Welsh Quilts Sew Seeds of Opportunity for Ethiopian Women

Welsh quilt expert Jen Jones from Llanybydder and seamstress Janet Bridge from Cardigan travelled to Ethiopia recently to give master classes in the ancient skills of quilt-making to a group of poor Ethiopian women.

The women attend a women's skills centre in the northern region of Tigray, funded by CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development).

The aim is to make money from their new skills by selling their hand-sewn quilts in both Ethiopia and Wales.

Grandmother of nine, Janet, who has never travelled to a developing country, led the training sessions.

She said: "Travelling to such a beautiful country and meeting these incredibly poor but gifted women was the most inspiring experience. I can only describe it as joyous and rewarding.

"We became very close during our short time together. I'm so moved to realise just how much of a difference their new skills will make, not only to their chances of earning money to feed their families but also to
their own confidence."

Jen said the poverty in Ethiopia was "shocking" but praised the women for their enthusiasm and talent for quilting. Already two crib-sized quilts have been made, in Welsh style with Ethiopian cotton. They have been brought back to Wales where Jen and Janet will sell them on their behalf.

"We really connected with the women and there is huge potential for this friendship to continue," she shared.

The products will be sold on the web and in a gallery. They are already working on ideas for many more products.

"It's such a great story that poor women who became master quilt-makers in Wales to avoid destitution and prostitution in the last century are linked to women in northern Ethiopia doing exactly the same thing this century. Also, that a dying tradition in one country is helping to stimulate market development in another." said Jen.

"I hope that this will be the beginning of a mutually productive and prosperous enterprise," she added.

CAFOD's representative in Ethiopia, Beverly Jones, came across Jen's quilt shop whilst visiting her mother-in-law in nearby Carmarthan and the two got chatting.

Beverley said: "There is a long tradition of weaving and embroidery in Ethiopia. The country is just recovering from cycles of drought and war which have left the majority of its people impoverished.

"But now there is a possibility for developing new products and creating more income for women who would otherwise be forced into sex work or other hazardous ways of earning a living.

"The women themselves, the Daughters of Charity, who run the women's project, and CAFOD are very excited by the possibilities this Welsh-Ethiopian link can create."

The Ethiopian made quilts will be inspired by the styles and patterns of Welsh quilts and made using flannel woven at the Welsh Woollen Museum at Drefach Felindre by Melin Teifi as well as the colourful Ethiopian fabric designs.