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.

Pre-loved huipiles

If you know Guatemalan textiles at all, I’m sure you are familiar with brocade-rich traditional huipiles, with each region or even town featuring different patterns and styles. This is usually what comes to mind when people think “Guatemalan textiles.”

Cooperative of weaves in San Juan Cotzal, each wearing a traditional brocade-filled huipil (blouse)

That’s with good reason, because traditional huipiles are so beautiful. They are also very personal, as weavers have been known to incorporate their hopes, dreams, even prayers into the panels on backstrap looms. And when it comes to the sale of such labor-intensive weavings dear to hearts, there are some ethical concerns. In rural areas, weavers often resort to selling their handwovens to textile vender middlemen who have a reputation for bargaining down to the lowest price possible, knowing that rural weavers generally do not have direct access to markets and taking advantage of such a situation.

The color red represents strength in Cotzal.

And there’s another challenging factor: how to fairly price used handwovens. When brand new, handwoven huipil pricing can be made by considering material and labor costs. But once the garment is worn, how does that affect the retail value of the piece? As with most used things, there is devaluation to consider. There may be stains, even holes; overall general wear and tear that come with use. And then, when does something go from “used” to “vintage”? And when labeled as “vintage” does that imply higher value, as in a rare antique or an item that is museum-quality? How old does a piece need to be in order to be classified as “vintage”?

These are some questions I personally have, and clearly I don’t have the answers. As a general rule as Kakaw Designs over the years, we have tried our best to stay away from the repurposing of traditional huipiles, unless we are able to source directly from weavers or find pieces that are very worn — in the sense that when a garment is almost falling apart, we feel better about cutting certain parts and using them for other purposes. But in general, cutting brocaded textiles is not something we take lightly. But maybe that’s a topic for another post.

As far as traditional textiles go, I also think it’s true that weavers have the right to sell pieces they have created. Like anything we own. I don’t see why or how this right to sell one’s own belongings should be taken away. What is important, though, is making sure that the weavers are compensated well, even for worn garments, and honoring the cultural heritage of these artworks.

This week, we listed 8 huipiles being sold by weavers themselves from our partner cooperative at San Juan Cotzal. I like to refer to these artworks as “pre-loved.” They have all been worn, are in good condition, and show excellent brocade backstrap weaving skills of each weaver. They are full of traditional motifs from the town like birds, corn, and deer. And most importantly, because the weavers are all part of the cooperative, they have learned how to price their pre-loved garments fairly. I agree with how they have valued their work, and believe that clients should feel confident that the weavers are receiving good compensation for their work, even with the challenges of including general use devaluation.

The pandemic last year allowed us to make some really important pivots. Opening up our Artisan Direct page was one of them – started out of need for rural artisan groups to reach markets when everything got shut down in a very literal sense, including local markets, stores, transport, and tourism. Now, Guatemala is open, but the benefits are only very slowly trickling down to rural communities like Cotzal. We will keep our Artisan Direct efforts going for as long as it feels “right” — for us and for them.

You can find these pieces and more from Cotzal on their section on our website.

2020: The Year of Pivoting

This year’s theme word seems to be “pivot.” It feels like more than ever, the importance of shifting perspectives and priorities is evident. With the arrival of COVID-19 to Guatemala in mid-March and its following restrictions, we’ve been pivoting as much as possible.

Here are six ways we have been shifting, adapting, pivoting:

1. One of a Kind creations online

With our retail stores closed in Antigua, I decided to take products out of stores and try our luck selling one-of-a-kind items on our website. We had been creating products with customizations tailored toward each local store, so the result was that we had many unique variations at hand. In the past, I had dreaded putting in the work to list one-unit variations online, but in this pandemic emergency state, there was no time for complaining. This lead to our One of a Kinds page, where we continue to list unique items online.

two bags

2. Direct sales from our artisan partners

The need for work in our partner artisans’ communities became evident very quickly, as people lost jobs all over, and tourism (both national and international) came to a sudden halt. This inspired us to start our Artisan Direct Pop-up online, and we have been pushing this page most during the pandemic as these items represent products that our partner artisans had already invested time and material into making. These are beauties our friends already had, ready to sell, when the pandemic hit. We do our part in checking quality, taking pictures, and writing down honest details of the work, incorporating techniques used as well as materials and measurements, and take care of all the logistics like payments and shipping. We hope our work creates an atmosphere of transparency and trust that can often be difficult to achieve with online shopping from countries afar.

purplebedspread3_2048x

3. New work space in Antigua

These two new online sales efforts created a physical challenge in that I found myself without sufficient space to work given COVID-19 restrictions. So, I moved into Xibalba at the center of town, and have been working from there also with the help of Evelyn, who was instrumental in keeping Kakaw Designs going as our Production Manager while I was working on my master’s in Europe. I’m so grateful for the pieces falling into place in order to help us shift and grow our online offerings when it became suddenly necessary to go 100% digital.

4. Online sales in Guatemala

We realized that there was suddenly a market for online local sales within Guatemala, too. That’s why we launched our Kakaw Designs store on the new platform MejorShop. This Etsy-like concept allows us to reach local customers, and we can offer local discounts, too. We’re pretty excited to see where this project goes as online shopping is pretty new here in Guatemala.

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5. Affordable and beautiful cloth masks

Our best-selling item during this pandemic time has by far been the Cloth Masks made by Juan Carlos, which are going for $35 for a variety pack of 10. We’ve sold over 2,000 masks at this point, and the work has incorporated two other families, meaning that these orders have been supporting three families during this pandemic. We went through several changes on these masks as we faced material supply shortages and wanted to incorporate general improvements, like adding a nose wire and creating an opening for optional filters, which we also offer as an add-on. (You can read more about these changes here.)

masks packaging

6. Creative orders in a sheltered time

We’ve been fortunate with custom orders, and we are so grateful for our supporters! Somehow it feels like maybe people everywhere are trying to add color to their lives, to add some joy, and at the same time are doing their best to be conscious about where their money goes, who their purchases support during this challenging time. And maybe the concept of time has shifted too, like all of the sudden it doesn’t feel like a gigantic barrier to wait one month for a custom textile, bag, or a pair of shoes.

 

Next steps:

We’re continuing to pivot in different ways, and right now I’m pretty excited for these beautifully hand-embroidered cloth masks. Not only are they joyful, these masks provide work for our artisan partners in Sumpango, who are able to embroider from home.

 

 

We look forward to where the future takes us, and we hope to be able to shift perspectives to keep up. This year has provided the opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and re-align ourselves to our principal mission of working with rural artisans and facilitating access to markets through design, quality control, and overall enhanced trust. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

 

Mari

mari huipil

Mujeres de Maíz

In this post, we’re excited to introduce you to local collective Mujeres de Maíz from Santiago Atitlán! This small group of makers is creating some unique and gorgeous designs, some of which are going live this Sunday on our Artisan Direct page to help provide a digital platform for them, since they do not have an online sales channel at the moment. We’ve got dresses, jackets, earrings, sandals, and more to share with the digital world soon, thanks to the hard work from this collective!

Read below a short Q&A with Mari Liberali, designer behind the collective. (And hey, nice name right? 😉 )
XOXO,
Mari

model

1. What does “Mujeres de Maíz” mean and what was the inspiration for that name?

The Name “Mujeres de Maíz” is based on the sacred book of the ancient Maya called Popol Vuh, which tells us that the Mayan people were created by the gods with maize. Maize (corn) is the sacred food for many populations in Central America, including Guatemala. And there are a lot of Mujeres de Maíz in Guatemala, there are many strong women here, who can teach us so many things! But, in our project, we choose to share the special work of a small group of women. 

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2. Could you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you came to be involved with this group?

I am Mari Liberali, artist and fashion designer from Italy, and in 2017 I left the conventional fashion job to work with indigenous people and their handicrafts. I was looking for a job with purpose, I was very tired of the injustice that fashion normally promotes. So I arrived at Cojolya Association, in Guatemala, to work with the backstrap loom, in Santiago Atitlán. It was there that I learned everything about this new world, from collaboration, NGOs, and handmade textiles. I spent a year and a half as a textile and accessories designer and decided to continue my work outside the Association with different artisans, and we ended up founding the collective Mujeres de Maíz in 2018, based on original embroidery from Santiago.

dress

3. Who are the members of Mujeres de Maíz, where do they live, and what kind of handmade traditions do they practice? How is the group organized?

We are a group of 5 women. I am the designer and co- founder of the project along with Loida Sisay, and soon after we incorporated other artisans.
Loida is a co-founder, embroiderer, and master of embroidery. She teaches visitors traditional embroidery techniques. Chonita is an embroiderer and she coordinates and communicates with the other members. Isabel is also embroiderer and is still developing her products, with a new mixed embroidery technique that we are developing. And Maria has a community shop in original fabrics, we buy textiles from Maria and we also represent Maria by selling her unique products. The artisans all live in the community of Santiago Atitlán, on Lake Atitlán. Santiago is well known for the embroidery of birds and flowers, always represented in traditional huipiles. Our goal is to help preserve and encourage women to create their own designs and develop new forms of creation with original embroidery. Each of the women has her own style of embroidery and has started to develop unique designs for the project.

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chonita

 

4. How has COVID-19 affected Mujeres de Maíz, and what do you think are the next steps for the group?

Our project has practically stopped because our focus is on local sales and we depend directly on tourism. Fortunately, larger groups like Cojolya are supporting us and selling our products online. And now, we found new support in Kakaw Designs, so thank you! In the future, when we are be a little stronger and bigger, we hope to be able to send abroad through our own website and we hope that our network of artisans will also grow. There are many talented women, very good at embroidery art who have come to offer their skills, but we still cannot absorb them all. Soon, after all this over, we hope that more and more people could be interested in our market, valuing the handmade process and also the people who do this work. I think this is the future, and it is already coming. 

 

 

To learn more about this collective, please follow their journey on Instagram.

And stay tuned – this Sunday, June 29th, 2020, the products from this collective will be live on our site on our Artisan Direct page.

The evolution of Juan Carlos’ masks

When COVID-19 reached us in Guatemala and the artisan’s market where Juan Carlos has a stall suddenly closed, he started making cloth masks with materials he already had at hand. Clean used cotton corte on the outside, and a new cotton fabric on the inside. Pretty simple construction, and he started with just one size.

//Side note: From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to be profiting off of an international health crisis. So as Kakaw Designs, we are not making money on these mask sales – the $35 per 10 masks covers our costs.//

Even from the first batch, the masks were beautiful and practical, but we realized that people had different face (head?) sizes. So we then went to making two different mask sizes – Small and Large. And we learned that people were most interested in cheerful colors, so we decided to go with more vibrant cortes, and started using a variety of colorful inner lining fabric, too. So many little improvements along the way.

And then Juan Carlos figured out how to put a little wire in there for a more comfortable fit around the nose. I’ll share a little trade secret with you – it’s just crafty pipe cleaner! It does the trick.

mask mari purple

And then after that, we received some requests for a filter insert, and we figured out how to do that, too. I scheduled a meeting with a local now filter-expert, and we got the scoop on what material to buy, and where in town.

masks with filters

That leads us to where we are now: offering two-layer cloth masks in Small and Large with a nose wire and insert opening for optional filters. We’re selling filters online too, as an optional add-on, because not everyone likes to wear them, and we just think that’s a personal choice. The masks come in bundles of 10 units – five Small and five Large each, but if you’d like something different, just let us know in the comments at check-out 🙂

<buy a bundle here>

masks packaging

maska packaging

Production for these masks has gained so much momentum that Juan Carlos is now working with three more families to make them. This is all thanks to all the support online — we truly appreciate it! During this challenging time with limited income sources, being able to work from home making these masks means a lot to us.

Is it okay to wear the blouses? Artisan Direct profile: Cobán

As time passes with continued restrictions due to COVID-19, our rural artisan partners started to ask us if we could try to sell some of their independently-created products. With all physical stores shut and no digital means to sell on their own, it’s a really tough time in rural communities.

The Artisan Direct Pop-Up on our site was the result of these requests. This past Sunday, we started with a small listing of four blouses made by the weavers in San Juan Chamelco, Cobán. They are each handwoven, new, and so beautiful. But don’t worry, this is just the beginning – the shipment from this group included almost 50 pieces 😬

with weavers Chamelco cropped

With some of the weavers

While we will slowly be featuring other artisan groups, this Sunday’s web update will focus on handwoven blouses and dresses from this same group. (Updates are planned to go live every Sunday!)

I received a beautiful conscientious question about these pieces, which was “Is it okay to wear the blouses?” — now, if you’re not familiar with some of the tensions that exist in Guatemala related to non-Maya people wearing handwoven huipiles, this might sound like a ridiculous question. It’s a blouse. Of course it’s made to be worn.

And in this case, yes, these blouses are made and sold to be worn by anyone who would like to support the weavers. This is why:

  • The blouses made for sale by the organized group of weavers.
  • The weavers directly benefit from the sale of these items. They set their prices as a group.
  • The pieces are all new, and the cooperative keeps track of who wove which one, meaning that the original weaver is known and that the process is transparent.

With other textiles, this may not be the case because:

  • With used textiles, it can become very difficult or even impossible to pinpoint who made the piece, and how much that original weaver received for the sale of the piece.
  • Many backstrap-woven pieces, especially those with rich brocade, are made for weavers’ personal use or for a family member. They are not usually meant to become commercial items, but often weavers do decide to sell pieces for personal reasons, whether that be for wardrobe preferences or immediate need for cash. The worry is that textile middlemen may take advantage of emergency situations in rural communities, and not compensate the weavers adequately for the sale of used textiles.
  • There is a surge in products that feature Maya weaving symbols, but in print and other techniques that do not benefit weavers. These products are troublesome as there is no benefit to the weaving communities.

 

I really appreciated the question so much. I hope this clears up the complicated topic a little bit. It’s a difficult area to maneuver, and asking these questions is the first step.

 

The Weavers in Cobán

The weaving group in Cobán is comprised of 30+ weavers from a number of smaller communities around the city. They specialize in beautiful flowy cotton blouses in a variety of different weaves, with picbil being the most delicate and labor-intensive. Only a handful of master weavers from the group is able to perform this gorgeous weave.

coop group shot

picbil loom weaving 2 web

The delicate picbil weave, traditionally using white on white for an elegant blouse. One huipil of three panels takes over a month of weave from start to finish, and in colder seasons the process is elongated as los temperatures make the threads stick together, making weaving very challenging.

weaving together

Backstrap weaving

weaving herlinda back

Herlinda weaves with concentration

Picbil loom

They’re starting to work with natural dyes from local plant sources, which is really exciting! Still more testing needs to be done to make sure colors are stable and replicable within reason.

Margarita in moutains small

 

Stay tuned for this Sunday’s store update on our Artisan Direct Pop-up page for the beautiful creations from these talented weavers.