Una semana de tinte natural: Conozcan a Doña Margarita / A week of natural dyes: Meet Doña Margarita

Blog por Alejandra Arrué Lou

A continuación encontrará extractos de mi entrevista con Doña Margarita como parte del taller de tintes naturales con Olga Reiche, patrocinado por Kakaw Designs.

Conozca a Margarita

Cuando conocí a Margarita, al principio me pareció tímida y reservada. Pero después de pasar solo un día con ella, rápidamente aprendí que Margarita era todo lo contrario. Ella es un rayo de sol y vitalidad. Tiene una risa contagiosa, le encanta hacer bromas y tiene una profunda pasión por su arte. Ella cuenta que “desenredar y arreglar el hilo de algodón es una de mis actividades favoritas”. Esto le trae paz y serenidad. A Margarita le importan mucho su familia y su identidad. Ella busca preservar su cultura a través de los textiles que teje. Además, es una líder que quiere expandir su arte y liderar un grupo de mujeres artesanas para seguir experimentando con tintes naturales.

Alejandra: ¿Cuánta experiencia tuvo usted con los tintes naturales antes de este taller? 

Margarita: Yo no he recibido ningún taller antes. Tengo experiencia de mis padres porque mi abuelo ya tenía ese conocimiento. Cuando era pequeña, ellos practicaban el algodón, lo cosechaban, y lo trabajaban. Yo sacaba el algodón y lo clasificaba también. Tengo unos pocos recuerdos que ellos nos decían de las plantas. De hecho, tengo dos tías que viven todavía y conocen el algodón bien. Yo ahorita estoy buscando un huipil que mi mamá hizo con ese algodón. Cuando estaba escuchando a Olga, ya tenía un poco de experiencia y en ese momento estaba recordando del aprendizaje que me dejaron mis padres. Pero no, nunca he recibido un taller como este. 

Alejandra: ¿Por qué le interesó aprender más sobre el teñido natural?

Margarita: Para mi es importante porque quiero rescatar estas prácticas. Así era como lo hacíamos antes. Ahora ya no. Además, me sorprende que una planta saca un color distinto a como se ve. El encino es el color que más me interesa, pero hay otras plantas también que me interesan.

Alejandra: Ya que aprendió bastante esta semana, ¿quiere seguir trabajando con tintes naturales? ¿Cree que va a poder replicar esta práctica en su casa/asociación? 

Margarita: Sí quiero seguir. Personalmente, me gustaría trabajar con grupos de mujeres para experimentar. Ahora se trata de aprender de las plantas que sacan color, especialmente las plantas que hay en mi comunidad de Chamelco. La idea sería tener un grupo de mujeres para practicar, experimentar, y producir. Pero primero tengo que practicar sola para ver si me salen los colores y tintes.

Alejandra: ¿Cuáles son los retos que le puedan dificultar a seguir con el tinte natural?

Margarita: Pues hay muchos retos. Todo dependiendo del hilo. Por ejemplo, no todos los hilos se pueden teñir. O se puede teñir pero no se queda en el hilo fijo. Otro reto será poder encontrar los hilos naturales y los vendedores cerca de donde yo vivo. Por ejemplo, el blanco que muchas veces usamos ya tiene cloro y eso no es natural. Lo voy a investigar. Pero poco a poco.

Alejandra: ¿En su pueblo (Chamelco), hay gente que trabaja con tinte natural? ¿Por qué lo hacen / no lo hacen?

Margarita: Ahorita no hay nadie. No tienen motivación porque es mucho trabajo y los consumidores no entienden el precio alto. Los únicos que entienden son los artesanos. Por eso es importante que los consumidores entiendan sobre el tinte natural, que es elaborado por una artesana, y que requiere muchos días de trabajo. 

Alejandra: ¿Nos puede compartir algo que le impresionó mucho del taller con Olga? ¿Recomendaría este taller a otras tejedoras?

Margarita: De mi parte es muy interesante. Los procesos que nos explicó, en teoría y en práctica, son muy importantes. Si se lo recomendaría a otras tejedoras. Pero como los procesos son complicados y a veces lo hacemos “al ojo”, se puede volver muy confuso. Entonces hay que poner mucha atención. 

Alejandra: ¿Cómo fue quedarse la semana en la casa de Doña Lidia?

Margarita: Fue interesante. Aprendí a usar la estufa. Ya me puse más cómoda. Yo normalmente me levanto a las 3am. Se me olvida que no es mi casa porque no estoy acostumbrada. El viaje fue fácil pero hay que tener paciencia. A veces se tarda más en llegar. 


Blogpost by Alejandra Arrué Lou

Below you will find my interview with Doña Margarita who participated in Olga Reiche’s natural dye workshop, sponsored by Kakaw Designs. 

Meet Margarita

When I first met Margarita, she seemed shy and reserved. But after spending just one day with her, I quickly learned Margarita was just the opposite. She is a ray of sunshine and vibrancy. She has an infectious laugh, loves to make jokes, and has a deep passion for her art. She notes that, “untangling and arranging threads is one of my favorite activities.” This brings her peace and serenity. Margarita holds her family and her cultural identity dear and seeks to preserve her cultural identity through the textiles she weaves. In addition, she is a natural leader who hopes to expand her craft and lead a group of artisan women to continue experimenting with natural dyes. 

Alejandra: How much experience did you have with natural dyes before this workshop?
Margarita: I have never received any workshop. I have experience with my parents because my grandfather already had some knowledge. When I was little, they would practice with cotton, harvest it, and work with it. I would take apart the cotton and classify it. I have some memory that they [her family] would tell me about the different plants. In fact, I have two aunts that are still alive today that know cotton quite well. Right now, I am looking for a huipil that my mother made with that cotton. When I was listening to Olga, I had a bit of experience and in that moment I began to remember the learnings that my parents taught me. But no, I had never received a workshop like this before.  

Alejandra: Why were you interested in learning about natural dyes? 

Margarita: For me, it’s important to rescue these practices. This is how we used to do it. Not anymore. In addition, it is surprising that one plant emits a color that is different from what it looks like. The color that interests me the most is oak, but there are other plants that interest me as well. 

Alejandra: Now that you have learned a lot this week, would you like to continue working with natural dyes? Do you think you can replicate these processes in your house/association? 

Margarita: Yes, I would like to continue. Personally, I would like to work with a group of women to experiment more. Now, it is about learning about the plants that one can extract colors from, especially the plants found in my community of Chamelco. My idea is to have a group of women that can practice together, experiment, and produce cotton with these dyes. But first I have to practice myself to see if I can extract the plants’ colors. 

Alejandra: What challenges do you foresee if you continue to use natural dyes? 
Margarita:
Well, there are many challenges. Everything depends on the thread. For example, not all threads can be dyed. Or maybe they can be dyed but the color does not last. Another challenge will be to source the natural threads nearby where I live. For example, the white thread that we normally use has bleach and that cannot be used. I need to keep investigating. It will be challenging to find all the vendors, threads, and raw materials. Little by little.    

Alejandra: Are there people in your community that work with natural dyes? Why or why not?
Margarita: Right now, there isn’t anybody. There is no motivation because it requires a lot of work and the consumer does not understand the high prices. The only people who understand the prices are the artisans. That is why it is important that consumers understand how natural dying works–it is worked by an artisan over many days. 

Alejandra: Can you share something that impressed you about the workshop? Would you recommend it to other weavers?
Margarita: I found it very interesting. The processes that were explained to us, the theory and the practice, are very important. I would recommend it to other weavers. But the processes are very complicated and sometimes we do things without measuring so it can be quite confusing. So you have to pay very close attention. 

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Una semana de tinte natural: Conozcan a Doña Lidia / A week of natural dyes: Meet Doña Lidia

Blog por Alejandra Arrué Lou

A continuación encontrará extractos de mi entrevista con Doña Lidia López como parte del taller de tintes naturales con Olga Reiche, patrocinado por Kakaw Designs.

<Below in English!>

Conozca a Doña Lidia

Cuando conocí a Doña Lidia, me dijo que sus hilos tenían sentimientos y que debíamos tratarlos con respeto. Ellos sienten lo que nosotros sentimos. Aprendí que ella está sincronizada con su arte, con las personas, las plantas, y los animales que la rodean. Doña Lidia tiene un corazón cálido; siempre le gusta conocer a nuevas personas y me trató como si fuera parte de su familia. También es una mujer increíblemente inteligente que entiende bastante los colores, habla 5 idiomas, y ha viajado por todo el mundo. Doña Lidia le importa mucho a su familia y cree firmemente en sus tradiciones ancestrales. Ella quiere seguir aprendiendo más de los tintes naturales porque es la forma más sostenible para nuestro planeta.

Alejandra: ¿Cuánta experiencia tiene usted con los tintes naturales antes de este taller? 

Doña Lidia: Estoy muy agradecida con Mari por darnos este curso porque antes había tenido un taller de tintes sintéticos pero no como este. Era más simple. Yo solo iba escuchando y no haciéndolo.  Yo aprendí junto con otras personas que son de Salcajá. También tengo un poco de experiencia con las plantas. Cuando camino por mi casa, miro las plantas y pienso sobre sus colores y tóxicos.

 

Alejandra: ¿Por qué le interesó aprender más sobre el teñido natural?

Doña Lidia: Me gusta pensar en nuestro futuro y la contaminación del planeta. En esta clase, aprendimos que toda el agua de los tintes sintéticos se tira otra vez en los drenajes. Los tintes sintéticos se pueden hacer en cantidad, son bonitos, y rápidos de hacer. Pero, ¿qué pasa con nuestra salud? No podemos seguir contaminando nuestro planeta. 

El color que más me interesa es el banano con el índigo. Me interesa que tenga solo un poco color. Tal vez los colores no salen exactamente como uno quiere pero se trata de la experiencia y de la conexión con la naturaleza. También me interesó aprender sobre las plantas y las frutas, como dependen del clima y si ha llovido.

Alejandra: Ya que aprendió bastante esta semana, ¿quiere seguir trabajando con tintes naturales? ¿Cree que va a poder replicar esta práctica en su casa/asociación? 

Doña Lidia: Estoy bastante motivada.  Si quiero replicarlo y renovar el tejido. Primero, tengo que involucrar a mi familia. Tengo mucho apoyo de mi hijo que también le interesa este concepto. Tengo una hermana que teje. Pero va a ser un poco difícil. Porque ya todos están acostumbrados a los hilos sintéticos. 

Mientras involucro a mi familia, me gustaría tejer algo con los hilos que hicimos con Doña Olga. Algo que tenga el fondo crudo y encima con los colores naturales que tengo.  Y lo voy hacer con diseños de San Antonio. El tejido será un ejemplo para mientras, y después implementó el proceso poco a poco en los huipiles.

Alejandra: ¿Cuáles son los retos que le puedan dificultar a seguir con el tinte natural?

Doña Lidia: El reto es el tiempo. Hay tiempo pero estamos en una cultura que es rápida, con horario, y con mucha competición. Los tintes naturales tardan más en hacerlos. Nosotros estamos acostumbrados a comprar los hilos en el mercado rápidamente. Pero nosotros mismos tenemos que valorar el proceso natural. Tenemos que reconocer el trabajo y la calidad de los materiales, y reflejar eso en nuestros precios. 

A veces he hablado con personas rurales para explicarles que no hay que comprar cosas sintéticas. Hay que tratar de no ser consumista. Mejor produzcamos más que consumimos. Por eso trato de sembrar. Yo siembro frijoles y verduras. Es mejor mantener nuestras propias cosechas. Cuando yo misma siembro mi comida, es un sentido muy diferente y especial. Es orgánica y más sostenible. Es una lucha porque estamos en un círculo de consumismo y de inconsciencia. Algún día ya no habrá maneras sostenibles. Espero que algún día eso cambie. 

Alejandra: ¿En su pueblo (San Antonio), hay gente que trabaja con tinte natural? ¿Por qué lo hacen / no lo hacen?

Doña Lidia: Nadie trabaja con tinte natural. Yo seré la primera. De hecho muchos de los tejidos se están desapareciendo. Como he dicho, es por el tiempo. 

Alejandra: ¿Nos puede compartir algo que le impresionó mucho del taller con Olga? ¿Recomendaría este taller a otras tejedoras?

Doña Lidia: Me gusta mucho aprender de las plantas. Hay muchas plantas que son fáciles de encontrar, crecen, y no se van a extinguir. Me gusta la experimentación y probar sacar nuevos colores con nuevas plantas. Además, Olga es una excelente maestra. Ella sabe mucho. Pienso que todo lo que nos enseñó hay que practicarlo. 

Alejandra: ¿Cómo fue tener a Doña Margarita en su casa esta semana? 

Doña Lidia: Fue excelente. Yo siempre quiero cooperar y compartir sin ser egoísta. Y así seguimos adelante. Seamos positivos, no negativos. Como he convivido con varias personas de todo el mundo en mi casa, me gusto estar con Margarita y la trate como si fuera mi propia hija. Yo quiero empezar a trabajar con ella y aprender más de ella también. Yo seguiré aprendiendo, no importa mi edad. 


Meet Doña Lidia 

When I first met her, she told me that her “hilos” had feelings and that we needed to treat them with respect. They feel what we feel. I learned that she is not only in tune with her art but with the people, plants, and animals around her. Doña Lidia has a warm heart; she is open to new people and treated me like I was part of her family. She is also an incredibly smart woman who deeply understands colors, speaks 5 languages, and has traveled the world. Doña Lidia strongly believes in her family and ancestral traditions, and yearns to learn more about how to dye naturally as she believes it is the more sustainable way for our planet. 

Alejandra:  How much experience did you have with natural dyes before this workshop? 

Doña Lidia: I am very grateful to Mari for giving me this opportunity because I have attended a synthetic dye workshop before but not like this one. It was much simpler where I only listened. I learned with other people from Salcajá. I also have some experience with plants. I always look at the plants when I walk around my house and think about their colors and toxins.

Alejandra: Why were you interested in learning about natural dyes? 

Doña Lidia: I like to reflect on our planet’s future and the contamination of it. In this class, we learned about how the water from the dyes are thrown back into the sewage system. Sure, synthetic dyes can be made in large quantities, they’re beautiful, and faster to make. But what happens to our health? We cannot continue polluting our planet like this. 

The most interesting color for me is the combination of indigo and bananas. I like that they have a more pale color. Perhaps the natural dyes do not come out as one had planned but it’s really about the experience and the connection we have with nature. It was also interesting to learn more about plants and fruits and how they depend on their natural environment. 

Alejandra:  Now that you have learned a lot this week, would you like to continue working with natural dyes? Do you think you can replicate these processes in your house/association? 

Doña Lidia: I am very motivated. I would like to replicate and renew my techniques. But first, I need to involve my family. I have a lot of support from my son who is also interested in this concept. I have another sister who weaves. But it will be a little challenging because everyone is accustomed to synthetic threads.  While I involve my family, I would like to weave something with the threads we made with Doña Olga. Something that has a raw background with a more natural color on top. I am going to design using the patterns from San Antonio. This piece will be an example in the meantime and later I will implement the process little by little in my huipiles. 

Alejandra: What challenges do you foresee if you continue to use natural dyes?  

Doña Lidia: The biggest challenge is that of time. We have time but we now live in a culture that is fast, with tight schedules, and competition. Natural dyes require more time to make. We are accustomed to buy ready-to-go threads in the market. But we need to elevate our natural processes. We need to recognize the work and quality of the materials and reflect that in our prices. 

Sometimes when I am talking with people from my community I like to explain that we should not buy synthetic materials. We must not be such consumerists. It’s better to produce more than consume more. That’s why I like to plant my own vegetables, including beans. It’s better to maintain our own harvests. It is much more special when I plant my own food. It’s organic and sustainable. It is a challenge because we are in a cycle of consumerism and unconsciousness. One day, we will reach  a point where there will not be any sustainable practices. But I am hopeful that we can change this. 

Alejandra: Are there people in your community that work with natural dyes? Why or why not? 

Doña Lidia: Nobody works with natural dyes. I will be the first one. In fact, many of our own patterns are disappearing. Like I mentioned, it’s because of the time it takes.

Alejandra:Can you share something that impressed you about the workshop? Would you recommend it to other weavers?
Doña Lidia:  I loved learning about plants. There are many plants that are easy to find, grow well, and are not in extinction. I love to experiment and extract new colors with new plants. In addition, Olga is an excellent teacher. She knows a ton. Everything she taught us needs to be practiced. 

Alejandra: How was having Doña Margarita in your home during the week? 

Doña Lidia: It was excellent. I like to cooperate and share without being selfish. That’s how we can move forward. We need to be positive, not negative. I have shared with many different people from around the world so I enjoyed being with Margarita. I treated her like she was my own daughter. I would like to continue working and learning more from her. I will always continue learning, no matter my age. 

What’s the Antigua Textile Week like?

We’re so grateful to participant Kenna Kloes for sharing about her experience on our very first Antigua Textile Week in July 2022. Read on below!

When I came across Kakaw’s website, I was immediately enamored with the beautiful textiles and offerings. Colorful huipils, leather bags, and beautiful ceramics initially drew me in, and Kakaw’s mission for impact is what propelled me to take another step.

As a graduate student studying Social Entrepreneurship and Change, I was looking for an organization to visit that could teach me about social impact, as well as help me to understand a culture different from my own. When I saw that Kakaw was hosting a Textile Workshop Week in Antigua, Guatemala, I immediately reached out and became the first participant to sign up.

Read on to hear all about the incredible week that ensued, and the unique experiences Kakaw curated for myself and the other workshop participants.

Day 1

After an introductory evening of meeting one another and getting acquainted with the week’s itinerary, the group met back up this morning for an introduction to textiles taught by Karla at Casa de Artes. 

Upon arrival to the beautiful space, we walked through displays of colorful traditional textiles, handcrafted Guatemalan masks, and cases full of unique jewelry to the shaded garden, where there were 7 chairs, surrounded by cotton trees and flowering bushes. For the next two hours, we listened, enamored, as Karla shared with us the history of textile weaving, the symbolism of different patterns and styles, and the technique of natural dyeing.

Throughout the presentation, Karla passed around gorgeous, one-of-a-kind pieces for us to study and appreciate. We got to see everything from single panel huipils to brown cotton buds. Everyone got the chance to ask questions and look around the museum afterward, honing in on the topics that were especially interesting to each of us.

After our time at Casa de Artes, the group headed back to the Kakaw office to find Everilda, who had set out dozens of beautiful textiles and garments in the studio garden for us to look through and purchase. We each tried things on, learned about the regions where each of the textiles came from, and had a ball appreciating the colors, designs, and seemingly endless patterns that were laid out before us.

Our busy morning worked up some healthy appetites, so Kakaw Operations Director Evelyn led the group to a beautiful restaurant for lunch. By then, it had started to rain (as it does during the summer season in Guatemala), but we still opted to sit outside underneath umbrellas, because for a bunch of United States residents, the warm tropical rain was a delightful novelty.

Day 2

Day 2 of the Textile Workshop Week was jam-packed with incredible experiences. All of the participants met up and hopped in a private shuttle van to take the 15 minute drive to an area just outside of Antigua, where we were privileged to be invited to Doña Lidia’s home for homemade lunch and a lesson in backstrap weaving. Lidia is a master weaver with decades of experience and expertise. Along with two of her sisters, Lidia demonstrated the ancient technique that utilizes one’s body for tension at different points throughout the process to create a beautiful textile that can be hung as art, or made into something else, such as a garment or pillow.

The women already had looms started for each of us, so we got to choose our colors, and then get set up to start our very own textiles. I learned very quickly why it takes so many years to become an excellent weaver – it’s a very difficult skill to master! It took me quite a while to begin to get the hang of the simple piece I was making, but Doña Lidia and her sisters were extremely patient, and I was eventually able to get into the groove of the beautiful process. 

After spending some time becoming familiar with the backstrap weaving technique, we washed up and began making homemade tortillas! Doña Lidia had the dough already made, so we got to join in on the fun part of shaping the dough and laying it out on the outdoor flattop in the courtyard area of Lidia’s home. After a bit of snacking on tortillas and coffee, we sat down to a lovely traditional Guatemalan lunch of pepián, green beans, homemade hibiscus juice, rice and corn picked from Lidia’s garden, and sweet flan for dessert. Throughout lunch we got to know one another better and spoke of textile symbolism, life in Guatemala, and favorite foods of the group.

We headed back into Antigua with full bellies and even fuller hearts after experiencing Doña Lidia’s warm hospitality and the creative flow of an afternoon of backstrap weaving.

Day 3

Today when I arrived to the Kakaw Studio (delicious Guatemalan coffee in hand), the studio courtyard looked like a dream. An embroidery expert named Claribel from an area called Sumpango was there with canvas totes for each Textile Week participant already stenciled with an intricate design. She also had baskets filled to the brim with threads of every color imaginable. In the corner was a station set up with water, fresh fruit, agua fresca, and handmade ceramic bowls and cups from Kakaw’s line of homewares.

 

We gathered around a table in the shade and began our lesson in embroidery. Claribel showed us many different kinds of stitches, which we got to practice on the shapes and flowers stenciled into our bags. After a couple of relaxing hours of stitching, we each had colorful designs we were proud of. Every participant got to choose a handful of colors of naturally dyed thread to take home as well to continue practicing what we learned.

After lunch, we took tuktuk’s (zippy little vehicles that are a cross between a car and a motorscooter) over to a lunch spot called Once Once, which is a stunning restaurant offering lots of vegan dishes and fresh drinks like matcha lemonade. After a couple of days of intensive learning, we relaxed into conversation and enjoyed one another’s company. 

Day 4

On day 4, I arrived to the studio excited to get my hands dirty with an Indigo natural dye workshop taught by the lovely Abigail of Mysa Fine Crafts. After a couple of days of working with intricate, detail-intensive methods such as weaving and embroidery, it was refreshing to switch directions a bit and work with a natural dye that is both art and science, as well as a bit unpredictable.

We started our session with Abigail by lighting a candle to acknowledge and center ourselves on gratitude for the borrowed knowledge we were about to put into practice by creating and using indigo dye.

This ritual started off our workshop on a reverent and lovely note as Abigail went on to explain the history of indigo and a bit of the science behind how the plant gets transformed into an incredible substance that turns textiles a rich, pigmented blue.

After a time of questions and learning, it was our moment to prepare our pieces and get to work! We each received a canvas tote bag to dye, and some participants brought garments from home to dye as well. The process itself is a fun and artistic one, where you get to use rubber bands, strings, clothespins, and other tools to create the designs you want. Then, after adding all the right ingredients, it’s time to dip your textiles in the natural dye. Each of ours came out completely different, and absolutely beautifully. While we dyed, we snacked on hibiscus juice and fresh papaya, delightedly revealing each textile that emerged from the dye vat. 

By the time we finished ooh-ing and ahh-info over our indigo creations, we were ready for lunch. We took a lovely stroll through the colorful city of Antigua to a restaurant called Saberico, where there was a table waiting in the garden. It was a lovely end to a meaningful day.

Day 5

We missed Kenna on this last day! Unfortunately, she had to leave a day early and so did not experience our very last day of workshops. But had she been able to stay, she would have been part of a Chajul-style pomopm-making workshop with our friend and master maker Chato in our studio garden. Using naturally-dyed thread, these packed pompoms are carefully created one by one. Traditional uses are discussed as well as how to wear the poms in the original headdress form.

The last lunch together was also hands-on, including a talk and experience on heirloom corn in Guatemala. Everyone practiced making their own tortillas (again), and enjoyed a traditional meal with a modern twist.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, as it sometimes goes with international flight schedules, my plane left before I could participate in the last day’s workshop, but the others got to make their own pom poms, which I heard was an absolute blast. And if the other days were any indication, I know everyone learned a lot about culture and history, while also getting to work with their hands and exercise their creative muscles,

This Kakaw Textile Week in Antigua, Guatemala was a truly life-changing experience. Hearing artisans’ stories, participating in ancient practices, learning about the art and history of textiles, and getting to meet others from around the country was a true gift that helped me foster a deeper appreciation for weaving, dyeing, and all that goes into making traditional garments.

From delicious food to expert workshop teachers, to private and safe shuttle transports, Kakaw thoughtfully curates meaningful experiences that help participants focus on what they’re there to learn: culturally rich and meaningful textile history and practices.

If you’re thinking about joining a Kakaw workshop, you can take it from this participant – saying “yes” will be one of the most enriching decisions you ever make.

Interested in joining our next Textile Week? Now taking reservations for January 2023:

Find more details on our website.

Community Visit to Cobán

//Español abajo//

Earlier this season, we were able to organize a visit to our two partner groups of weavers near Cobán, Alta Verapaz. It’s always a bit of a trek to get out there, as it takes a full day of travel to reach their communities, and since the pandemic, it had gotten even more logistically complicated. But when we got news of a bit of funding for improving digital capacities through the Nuttingham School of Art and Design (thanks to Dr. Katherine Townsend), we knew we wanted to take this opportunity to work with the weavers in these communities.

The weavers’ work is spectacular, with delicate advanced pikbil in Chamelco and intricate colorful brocade in Tactic. And we saw great potential benefit in photography training so that we can better represent their work and facilitate the telling of their stories to the world. And because it is important for us that the weavers all understand how digital images are shared and used, we dedicated time to discuss those important topics as part of the “Informed Consent” portion of the workshop.

This visit was led by Evelyn Arévalo, our on-the-ground production manager extraordinaire, accompanied by professional photographer Juan Salvador Galich. Take a look at the Q and A below with Evelyn, as she shares about the very first visit that she lead (spoiler alert – it went very well!).

-Mari

How long have you been working with the weavers in Chamelco and Tactic, and in what capacity?

Since transitioning to full-time with Kakaw Designs in 2020, right during the pandemic, I’ve been more involved with our work with artisans. Before that, I knew the representative of the association in Chamelco, Margarita, but it was this time that I started to work more closely with the group.

And with the weavers in Tactic – we started working together also in 2020 as part of our Artisan Direct project on our website.

Did you already know these towns? Or Alta Verapaz in general?

The department of Alta Verapaz is beautiful and known for its green areas. I hadn’t been able to visit for 15 years, and without a doubt it was joyful to be able to go back. It was my first time in Chamelco and Tactic.

And what did you think?

Chamelco strikes me as a well-organized municipality, with paved roads surrounded by nature. People walk the streets calmly, and the houses are painted colorfully.

The area where the weavers live in Tactic is higher up, with a spectacular view surrounded by plantations, vegetation, and small paths. It’s a small community, so all the weavers know each other, many of them are even family and their kids are always present in their activities.

We visited the house of the group representative, Aura, who is in charge of organizing the group of weavers so that they can offer handwoven pieces for sale. Because her house also serves as the neighborhood day care, there are books, little desks, and other materials for kids. They adapted an area of the house for the weavers to work on their looms after day care, and they come together to share their progress on their work and stories about their day-to-day lives.

Each weaving requires so many hours of dedication, I love the moment when the weavers weave together, and their children are nearby learning, playing, and helping. This is work learned through the generations, and the weavers simultaneously dedicate time to be mothers, wives, daughters.

Was there something that surprised you during your visit?

How beautiful Cobán and its surroundings are! I love that the people are still preserving their traditions, and even given the situation with Covid, business is already going back to normal.

And something that you liked most?

Most definitely the green landscape of Cobán, and the friendliness of the people.

Tell us a bit about the workshop, and the weavers’ reactions.

It was lovely to get to know more members of the two groups of weavers during our visit for the photography and informed consent workshop. In Chamelco, the board members were the participants, and they are in charge of sharing what they learned with other members of the group. It was a dynamic day with delicious food and a one-of-a-kind chocolate drink.

Both of the groups received us with open arms and lots of enthusiasm to learn, both youth and adults paid attention when it came to photography technqies, and with the available resources on hand, we discussed how important it is nowadays to be able to share through images their work and the artists behind each handwoven piece.

It was a unique experience to share with hard-working women, with hands that produce art every day. Without a doubt, I would like to go back soon to get to know each and every one of them more. They told me that each handwoven piece reflects the weaver’s feelings, as a part of their heart is woven into their work. 

Visita Comunitaria en Cobán

Escrito por Evelyn Arévalo

¿Cuánto tiempo llevas trabajando con las tejedoras en Chamelco y Tactic, y en qué capacidad?

Desde que inicié de lleno con la marca Kakaw Designs en el 2020 justo en la pandemia pude involucrarme más con el trabajo de los artesanos. Yo ya había conocido  a la representante de la asociación de tejedoras en Chamelco, Margarita, pero fue entonces que empecé a trabajar más de cerca con ellas.

Y con las tejedoras de Tactic, empezamos la relación en 2020 como parte de Artisan Direct en nuestra página. 

¿Ya conocías a estos pueblos? ¿O a Alta Verapaz en general?

Alta Verapaz es un departamento hermoso y reconocido por sus áreas verdes. No había podido visitarlo desde hace 15 años, y fue sin duda una alegría poder regresar. Fue mi primera vez visitar Chamelco y Tactic.

¿Y cómo te parecieron?

Chamelco es un municipio muy bien organizado con calles pavimentadas rodeado de naturaleza. La gente muy tranquila caminando por las calles, y las casas pintadas de distintos colores.

La aldea de las tejedoras en Tactic está a lo alto, tiene una vista espectacular rodeada de plantaciones, vegetación y calles muy pequeñas. Ya que es una aldea todas las tejedoras se conocen, hasta la muchas son familia y sus hijos están siempre presentes en todas las actividades. 

Visitamos la casa de la representante del grupo, Aura, quien se encarga de organizar el grupo de tejedoras para que puedan ofrecer sus piezas a la venta. Como su casa también es la guardería de la vecindad, tiene libros y mesitas y algunos materiales para los niños. Adaptaron dentro un área para que las tejedoras puedan trabajar en sus telares cuando ya no estén los niños y así compartir como va su trabajo y las anécdotas del día. 

Cada tejido requiere muchas horas de dedicación, me encanta el momento en que tejen juntas, y sus hijos están cerca aprendiendo, jugando y ayudando. Es un trabajo aprendido de generación en generación, y las tejedoras siempre dedican a la vez tiempo a ser madres, esposas e hijas. 

¿Hay algo que te sorprendió durante tu visita? 

¡Lo bello que es Cobán y sus alrededores! Me encanta que aún se conservan sus tradiciones y ver que a pesar de la situación del Covid, el comercio ya está volviendo a la normalidad.

Y lo que más te gustó? 

Definitivamente me quedo con el paisaje verde de Cobán y la calidez de su gente. 

Cuéntanos un poco sobre el taller, y la reacción de las tejedoras.

Fue agradable conocer más miembros de los dos grupos de tejedoras durante nuestra visita para el taller de fotografía y autorización informada. Los miembros de la junta directiva en Chamelco fueron las que asistieron al taller y serán las encargadas de compartir lo aprendido a sus compañeras. Fue un día muy dinámico con comida deliciosa y una bebida de chocolate única. 

Los dos grupos nos recibieron con los brazos abiertos con muchas ganas de aprender y tanto jóvenes y adultos pusieron mucha atención sobre la técnicas de tomar una buena fotografía con los recursos que tienen a la mano y se les explicó lo importante en estos tiempos el poder compartir con imágenes la elaboración de su trabajo y quién está detrás de cada pieza.

Fue una experiencia única compartir con mujeres trabajadoras, con manos que producen arte cada día. Sin duda quisiera regresar pronto para poder conocer más de cada una de ellas, como ellas me indican cada pieza refleja su sentir así que es parte de su corazón plasmado en ellas. 

Meet Kelly Moe-Rossetto!

We have the great pleasure of introducing our good friend Kelly as one of the co-leaders of our upcoming Textile Travel in November, 2022. “From Fiber to Fabric” is our favorite week-long itinerary for fiber and textile enthusiasts. Spinners, dyers, weavers, knitters and overall creatives — this trip is for you! And if you’re just getting started on your fiber art journey, you’ll love the introduction to the techniques included in this week.

So, who is Kelly, you ask?

She is a passionate art educator and practitioner who draws inspiration from her extensive travel all over the world:

Kelly has taught in France, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Italy and has attended classes and art workshops in Italy, Sweden, India, Peru and Guatemala. In her graduate work she took a close look at the way we can explore issues of history, place and community through the artistic traditions. She is the owner of Cardamom Collective, which uses the traditions of textiles and craft along the Silk Road to connect and understand the way we have influenced each other throughout history and across continents. For the past six years she has taught K-8 art in Milwaukee Public Schools where she strives to create a dynamic and supportive space rooted in social justice and artistic traditions around the world. She has traveled to nearly thirty countries and believes the best way to understand the world and ourselves is to have authentic conversations with each other and learn from the communities we are fortunate to visit. She loves Guatemala and is thrilled to be co leading this trip!

Kelly in Iceland

Last year during our week at Lake Atitlán, Kelly was kind to lead a watercolor workshop for the other participants one afternoon. It was so much fun — and we’re sure to include time for some more painting this year!

This year’s trip is sure to be another week full of artistic exploration rooted in cultural heritage, learning alongside our local Tzutujil teachers at Lake Atitlán. Join us November 20-27th! We are currently taking reservations with a $250 deposit. As this trip is held on Thanksgiving week, we have participants joining us both in solo and family units – it will be a great mix of artistic minds.

<Learn more about this itinerary and others here>

Pretty in Cochineal

One of our favorite natural dyes to work with is cochineal. Maybe you’ve heard (because we can’t stop talking about the wonders of this dye) 😆 but do you REALLY know the dye responsible for the gorgeous hot pink?

From vibrant to soft pink, we love the hues produced by cochineal, called “cochinilla” in Spanish. It is the only natural dye we use that is NOT derived from a plant.

Believe it or not — it comes from the tiny little insects, seen below in white, growing on hanging cactus paddles.

We’ve been importing our cochineal in dried form from Mexico for years, but this image was taken at Lake Atitlán at a new cochineal-growing project. After some trial and error experimentation (because every cochineal population is a little different), we’re so pleased to be using the locally-grown cochinilla for some of our favorite hues!

So… the color comes from bugs?

Yes, it does! Does that creep you out a little bit? If so, you might be even more surprised to hear that the insect-derived dye is FDA-approved for food use, and is commonly used in items that look more appetizing with a little blush, like strawberry yogurt. It’s also a common ingredient in cosmetics.

It’s not vegan, but many traditional art forms that we consider sustainable are not. Like the use of wool fibers – wool is regarded as a sustainable fiber as it is biodegradable and when practiced well, keeping sheep can even lead to carbon-negative farming practices with improved soil enrichment. Wool is not vegan because it’s derived from an animal source, but it can be very sustainable.

What do you use this dye for?

Pretty much everything we make, we offer in a cochineal variant. We started with cotton fibers but have also since been exploring dyeing wool. Cochineal is one of the most colorfast dyes we work with, so we love incorporating the hues achieved. Take a look for yourself:

Want to learn more about this natural dye?

Join us for a hands-on experimental Textile Travel this year! A visit to the cochineal farm as well as dyeing with the natural dye are included in our From Fiber to Fabric itinerary from November 20th-27th.

Another exciting trip this year:

Which backstrap loom is the best for me?

Since we started offering backstrap weaving kits in 2020, we’ve added a few different types of looms, and have understandably received questions about them. Have you been wondering the difference among the different looms we offer? We’re here to explain and help you choose the best option for your practice and goals.

1. Practice Backstrap Loom

This is the “original” loom we started with when we made this pivot to offer at-home weaving kits. We designed the loom in practical and achievable measurements, and we think they make excellent wall hangings when finished, with all the tools still intact. These looms are made at Lake Atitlán with naturally-dyed cotton and ikat designs in the warp. The included weft is naturally-dyed in indigo.

This is an excellent choice for beginners who want to practice Plain Weave. We think the softer hues make these looms especially apt for home decor. $60 per kit with all materials included.

2. Brocade Backstrap Loom Kit

This is the loom of choice for intermediate weavers ready to practice supplementary weft brocade! Each loom has been prepared by master weaver Doña Lidia and her family from San Antonio Aguas Calientes. The main difference for this loom is that it comes with two additional sheds created with the “pepenado” rods, seen at the top of the loom. These extra sheds facilitate many brocade figures, and others can be woven by picking up the warp with the included wooden needle (so cute in quetzal form!). $85 per kit with all materials included, and we also have the option listed online for choosing your custom colors.

Looking for a little extra guidance for brocade? We produced professional videos that show how four important local motifs are created with Doña Lidia. Purchase the access through our PDF guide for $15.

The best option for weavers ready for brocade!
Optional: add a brocade sampler to your loom purchase for $30. These are the exact figures covered by Doña Lidia in our PDF guide for intermediate brocade, and are helpful to have on-hand for counting stitches and following directions on the screen.

3. Kids’ Practice Backstrap Loom Kit

As the name suggests, these looms were designed with children in mind for beginner Plain Weave. The looms are smaller for narrower waists and the warp is arranged in a way that makes picking up the “chocoy” (string heddle) easier for the smaller-bodied. Also priced affordably in-line with our committment to making art education as accessible as possible. Made with naturally-dyed cotton just like our original Practice Backstrap Looms. $40 per kit with all materials included.

4. Handspun Cotton Backstrap Loom Kit

Made with organic and local handspun cotton, these looms available in natural white and heirloom ixcaco brown are truly special! Prepared by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán, these looms are made for the eco-conscious intermediate weaver ready to take on a little challenge. Working with handspun fibers is a bit harder. Namely, the string heddle can collect fuzz from the warp fibers easily, making even plain weave a bit more challenging. Weavers should pay attention to all the little movements made during the weaving process in order to limit the lint from collecting. $80 per kit with all materials included.

Available in natural white cotton and heirloom ixcaco brown cotton, while supplies last – we are heavily dependent on local harvests for this loom, production is very limited.

5. Make Your Own Loom Kit

This kit was developed for our “Intermediate Loom Set-up” online class with Doña Lidia. After we received requests for this class, we realized we should make a material to go with it. And ta-da! The Make Your Own Loom Kit was born. The kit includes everything you need to build your own loom, with the warp already prepared, the sticks and rods carved into perfect size, etc. Prepared by Doña Lidia and her family, these kits are $65 each. You can also choose custom colors on the product page.

Questions? Comments? Let us know by emailing hello@kakawdesigns.com and/or joining us in our Backstrap Weavers group on Facebook.

Backstrap weaving troubleshooting 101

While online backstrap weaving classes have made learning and practicing this heritage art form accessible around the world, we’re aware of the unique challenges online learning can pose, especially for beginners. That’s why when I received these questions from a new weaver recently, I thought so many more beginners could benefit.

Take a look below at some of the common beginner questions when it comes to backstrap weaving:

  1. First pic is of my progress. It is very slow especially when I have backtrack because of a mistake. I try to check after each line of weaving but somehow the mistakes showed up afterwards.
  • It looks great! It looks like you are progressing really well. Good on you for also fixing mistakes, I know that can be frustrating. I like to think of beginner looms/panels are practice pieces, that you can hopefully look back on later and see the improvement in your practice and technique from beginning to end. Likely, you will notice that you are making less mistakes as you progress.

2. This next pic shows the back. After weaving a little I noticed a warp thread that was not incorporated. It’s connected to the top and bottom wood pieces but was not included in the the initial weaving at the top or bottom on the loom. Should I just leave it dangling? Or try to include it somehow?

  • It’s not uncommon for loose warp threads to appear on the back, especially when they’re the first or last of that color bordering another color. This is not a problem. I would recommend weaving just like you have been, basically ignoring the loose warp. And when you’re done weaving, you can simply cut it off and tie the top end securely. The bottom loose end shouldn’t really move anymore if the rest of the warp has been woven.

3. Last photo is a close up of the wood dowel that is connected to the bottom warp threads. I really have a hard time bringing the bottom threads up to weave and I noticed there is a lot of fibers stuck on the little threads. Am I doing something wrong? Should I remove these thread fibers or just leave them?  It seems like the more I weave the more there are.  If I need to remove them, what is the best way to do so?

  • I see the fuzz on the string heddle. This is a common situation for beginner; it still happens to me, too. It happens when the weaver moves the string heddle more than “necessary” — advanced weavers are used to making little movements so that the fuzz doesn’t collect. I would recommend trying to get the fuzz off (without damaging the string heddle). I have used tiny scissors carefully in the past, or a pair of tweezers – I wonder if that might also work for you? I’ve found these fuzz balls are hard to yank off. This also happens because the weavers in San Juan la Laguna who dyed the warp and prepped the loom prefer to work with unmercerized cotton. Communities have different preferences, and in many other areas this problem is avoided (somewhat) by using mercerized cotton. It might be that the unmercerized cotton takes natural dyes better.

4. Not that I’m close to worrying about this … But what happens when I don’t have space to continue. There’s the narrow rod at the very top, the thick rod and the rod with the heddle strings. All the rods and heddles take space plus the sword too. 

  • Good questions, again, on how to “finish” the panel. The loom you’re working on was developed as a “practice loom” with the idea of it turning into a wall-hanging as-is with all the tools attached. That would be my recommendation for your very first loom, but of course whenever you feel finished, you can also release the rope going around both ends of the warp, on the warp bars — and this would allow you to take off the panel. While it is possible on a backstrap loom to have a clean four-selvage weave, I don’t recommend this for your first work because it’s super detailed and incredibly laborious. 
  • If/when you’d like another loom, we’d be happy to make you one, perhaps with a longer warp so that you can make a functional item (Scarf? Table runner?). We could make space for fringes on the ends of the warp. If you feel ready, it would also be possible then to incorporate brocade designs into your next weaving. We produced professional videos to help with that process in high-def.

Do you have other questions? Join the supportive Backstrap Weavers group on Facebook; we’re there to help each other!

How to take care of wool rugs from Momostenango

Got yourself a beautiful handwoven wool rug, and now wondering how to best take care of it? I’ll be happy to share the three simple steps that have worked for me over the years:

1. Shake the rug outside often

Get those loose wool fibers and any accumulated dust/dirt off by shaking the rug outside as often as possible. It feels good to see all the stuff come off the rug in the air! In my case, it’s usually more dog hair than anything… I shake all the rugs whenever I vacuum or sweep the house (a couple of times a week).

2. Let the rug take in the sun

Hang outside in the garden, balcony, anywhere the rug can take in some sunshine. Wool naturally has dust mite-repelling properties, but I figure adding some sunshine always helps, since I like to keep animals around. I was also told in the Netherlands that wool can be taken outside on a sunny winter day for self-cleaning. It’s generally understood that wool should be washed as little as possible, so make sure to do these first two steps often to avoid Step 3.

3. Machine-wash in gentle cycle

Because I’m pretty messy, I DO end up needing to wash my wool rugs once in a while. And it has not been a problem for me at all. Keep in mind that the more movement, the more likely for the rug to felt and shrink, and the same goes for temperature – the higher the water temperature, the more felting. I only use cold water because I don’t want my rugs to shrink.

If you have an already-felted rug, note that those are more durable than the non-felted type. This is because the fibers have interlocked, making it very hard for holes to form (and harder for them to expand, the way non-felted items might unravel). Felted rugs can handle rougher treatment (even during washing) than non-felted ones.

I learned that some washing machines have a setting specifically for wool. This works fine! Make sure to use gentle detergent and line-dry outside. Definitely don’t dry in a dryer unless you REALLY want your rug to shrink 😆

That’s really all I do for my wool rugs that I use all the time both inside and outside at home. I even have a few pieces my dog has used since puppyhood (that’s 7 years ago!) that are still intact and working well.

Here’s to many years of wool rug-using!

XOXO,

Mari

<see traditional wool rugs on our Artisan Direct page>

<find our naturally-dyed versions in our Home section>

What do these figures represent?

We’re often asked about the meaning behind brocade patterns found in Guatemala, woven row by row on backstrap looms, probably most noted on traditional huipiles. Some figures and patterns are specific to regions or towns, and others such as geometric figures seem to appear in many areas. Specific techniques used (Yes, there are many variations to brocade!) and color choices may differ, but certain repetitive patterns like diamonds, crosses, and zigzags are widely used.

But just because a figure might be “common” doesn’t mean it’s simple to decipher the symbolism behind them. Beliefs are often regional, and interpretations of similar figures can vary so much depending on who you ask. And just like other cultural aspects, these beliefs have probably shifted over time, adapting, mixing, evolving.

In this post, we’ll focus on just some (eight, to be exact) of the more prevalent traditional brocade figures currently found and used in San Juan Cotzal. These explanations were prepared by the cooperative of weavers from the same town that we work with, the ones whose work we feature here on our Artisan Direct page. Translation from Spanish to English is done by me (Mari) and I’ll also note the name of each figure in Ixil as the weavers have written them.

Can you spot some of the same figures in the beautiful huipil? (Pssst it’s available for sale by the same weavers! Find it here.)

  • 1. The Money Bird
“Tzichin – The Money Bird // This bird symbolizes the luck in having money, and having this figure is said to attract financial fortune wherever we go.”
  • 2. The Glass
“Ukab’al – The Glass // The cup or glass symbolizes home life and time spent with family; the warmth of a home. The glass is used to serve water, and represents good health and nutrition.”
  • 3. The Volcanoes
“Mam Munte – The Volcanoes // This figure stands for all volcanoes and mountains in the world, all much bigger than we are.”
  • 4. Family
“Ku Tzuk Ku B’aal – Family // This figure features a father, mother, and in the middle, a child. It represents humans, their unity and how parents take care of their children. Wearing this figure brings luck to the one’s family. “
  • 5. The Four Corners of the Earth
“Kaa Paq’ Il Txava’ – The Four Corners of the Earth // Represents Earth, where we live. Also known as the four cardinal points.”
  • 6. The Deer
“Mazat – The Deer // Because of the strength of this animal, it represents fathers as protectors of families.”
  • 7. The Corn Field Bird
“Toxokopil K’om – The Corn Field Bird // This figure shows the bird that feeds on corn, the greens of nature. It symbolizes life itself.”
  • 8. The Traveling Bird
“Xaol – The Traveling Bird // This Traveling Bird existed in years past. It would travel to the other side of the mountain, and when it rained, they all went up to the heavens. They would sing every afternoon from the clouds. This is the figure that represents human beings, and it protects people who travel to other towns, even countries.”

The cooperative of weavers from San Juan Cotzal, all proudly wearing handwoven huipiles that likely feature many of the above traditional brocade figures. Find their creations for sale here.