Elaine, Leon

August 13, 1999


I just got back from a great morning visit at the studio of the Italian serigraphers. Yesterday I was at the Sister Cities office conferring with Harold Chavarria and Maria Soledad about the future direction of the coop, when Catalina, the manager of the silk screen business, came in.

We talked, and I surprised everyone by knowing something about silk screening. And wouldn't you just know that I happened to be wearing a shirt that had Kokopeli I'd printed on the back. Catalina said she'd pick me up and take me to the studio this morning.

They are doing a lot of work in a space not much bigger than me studio in New York was, but what work! Their designer works on the computer using Corel Draw. I guess I'd better get busy and study my copy. I've never used it, shame on me. It separates the colors and prints out on clear acrylic sheets, ready to make the screens.

They have a home-made light box to make the photo emulsion screens that looks like a brother to the one I used to have. They have two screen merry-go-rounds that hold six screens each for exact registration. The printing boards and screens can be different sizes for different projects. It's all pretty wonderful. I want one! But what would I do with it? Now?

What was really different was their paint that they screen with. I've always used acrylic fabric paint or Procion dye. They use a plastic (Plastisol) that doesn't dry in the screens. It will stay moist and workable for days and days.

I brought a napkin woven at the coop in single thread warp and weft that had been washed and ironed to tighten it up and smooth it out. They printed two colors, then dried that under a portable heater that fits a bit above the printing board. Then they printed two more colors, dried those, two more, dried those. The paint wouldn't dry without the heat. They have a home-made electric oven they cure their T-shirts in. Pretty functional, very good.

I was really impressed with the whole thing, and I really like the people involved. But what's best of all is, the printing came out beautifully on the woven cloth. Everyone was happy. Maybe this will work into something the weavers can do to diversify what they produce.

It was interesting that they said the bright colors they use sell in Europe but Americanos won't buy them.

Cecilio called Mirna. His army unit is stationed in Esteli, up where it's "fresca" (cool). He said to be sure to watch Channel 2 on Sept. 15th because his outfit is going to march in the Independence Day parade in Managua.

Hector came home for his August visit. He says his "de-,mining" unit is just like the army without guns, which suits him fine. They have breakfast at their post at 5 a.m. then go up into the cool woods to search for mines. They have detectors and dogs. He says the dogs are really good-- they sniff the ground, and when they find something they stand there. Then the dog is called back and the mine is blown up. They blow up 15 to 20 mines a day usually. There are thousands of them out there. Each landmine blown up probably means one less dead kid or one less man without a leg.

Lunch is brought to them on horseback. At night they return to their base for dinner. They grow avocados up where they go. He brought back some nice ones this week.

Norma has the baby wrapper she's working on almost finished. It's a bright blue rabbit with a carrot standing among flowers and a good-sized spray of flowers in each corner. It's very pretty, and she didn't use a single pastel-- they are all bright colors.

Mirna is embroidering a scarf for a table, and being Mirna, it's been perfect from the first stitch. Ana Maria is working on a table runner, too, but she just got started.

Tonight I move to Mirna's house. I've really enjoyed being at Mirian's, but I like all of Mirna's family, too.

Yesterday at the coop we did a bit of silk screening.

Harold Chavarria, the director, said with the sewing machines they now have they should diversify. Why don't they make clothing? Something that would sell cheaper than the colchas? Give them more opportunity for sales.

There is no way they can compete with China. If they are to sew something to sell, they have to have something distinctive. I'd been asking about where I could get information about indigenous dress, historical costume, and a history of Nicaragua with pictures. Would you believe that the university book store here does not have a single book on the history of Nicaragua? Nor do any of the other bookstores.

I'd watched a Folklorica performance on TV one Sunday and made notes. The women wore those gorgeous white dresses that probably have 10 yards of fabric in them (that's out) and the men wore loose, white pullover shirts. They are called "cotonas", and they were what I was looking for.

Yesterday Mirian and Danelia worked out a potential pattern for a cotona. I think using ribbon trim and fancy embroidery would make them cost too much for the market they are trying to reach. But we do have a goldmine here: those silk screens Lolli Jacobsen did a few years ago. They are traditional designs, will add a lot to the garment, will be quick to do, and most of all, will be exclusively theirs.

Yesterday, for starters, we printed some back pieces for the cotonas in blue and green-blue on the outsides, blending to a green center. (I'm kind of a nut about mixing colors on the screens.) They are lovely. Now, to see a finished cotona. The weavers are all busy putting a new 100 yard warp on a loom. It will take all day, probably. It's a heck of a job.

I'm itching to make a shirt myself, but that's not what I'm here for. I'm supposed to be teaching them. (Darn it!)

They've got some nasty little ants here that sure like the taste of me. This last week they've been uncommonly aggressive.

Danelia tells me there's going to be a tropical storm later today. She looked worried. I suppose it's because of her roof, which is in terrible condition. It's 100 degrees now.

Rabbits seem to be a favored house pet here now. Last year Mirna and Mirian's families each had one. This year, Mirian's family had three that had the run of the yard and the house. "They aren't to eat, Elenita. They're pets."

Last Sunday they were surprised to find they had three baby rabbits, little black and white bunnies that look like a Beatix Potter illustration. By the wall on one side of the patio is a small tunnel that apparently extends into a tunnel network. The babies just hopped out Sunday morning. I'd love to see how that tunnel is arranged. During those cloud bursts when there is 3 inches of water standing in the yard, how were the babies kept from drowning?

An unhappy Mirna came to work Thursday. Somehow a dog got into their well-fenced yard and chewed the head off her rabbit. "It didn't eat it, just chewed off it's head. Why?" she asked.

The turtle they had last year that I enjoyed so much left with Hurricane Mitch. It apparently just floated out of the yard with all the water.

When I went to buy some more dry milk I learned that they don't have non-fat milk here. It's all whole milk. The last I got is Nicaraguan, not from New Zealand this time, and it's equally good. I just hope I don't develop a taste for whole milk. J


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