This heartfelt writing by Kelly from Cardamom Collective brings tears to my eyes, just reminiscing about how we have both personal and professionally grown over the years of working together on special collaborative projects. Kelly continues to surprise us with her unique color and pattern choices, and it is so refreshing to depart from the local norms. Francisca can tell which orders are Kelly’s at first look of the design, and it’s a wonderful thing to have this creative, inspirational push to try new designs. And hey, this all began as an Instagram friendship, did you know? It’s definitely a real-life in-person friendship now.
Without further ado… Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your thoughts on the years of making beauties together.
It’s hard to encapsulate a friendship that spans years of collaboration and growth, especially one that has unfurled like a dynamic tapestry of travel, voice recordings, written words, coffees on Chicago streets, a shared love of all things ikat (jaspe), chewy corn tortillas in San Juan La Laguna and of course, tastes of chocolate and cardamom wherever we can find them!
Knowing and working with Mari has felt like a Field Notes guide that we’ve packed with ethnographic entries, textile (and bird!) sightings, watercolor pages and postal codes. When I try and synthesize the effect these adventures have had on my life and business, I search for words and struggle to arrive, until my eyes settle on my coat hook. That’s right, so much can be expressed in the entry ways of our homes, the doorways to our spaces and where we spend our time. Mine are infinitely more colorful and thread-rich than they were six years ago.
Our coat rack has seven small black hooks, and hanging from each one is at least one (and often more) of the many generations of bags and scarves we have co-conspired in bringing to life. I’ve dragged them to France, Italy and Spain. I’ve stuffed them with wild sage in Montana. They’ve carried my curriculum, spilled coffees, smashed crayons, and the abundance of flotsam and jetsam that comes from being a K-8 Art Teacher for the last four years. When I look over these pieces I see my past and so much potential for the future. I love seeing how the designs have evolved as Mari has helped me to understand the process and many hours (lifetimes of learning actually) that go into each step of each piece. Each time a new item is born I am transported to my last night in Antigua. Walking the cobblestone streets under the butter yellow arch that bridges the path from the sky and frames Fuego, clutching my prototype like the sacred cloth it was, sharing a platterful of spices and seasoning and making plans over hot terra cotta bowls of Pepián. I recall entering the studios of the master leathersmiths and spending the day with Francisca in San Juan, turning corn tortilla dough in my hand as we waited for our natural dye experiments to come to life in the Lake Atitlan sun.
I love to remember these sensory details and sharing stories is one of my favorite things about designing and understanding textiles. I am sure some of you are asking, how does it actually work? Typically, I start with an inspiration, a piece of artwork, a color scheme that is speaking to me, a place I have been…it varies. I sort through these ideas via small sketches, typically done in watercolor. Designing textiles has always been rooted in handwork for me, it is where I find the most joy and while I respect the incredible things that can be done in design programs, it is not how I work. When I have a relatively solid idea, I will send Mari images of these sketches and imaginings and using the natural dye book that she and the weavers sent me, will send color codes. Often we will discuss the colors and possibilities of pattern, which is one of the areas where Mari’s expertise is invaluable.
As she has built decades of trust and understanding with the communities where textiles are made in Guatemala and lives there herself, she has a nuanced understanding of the process as well as the ability to communicate both linguistically and through cultural understandings that I do not. I loved my trip to Guatemala and spend time reading and learning about the history, weaving process and customs but I have truly only spent a very small amount of time there. (I hope to return very soon!) When someone lives and works in a place the way Mari does, they are able to act as a bridge between the artisan communities and the designers.
What is not visible from instagram or social media is the countless hours of conversations, studio visits, travel over bumpy roads, (and choppy Lake Atilan waves!) dense traffic, and countless other gestures and moments that it really takes to make Kakaw work. In turn, these collaborations are possible with other small businesses like Cardamom Collective. Mari does all of these things and more and does it with integrity, an open and curious mind and a drive to push herself and the other designers she works with to have thoughtful conversations around the work we are creating and who we are creating it with. Guatemala has so many incredible artists. Many families have been weaving, dyeing, and working in leather for generations, and possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is profound. What I have always appreciated about collaborating with Mari is that she works hard to build a community of shared voices and one that creates a space for creative exchange between brands and the artisans, of mutual respect.
Our collaborative projects have had many iterations, most recently we have ventured into hand carved jade and threads, which has been such an exciting addition to the Cardamom Collective and Kakaw textile “family”! I feel so grateful for years of pushing each other and growing in our shared and individual creative visions!
-Kelly, Cardamom Collective