Touring for Textiles


Interview: Mindy Cook

Back in the 90’s Robert Fletcher and Christine Pearson were overwhelmed with the response to their tour programs to Vietnam. Christine was unearthing a treasure trove of traditional craft skills which, unfortunately, are now disappearing. So they designed a textile focussed trip there, led by Valerie Kirk, Head of Textiles at the ANU, and this has been run every year since 1992.

Robert explains: “From Vietnam we expanded our menu and have since drawn in others, well-known for their personal knowledge on the area and textiles, including Ruth Hadlow who takes our West Timor and Flores trips, Valerie who has extended her portfolio of travel programs, Christina Sumner (new) and Christine Pearson, who after 20 years of accompanying textile trips with Valerie is most capable of escorting our Sri Lanka and Bhutan trips.”


How do you decide where to go and what to do?

The primary decision making is based on the uniqueness of textiles and other crafts practised there. We must meet the craftspeople and weavers and we want to learn, which all provides a wonderful relationship with the traditional weavers. We endeavour to promote the villagers’ traditional skills as this prevents the migration away from family and village life to the uncertainties of the city, and it exposes visitors to options other than cheap Chinese imported copies.


*We also show how traditionally textiles have been made – across a variety of techniques – starting with processing the basic fibre used to make the textiles. Plant materials such as cotton and hemp have been worked into yarns, and in Burma the lotus stem fibre is used to make lustrous threads. In Lao PDR there remains a depth of knowledge of natural dyes and the processes needed to prepare and use the dyes. The process of weaving in a traditional culture is generally a seasonal pursuit. There are many looms used for weaving from simple back strap to engineered box frame looms and in many instances it is incredible to see how complicated patterns can be woven with simple pick-up stick or vertical heddle mechanisms. Another textile technique commonly used is embroidery, stitching or couching directly onto fabric to embellish clothing or other ceremonial objects. Lavishly decorated textiles are synonymous with North West India as are the tribal stitched and mirrored fabrics, but most countries have traditions of needlework which we explore.

*Contributed by Valerie Kirk


What is the feedback from tour groups?

In the main we have a high return guest rate and feedback is generally very positive. We have to develop new trips to satisfy the travel lust of our past clients!

One of our favourite comments is: ‘Active Travel, you’ve done it again’.

What is a particularly ‘memorable’ moment?

Wow, so many! We have an arrangement with an optometrist to collect used spectacles which we take to various destinations and distribute to weavers. Many of the older ladies have some form of optical degeneration and when we present our supply of glasses there is much banter and trying on to see what works well and what looks good, too. When we presented the glasses in Myanmar an old lady came to Christine with tears and said “I am so happy, I can see what I’m doing”. It was such a simple act on our behalf with a wonderful outcome.

Can you finish this sentence: My favourite part of the world is….

I don’t have an answer. The ‘favourite’ depends on your mood at the time, your travel companion, and the form that the favourite place is taking at the time you are there. One day it could be Sydney Harbour, the next it may be Patagonia or Ethiopia.

Robert is looking forward to talking in detail about the tours Active Travel offers at the Craft & Quilt Fair in Canberra, August 21 – 24, 2014. So start writing down all your questions!



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8 thoughts on “Touring for Textiles”

  1. Could you please send me details of your 2015 tours? I am in New Zealand do you offer tours from there or are they all ex Australia?
    Thanks so much.

  2. Hi and thanks for all your enquiries about tours such as the one on this article. We are forwarding your email addreses to Active Travel so Robert and Christine can correspond directly with you with the information you are seeking. Meanwhile, there is a lot of information on their website:


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