Friday, 22 March 2013

People in Spotlight - Simple Master Weaver: Millington's

Milton John of Millington's sits outside his workshed weaving, surrounded by a few of his craft pieces.

Remember those mats and rugs your grandmother used to own? The woven rattan or rafia ones that greeted you at the doorway or graced the living room floor? I've noticed that you don't see many of them anymore in Trinidad and Tobago. It seems the amazing artform of weaving grass into exquisite baskets, rugs, seating and furniture has been replaced by imported blends of unnatural, chemical filled rayon and polyester blends of madness. Or on the other hand, when you do find a grass woven product, it was imported. Hmmmph!Why do we seem to prefer imported items to our local riches? There are about 6 people in our country that still practice this art, one such person is Milton John of Millington's.

Saltwhistle Bay Beach, Mayreau, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
(Photo courtesy
He is an easy-going, industrious Vincentian who learned this technique from his father at an early age while growing up in the tropical island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). SVG is made up of 32 island and cays and is well known for their pristine, powder white sand beaches. Milton moved to Trinidad and Tobago when he was about 20 years old and managed to keep his weaving a side gig until the usual construction industry jobs to which he'd grown accustomed, grew scarce. Since then weaving has been his life and livelihood. His workshed is located close to his home along the Lady Young Road. The Lady Young Road meanders through the mountains of the Northern Range and connects the Eastern Main Road in Barataria, in Eastern Trinidad and the Queen's Park Savannah (the world's largest traffic roundabout) in Western Trinidad.
A Partial View of the St. Ann's Valley from Millington's
I met Mellington almost a year ago and commissioned a rug of my own design. At one point I sat with him while he completed the last few turns of my rug and began chatting. That's when I found out about the type of grass (he calls it zettia) and that he had some planted in the back of his workshed. Of course, I had to go explore his backyard and was greeted with the wonderful view of the St. Ann's Valley in Maraval.
My commissioned rug
Milton stands in the midst of his zettia grass.
The zettia grass must be dried a bit before weaving and this may take a few days after cutting. As the grass dries and ages, the colour changes and the weaving creates additional texture that makes the rug come alive. Shades of green, brown and yellow abound in a freshly woven rug. The dried grass is woven using varied techniques. One of the techniques I observed was to plait the grass as you would hair, using three distinct groups of grass and then weave one long plait into itself, rolling and tacking with 'twine' or rayon thread (for longevity).

Dried grass for weaving stands next to the beginnings of a round,
plaited rug and a completed hat. 
Some completed chair seats flanked by freshly cut bamboo stalks for drying.

I share Milton's belief that the craft is vastly underappreciated. At this point he is struggling to pay his bills and must seek alternative employment. He believes that his craft is an old one that the Trinbagonian populace would rather forget and replace with what they believe to be the newest products on the market. Is this true? For me, I look to the past for a certain beauty and uniqueness that can be only achieved by the perfect imperfections of the handiwork of man.

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