. RAW seeks to empower refugees to create indigenous crafts that draw on their cultural traditions and are able to be marketed to the public. The refugee artisans can benefit from the increased income and move toward economic self-sufficiency.
The goal of our project was to work with participants of Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW) from Nepal and Bhutan to help preserve their cultural identity through developing adapted, custom crafted weaving looms. The adaptions we provided to these looms will be extended to future looms for new members of RAW.
Goal and Objectives
In order to develop our loom adaptations, we focused on the following six objectives:
- Understand the role of weaving in the artisans’ lives and how it helps to preserve their cultural identity.
- Identify the loom qualities sought by the weavers.
- Analyze where improvements could be made to current looms to match the needs of the weavers.
- Develop an approach for adapting looms that meet the functional requirements of the weavers.
- Prototype the loom adaptation to evaluate their ability to best meet the needs of the weavers.
- Determine the best ways to communicate loom adaptation considerations and procedures.
Worcester is home to one of the largest refugee populations in Massachusetts. A subset of these refugees are artisans which rely on their craft to preserve their culture and identity. Our team worked with Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW) to adapt four American floor looms for refugee weavers so they can continue their craft. Through our semi-standardized interviews, direct observations, and home visits with the weavers, we identified their desires in looms and understood the role weaving plays in their lives. Additionally, we assessed our resources and reached out to the community to gather necessary materials and information for loom adaptations. Ultimately, we adapted four looms, created an instructional video documenting our work, secured a donated portable loom for demonstration purposes, and contributed to the preservation of the refugees’ culture and identity.
Loom 1: Before Modification Loom 1 After Modification. Note the reduction in the number of pedals and additional of wheels on the bottom of the loom. Loom 2: Before Modification Loom 2 After Modification. Note the reduction in number of pedals and shafts, the reduction in overall size and additional of shelf on the top of the loom. Loom 3: Before Modification Loom 3 After Modification. Note the repair on the left side of the beater bar and additional of wheels on bottom of the loom. Loom 4: Before Modification Loom 4 after Modification. Note the reduction in number of pedals and shafts, additional of wheels on the bottom of the loom and additional of shelf on top of the loom.