Mapi Millet and GAN at Ras de Terra: a great collaborative tapestry to vindicate Spanish merino wool craftsmanship.
From September 23rd to 25th, GAN’s creative director participated in a meeting organized by the La Vera (Extremadura) cultural centre to contribute to the revaluation of Spanish merino wool as part of the “Unravelling Merino” program.
The project, driven by professional women in the sector, was a call for support for contemporary textile crafts in Spain, which are in need of training programs and infrastructure recovery, to prevent its disappearance.
From the beginning, GAN has focused on updating artisanal production from the perspective of contemporary design, always using local and nature-friendly materials. The company, recognized around the world for its own vision of craftsmanship and its collections signed by internationally renowned creatives, joined the Ras de Terra Cultural Centre in La Vera (Cáceres, Spain) with the purpose of approaching the world of merino wool, one of the most emblematic elements of the Extremadura pasture, in order to promote its reappraisal as an opportunity for development and revitalization of the rural community.
“Unravelling the Merino” was an artistic, social and environmental project aiming to raise public awareness of the situation of merino wool in our country, where despite its level of production, the lack of infrastructure prevents it from becoming profitable with the creation of competitive products. In its first edition, the program focused on highlighting the challenges facing merino wool, making its craftsmanship visible and emphasizing its extraordinary potential through art, design, craftsmanship and activism. The initiative brought together the knowledge acquired by female experts and by GAN, a brand whose production is characterized by the use of traditional manual techniques and natural materials, mainly wool.
The conference took place at the headquarters of Ras de Terra, a rehabilitated tobacco dryer located in Aldea del Tudal, in Villanueva de La Vera. Through conferences and workshops given by female experts, which included the collective elaboration of a handmade merino wool tapestry, Ras de Terra and GAN materialized an alliance based on shared values, such as creating an innovative and creative dialogue inspired by craftsmanship, design and nature, and promoting the regeneration and economic development of the rural environment.
The action highlighted the work of Spanish handicraft projects whose main raw material is merino wool from local and sustainable livestock farms, committed to the environment thanks to practices such as transhumance, a type of grazing whose cultural, historical, scenic, environmental and ethnographic richness has earned it recognition as a representative manifestation of Spain’s intangible cultural heritage.
Training, awareness and innovation
Ras de Terra is committed to the work of women who have been and remain the main protagonists of merino. It disseminates training programs such as “Unravelling the Merino” to promote competitive, artisanal or semi-industrial production and quality in the international market. To this end, the centre brought together specialists in the field to open a participatory process and rethink the future of Spanish merino.
Passionate about artisanal techniques and natural fibers, Mapi Millet brought her knowledge of textile craftsmanship, especially from rural communities in India, and her experience in design, product development and sustainable production, in harmony with the natural environment and the social and economic development of artisan communities.
“The main challenges facing merino wool in Spain are the lack of support and institutional will for its management and production and the lack of specialists in handlooms. Unfortunately, these circumstances mean that this precious treasure that is merino wool is often thrown away or mis-sold,” explained Mapi. “From GAN and Ras de Terra we propose that society enters the universe of merino wool textile craftsmanship and appreciate its immense possibilities. Through disclosure and awareness, these days are a call for the creation of vocational training programs and infrastructure recovery to promote competitive production that will boost the revitalization of the artisan collective.“
GAN’s creative director was joined by great connoisseurs of the sector, Charlotte Houman, Danish designer living in Cuacos de Yuste who develops her products exclusively with merino wool in small artisan textile factories; Lala de Dios, an art historian, and weaver by vocation as well as the co-founder of Indigo Estudio Textil; Almudena Sánchez, founder and representative of Dehesa Lana and Asociación Laneras; Camino Limia, president of the Global Association for Sustainable Livestock and Professional Livestock (ATP) in Merino Spain; El Cinorrio, a rural community of female goat herders in Villanueva de La Vera; and Alinee Moreno González, a veterinarian and expert in sustainable livestock who spoke about wool as a textile asset in ethnic groups in Mexico.
The event was narrated by writer Consuelo López-Zuriaga and the creative direction of artist Mónica Sánchez-Robles, co-founder of Ras de Terra.
Simultaneously, Ras de Terra hosted at its headquarters the exhibition of three referents of contemporary textile art: Andrea Hauer, Barbara Long and Ana Musma, whose works were created during their artistic residency at the centre. Choreographer and dancer Verónica Garzón gave a performance during the event.
Large-format collaborative loom open to the public
The central point of the conference was the workshop “Transhumant collaborative tapestry with Merino sheep wool”. The tapestry was made by all the people who visited Ras de Terra, who were invited to live the experience of weaving freely and with their own hands a piece that would then be exhibited and auctioned. The fibres used to shape the tapestry were merino wool remnants provided by local manufacturers and artisans. All this under the technical direction of Lala de Dios and with the expert support of Charlotte Houman and Mapi herself.
In addition, during the conference GAN also equipped the space with poufs for the speakers and rugs and cushions for the public as well as organizing a raffle including a pouf from the Chaddar collection, designed by Charlotte Lancelot, among the attendees for the benefit of Ras de Terra.
Rediscovering the Spanish transhumant merino, one of the most prized natural fibres
The Merino sheep, which originated from the crossbreeding of sheep from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, was for centuries located exclusively in Spain, and was considered a strategic asset. In fact, Merino sheep breeders were grouped into the powerful Concejo de la Mesta, which represented their interests before the crown. The export of Merino sheep was forbidden for centuries and the country held a monopoly until the 18th century. From then on, it began to expand in France and other countries such as England. In the 19th century, they reached Australia, where 80% of Merino wool is currently concentrated, appreciated for its fineness, softness, flexibility and many other qualities.
Today, the Merino is a legacy of history that is still present in a large part of Spanish geography. Especially in the pastures of Extremadura, these sheep have always been part of its tradition and landscape. Despite the large production of Merino wool, it cannot be processed and elaborated in our country due to a number of factors, starting with the lack of washing facilities and other infrastructures necessary for processing, spinning and weaving. Although thousands of kilos of Merino wool are sheared every year, 80% is exported raw to other countries at prices below the cost of production. The remaining wool ends up being discarded because artisanal production in Spain is scarce and is not capable of absorbing all the surplus.
In addition, the lack of handlooms and the absence of a strong craftsmanship capable of attracting new generations mean that this cultural heritage is at risk of disappearing. In this context, it becomes vitally important to call for institutional and social commitment to lay the foundations for a system of recovery work that brings together creators, managers and public and private entities from the artistic and educational sector to save this treasure through the promotion of contemporary craftsmanship.