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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.