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Braiding with the intention of peace

Karen Lohn instructs Jaiqi Teu on how to hold the middle of the scarf so that the strands don’t become twisted while three people work on braiding it. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 3
Karen Lohn instructs the braiders on how to make a “rapunzel scarf.” (Photos by Teri Cadeau)2 / 3
Karen Lohn holds up two of the scarves created at UMD to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 7.3 / 3

Can peace be woven into the fabric of our society?

Karen Lohn, a former professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth and fiber enthusiast, believes it can. Lohn was invited back to UMD on March 7 to celebrate International Women’s Day and teach a hands-on exercise that demonstrates the interconnectedness of peace, fiber and women.

“Fiberwork connects every culture across the globe,” Lohn said. “Every culture has some form of fiberwork, be it textiles, weaving, batiking fabric

or knitting, anything. It connects us interpersonally. It connects us to true beauty. It connects us intergenerationally.”

Lohn started the “Scarves of Peace Project” with this thought in mind. A “Scarf of Peace” is a symbol of the human yearning for peace between and among all according to Lohn.

“Each scarf is braided by many hands with strands of fiber blessed with peaceful intentions and contributed by diverse people from six continents,” Lohn said.

Lohn had strands of fibers ready for braiding for six scarves at UMD, each bunch with a strand or two from the six continents. She would point out a few strands that had a meaningful connection.

“This one is from the hem of Japanese kimono,” she said, pointing it out of the bunch. “And this one was finger crocheted by some kind elderly people in a nursing home.”

Normally, she would let the groups of braiders pick their own fibers, but knowing that the college students had limited lunch breaks, she picked out the fibers ahead of time.

The braiding is done with teams of seven people — eight, if you count Lohn’s direction. The fibers were split evenly into three strands. Six people hold one strand each, and one person holds the middle of the strands to keep the tension even.

“That’s an important job because it’s really easy for the scarf to become twisted when so many people are braiding at once,” Lohn said.

Three people began braiding one end of the scarf.

“But I don’t know how to braid,” Shaun Mattson, a student at UMD, said.

He and another young man stood aside while a group of braiders formed. But they needed one more participant. Lohn invited Mattson to join in.

“Now I’m a pro,” he said, while weaving the strands together with the help of two other UMD students.

When they reached the end, they simply tied a knot to keep the strands together. Then, the other three braiders at the other end of the scarf begin to braid.

The completed scarves are sent to leaders who hold the power to create peace, and to people anywhere yearning for warmth, beauty and connection.

“We sent eight scarves with a missionary to Iraq, we sent a few to missionaries in Haiti,” Lohn said, flipping through a photo album.

Lohn’s photo album is filled with photos of the scarves being delivered to various delegates and leaders around the world.

Members of the Women’s Resource and Action Center plan to give one of the scarves to Vandana Shiva when she speaks at UMD in April. Shiva is an environmental activist and eco-feminist from India who has authored several books about ecological issues such as climate change, genetically modified foods and the global food supply. She will speak at 6 p.m. April 8 in the Kirby Balllroom at UMD.

Lohn had the braiders recommend other leaders to send their scarves to.

“Because ultimately,” she said “it isn’t really about fiber. It’s about love.”

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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