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.
When the pandemic hit Guatemala this March, we started selling cloth masks that one of our partner artisans was making. Abigail reached out to me during this time, interested in a few colorful masks for her own use, as wearing a mask had become mandatory rather quickly in the country. We met up on the side of a small street in Santa Ana, Antigua, me walking Berry and she walking to meet us. We ended up taking for over an hour there, on the sidewalk, masked and keeping our distance. This is how our friendship began.
Somehow, this collaboration is different from any other we’ve worked on before, simply because we didn’t have a business agenda. What began as a quarantine creative activity for four friends, dyeing together in Abigail’s indigo vat babies, was meant for us. Not for anyone else, but just for us, friends figuring out how to live in a pandemic world with strict regulations. We took refuge in this small but meaning way.
And now, we’re ready to share a little bit of this joy with you in the form of these indigo-dipped earrings made with handspun local organic cotton. For this, we have our supporters to thank, who have encouraged us even from afar on our social media accounts to do something with the indigo fun. Muchas gracias.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Abigail and her craft in this little Q and A we put together for you.
1. What’s the story behind your brand name, Mysa?
Mysa is a Swedish word that refers to a state of comfort or contentedness with something. One online resource gave a definition I particularly like: “To smile (with only slight movement of the mouth), particularly as a sign of contentedness or comfort.” I imagine in Swedish the definition is a bit more stoic than my interpretation. But I like the idea of a small, knowing smile because you’re remaining playful in the face of challenge, and finding joy within life’s responsibilities. Perhaps you are carrying around a morsel of glee in your pocket while wading through some grim practicalities. It is there, with that morsel in your pocket, that you find contentedness. It’s a bit sneaky and very beautiful. That’s Mysa.
2. Were you always interested in natural dyes? How did you get started?
Actually, no, I can’t say I have been interested in natural dyes for very long. Living in Oaxaca, Mexico I learned about cochineal, which is a captivating dye, but I hadn’t ever thought about working with it. My indigo journey started about one year ago in the textile museum in Oaxaca. An exhibition on indigo detailed the plants used to make the dye and showcased indigo textiles from all around the world. The most interesting part for me was a video they showed of men in Niltepec, Oaxaca oxygenating a large tank of water that was turning more and more blue—they were making indigo! The men pushed the water over and over for hours with broom-like tools, and the water would sloosh against the concrete wall of the tank. The repetition of the sound and the movement of the water fascinated me. I wanted to see it in person. I wanted to be in that tank and feel my arms tire as I moved with the water, watching it change color.
3. Do you also work with other dyes, or focus specifically on indigo? Why?
The process of getting indigo dye from a plant is fascinating, as is dyeing with indigo. Oxygen, either removing it or adding it, is key to work with this particular natural dye. So, you’re working with air, water, and earth (a plant), and there is something very rooting about that.
Too, indigo is a storyteller, and working with indigo is a practice. Each time I visit with my vats I give them all my attention, and then I ruminate on what they’ve taught me. If I started working with other natural dyes, I think I would feel pulled in different directions, and what was once interesting would become frustrating due to my own impatience for things to “work.” For me, the most important thing in my indigo practice is that I feel joy in it. So I keep it simple, and that keeps me engaged. Indigo still has many stories left to tell me, and really, I’m all ears.
4. What has it been like to start up your indigo exploration during the pandemic in Guatemala?
I feel very fortunate that I was able to take advantage of a time of lockdowns, curfews, and limited human interaction to focus on a craft. Indigo gave me purpose when I was without work, in a different country, and unsure of where I was headed. I was able to take the time and space to start my work with indigo and get it wedged into my life enough that now—as uncertainty continues, but life moves on—I carry my craft with me.
5. What are you working on these days? Can you share a little bit about your projects?
My main and on-going project for myself is dyeing threads. I focus on threads because I love the idea of my threads being woven into people’s ideas. I think I enjoy being the source of some secret, behind-the-scenes magic, and helping someone create something beautiful (like our earring collab!) is utterly gleeful.
In addition, I’m leaving myself space to respond to others’ interest in indigo which has put me in a kind of exploration-facilitation role. I’m involved in two projects now. One I see as helping a local brand find out if working with her own indigo vat is a good fit for her. Everyone loves the magic of indigo, but that beautiful blue comes with costs, both financial and energy, so it’s not a right fit for everyone. I’ll also be co-teaching with a fellow indigo enthusiast (both a teacher and a life-long learner herself) a group of dyers who have limited access to indigo resources. This is a fun challenge for me—learning how to start and maintain vats using locally accessible materials. I hope both of these ventures lead to better understanding how local (Guatemalan) artisans might more easily pick up the lost practice of indigo.
We are absolutely in love with the bird embroidery talent over at Mujeres de Maíz from Santiago Atitlán. We had a few special custom orders of embroidered pieces for very special occasions – one for a newborn joining a family, another for an anniversary, and another for a birthday. Take a look at how these sketches have come to embroidered life!
We found these personalized orders to be so sweet, and we think this would be a great option for the holidays also. Since the handmade process takes time, please plan ahead and get in touch with us if a custom embroidery piece interests you. We can also facilitate turning the embroidery piece into a product, but of course every step takes time 🙂
Welcoming a new baby to the family
A wedding anniversary gift
They turned into beautiful hand-embroidered pieces!
From photograph to embroidery…
For a personalized birthday gift
The best way to get started on your own custom order is to either send us a sketch or a photograph of what you had in mind, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can get the conversation started this way and move on from there.
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.
Kelly when she came to visit us in Guatemala 💙
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!
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? 😉 )
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a fulfilling process for me personally to work as a facilitator for custom orders, connecting creatives abroad and local artisans this way. I asked Rita from Wild Shade Designs to write a little about the process of working with me to provide the client’s perspective. Read on below to see what she said.
These orders are helpful in collectively increasing work for our artisan partners. But more than that, they also get to try new design concepts, learning, growing, and creating new paths in a competitive artisanmade industry.
Right now with the COVID-19 situation, our artisan partners don’t have the normal access to sales – whether that be a small coop storefront, a stall at the artisan market, or orders for other local stores. These sales are all paused, until further notice. So custom orders are especially helpful at the moment, as we are also experiencing challenges as a small business, and worry about keeping steady production for our artisan partners.
If you feel inspired to create something in collaboration with us, please shoot me an email at email@example.com to get the conversation started.
Review of the custom design process by Rita:
Designing my own textile and having it produced into products was something I wanted to do for a long time, but it seemed like something that would be cost prohibitive for a small maker like myself.I sell naturally dyed scarves, and I wanted to try something new and more diverse to grow my shop, but I was concerned that the number of units required to produce a custom product would make it impossible for me.After a lot of back and forth in my mind, I sketched out a design and e-mailed it to Mari at Kakaw Designs.I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised to find the minimum order was very reasonable and not an issue.I am not a professional designer, so I was also a bit concerned that my sketches wouldn’t be adequate, but the sketches turned out to be just fine for the process.
I was also concerned that producing custom products in another country without being on the ground there would be almost impossible, but it is actually quite easy.I send the design to Mari, and she handles the rest.She communicates with the weavers and leatherworkers, gets the products packaged and shipped, and does all the legwork for you.The process is much easier than I had imagined in the beginning, and it is truly magical to carry something made by talented artisans using your design!
My first design was pretty simple, so I wanted to try something a bit more complex for the next order.I created a sketch and sent it to Mari, who then consulted the weaving cooperative to get feedback on the design.After consulting the weavers, we adjusted the design to better fit the limitations of the dying and weaving process.The process requires flexibility and exchange of ideas, and I really feel it is a collaborative process between designer and artisan.In my mind, that makes the textile even more special.
I am so glad I started this process with Kakaw Designs.The custom design process has allowed me to expand my micro-business and develop an outlet for creative expression I would not have had otherwise.In addition to the scarves and bags we have previously worked on, I am now working with Mari to expand into custom blouses as well.If you’ve been thinking about the custom order process, but haven’t quite made up your mind, I recommend you give it a try.It’s amazing fun to create your own custom designs, and once you get started, you realize just how infinite the possibilities are!
Laura Spillari, owner and founder of Xibalba Joyas, is one of the most positive, collaborative, and design-filled people in town. It has been an absolute pleasure to have our products included in her gorgeous storefront at the center of town. Unfortunately, the store is shut down at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions. That’s why we took this opportunity to showcase our products together digitally. Find our combos featuring one Kakaw Designs item and one Xibalba Joyas item together in our One of a Kinds page starting tomorrow, Sunday, April 5th.
Naturally, I (Mari) asked her to share a little bit so that you can get to know her and her jewelry designs. The following questions were answered by Laura herself:
1. You have one of the most beautiful stores around town. Can you tell us when you started Xibalba, and the inspiration behind your brand and store?
Thank you so much!
Xibalba was born in 2012. The idea was to recover the cultural value of jade and present it through design-oriented jewelry. Guatemala is a country where ancestral knowledge exists, materials and handwork come together to maintain our cultural legacy alive.
We started in a petit and cozy space and a couple of years ago, we moved to our current location, a beautiful colonial house in the center of Antigua. We couldn’t be more in love with the location! Now, we not only create jewelry but we have partnered with several artisans and designers who present other products such as textiles, leather goods, decor objects, and many other interesting little things.
The team consists of 5 collaborators and we contribute to around 125 artisans directly or indirectly in different regions of Guatemala.
2. Do you think you have always been an artist, since you were little? When do you think you came to realize this?
I’ve always considered myself a creative person. I grew up in a house where everything was made or prepared by us, whether it was clothing, planting, or plumbing… so I kinda learned how things could “be done.”
I was surrounded by elements such as textiles, ceramics, basket weaving, among other handmade traditions. Walking on cobble stones and going to Mayan sites on vacations… this has been with no doubt a part of my identity and has provided great inspiration for what I do.
3. One of the things I love about your store is the incorporation of innovative designs on traditional materials, like jade and silver. Can you share a little bit about traditional use of those materials, historically-speaking?
Guatemala has a unique variety of jade. It is formed here because of the geographical location and the geological history.
For the Maya, our ancestors, jade was the most valuable material. They thought of it as a gift left here for us, which brought all the strength from underneath the earth and was able to take our thoughts and prayers to heaven. Jade was carved by master artisans who made from large stelas to miniature mosaic masks, among other incredible ornaments.
4. We’ve talked about doing an online collaboration before, but we finally decided to go through with it now because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Guatemala. What are the effects for your business, and what can people do to support you and other small businesses working with artisans right now in Guatemala?
Indeed it is a situation that has affected us all. However, we are confident that together we will rise!
It has been difficult to find new paths for our partner artisans since our business depends on tourism completely. Our number one priority is to generate an income for our artisan partners, so they can support their families.
The best way to help is just by being conscientious. Learn about what you buy, where you shop, support handmade products with a value chain behind them.
Today, we make a call to a world wide community: let’s all find ways to help each other, from our homes… by providing opportunities however possible.
December can be a pretty crazy month, full of activities, and maybe added stress. It’s a lovely season, but we understand the hectic nature of modern-day holiday celebrations.
We can relate. We’re makers and sellers, but also teachers, students, wives, friends, sisters… There’s a lot happening in our lives, too.
And by we, I mean: Kelly from Cardamom Collective, Ehren from Hecho, and me (Mari) from Kakaw Designs. This is why we wanted to share with you some of our favorite things, the items that remind us to relax, to take a deep breath, to brew and enjoy a cup of tea. If you think this might be beneficial for you, or if you’d like to gift it to someone you know, just email me at mari@kakawdesigns. We’d be happy to send you a bundle or two.
Mindful Morning One includes:
1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)
1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective
2 Hand-embroidered coasters from Kakaw Designs
Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink
$65 plus shipping, ready in the US.
Mindful Morning two includes:
1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)
1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective
2 Hand-embroidered tea towels from Kakaw Designs
Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink
We’ve come together with El Chucho Feliz this season to bring you a holiday bundle for your furry friend and human. Learn more about the bundle here. Below is a lovely post by Lea, who is working on the beautiful collars for El Chucho Feliz in Guatemala. I can vouch for how much Mayo is loved by all the dogs in Guatemala – she’s one of Berry’s favorite humans for sure. -Mari
Who doesn’t love dogs? We’re proud to say we are 100% dog people! Here in Guatemala, just like in North America, there are slang words for our doggie friends. Here’s your Spanish lesson of the day –
CHUCHO – (pronounced chew-cho) Guatemalan slang for dog.
You’ll find that hardly anyone calls dogs perros (proper Spanish) – here in Guatemala. If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘chucho, you are not alone. But it makes sense when you understand that it’s the same as the way people in North America say ‘Pup’ for example. So, El Chucho Feliz = The Happy Dog! How cute is that?
El Chucho Feliz was founded by our designer Marjolaine Perrault. Marjolaine (aka: Mayo) is a certified veterinary technician from Montreal. She is also a dog trainer, and spent years working with veterinarians without borders in Guatemala where she fell in love with the country. The exotic atmosphere, fresh fruits and flowers, incredible erupting volcanoes and lush green jungles finally led to her moving to Guatemala in 2011. Seriously – whats not to love about this country? If you have been to Guatemala – you know what we are talking about!
Soon after moving here she started El Chucho Feliz, offering dog training services that quickly expanded to doggie play dates and then boarding. Over the years she has successfully become a second Mom to hundreds of happy dogs!
Canela, the lucky “chucho” who is now happy with Lea 💗
Mayo also has a slight obsession with Guatemalan textiles and decided to try combining her love for them with her love for dogs. She began working with artisans to create leather dog collars using beautiful up-cycled Guatemalan textiles. She is constantly on the hunt in the local markets, searching for gently used, quality textiles from local women. She collaborates with these local artisans to bring these hand made products to our customers and their happy pups! Focusing on high standards in order to create unique hand made items, built to last.
Since Mayo is seriously busy with business constantly growing, that’s where I come in! My name is Lea and I was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan & American parents. I studied Visual Communications and Design at FIDM in LA. I moved to Guatemala 4 years ago and Mayo and I met because she is second dog mom to our beautiful street ‘chucho’ – Canela- and the rest is history! I am here to make sure things run smoothly! We never created a job title – but that is typical here. And it works for us!
“Gimme my treat, human!” psssst that collar looks nice on Canela!
Not to be confusing- but in a few places we are called The Mayan Dog- easier at first glance than explaining what a ‘chucho’ is! We are delighted to be working with Kakaw on this collaboration. We hope you’ll love the work we created together as much as we loved doing it for you!