Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Silk Trade

This week I had the opportunity to visit Sabahar. Sabahar is a company that produces hand woven cotton and silk products here in Addis Ababa. That's right folks I said SILK! I had no idea that anyone was making silk in Ethiopia. If you were unaware of this as well don't feel bad, silk production was only introduced to Ethiopia about 15 years ago. That isn't to say that Ethiopians are unfamiliar with silk, apparently the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has imported silk from Asia for close to a thousand years. They would import silk products and then unravel them and reweave them to make robes and other ceremonial clothing for priests. Pretty cool!  

Ethiopian hospitality

The owner of Sabahar Kathy Marshal
The beautiful grounds at Sabahar

The silk that is used to make the beautiful textiles at Sabahar are made using Eri silk which is considered a "Wild Silk". The more commonly known Mulberry silks (the silk most widely used in Asia) is more difficult for the women here to weave. The Eri silk has a consistency that is close to cotton which most rural Ethiopian women already know how to spin, it's not too much of step to learn to spin silk if you can spin cotton, or so I'm told. Check out Sabahar's website, they explain it all much better than I am! Sabahar

Eri Silk cocoons that are spun into usable silk

Eri Silk Worms


Pretty big!

This is what they look like before they become butterflies

The Butterfly! 
The butterflies lay the eggs!

Spinning cotton
After they collect the silk they have to spin it into thread. Ethiopia has a long history of weaving beautiful cotton products, at Sabahar they weave both silks and cotton, sometimes together to make BEAUTIFUL scarves, shawls, bedspreads etc.

Spinning Silk

Sabahar also imports fancier silks from India to weave beautiful scarves that are sold in places like Italy.

Sabahar imports scraps of old Sari's from india and weaves them into beautiful scarves.

After spinning the cotton and silks they dye the thread. They use natural dyes like onion peels! The onion peels turns the silk green! Who knew!?

Crushed lady bugs

The purples and reds are accomplished by using a pesky lady bug that kills the cactus in the Tigre region. 

Marigolds and other flowers are used to make yellows and orange.

After dying the thread they weave it all by hand on HUGE looms! It is amazing to watch them work. 

After the scarves are woven they are cleaned up and put out for sale or exported. 

And there you have it friends and family, beautiful silk and cotton textiles all hand made and fair trade approved! Of course I bought way too much and I can't wait to head back and get more!!!
Until next time friends and family!

Survival Guide for Buying Silk

  1. Bring enough money! That is all! 


  1. I find it fascinating that the loom work is reserved for men in Ethiopia. Lovely photos! Sabahar is one of my favorite places to take visitors. I purchased a huge selection of their towels. The more you wash them the softer and more absorbent the cotton becomes.

  2. Interesting, I was considering buying some towels.