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. 

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:

Mysa: Abigail’s indigo exploration in Guatemala

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.

XOXO, Mari

The Indigo Gang: Mari, Emily, Abigail, and Evelyn (left to right). Oh yeah, and Chorizo.

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.  

Abigail at her home studio

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. 

Working with indigo

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. 

Indigo exploration recipes on the wall

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.

Yummy collaborations! Cardamom + Kakaw

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.

XOXO, Mari

 

kelly mural web

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.

All the totes

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.

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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. 

Sketch and necklace

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

 

 

 

Handspun Cotton

What does it mean to spin cotton by hand? How is this different from industrial cotton thread?

I’ve been wanting to work with the gorgeous locally-grown handspun cotton for some time now, but hadn’t made the plunge because of the limited supply of the fiber. But now that we’re focusing more on mini batches and even just in one units as on our One of a Kinds page, we’ve gone ahead!

So we want to share with you a little bit about exactly how special this fiber really is.

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Indigo-dyed, natural white cotton, and natural brown ixcaco

There are two different natural cotton varieties that our friends Dominga and Marta work with at Lake Atitlán. They grow the trees, harvest the cotton, and process the fibers as a small mostly family-based group. The spinning of the fiber itself is mostly done by Dominga, the mother of the family, because she is the true expert after years of practice. The natural white variety is what we’re most used to all over, and is easy to dye as in the indigo version above. The fiber is preferred also for industrial spinning because they are longer and so do not break as easily.

The natural brown ixcaco variety, on the other hand, is harder to spin because of the shorter fibers, and because it is already brown in its natural state, is more challenging for dyeing. That’s part of the reason why ixcaco is so rare these days. Its use stopped with industrial spinning and availability of industrial thread, which are both in white cotton. Ixcaco was regarded to be less favorable, and it stopped being grown.

Now, with a small but real resurgence of organic and plant-based processes especially at San Juan la Laguna, the town known for natural dyes, locally-grown cotton is being harvested and processed in small batches in both natural white and ixcaco brown.

dominga beating cotton

The cotton needs to be beat in order to align and compact the fibers before spinning.

Processing the cotton by hand means growing the cotton trees, fertilizing them with a local ant species’ poop (yes, you read right – ant droppings!), harvesting, taking out the seeds, beating the fibers, aligning the fibers, and spinning. All of that before any dyeing and weaving take place. So much work!

We’re so pleased to be supporting these handmade and organic traditions with this group of weavers. The result of all their hard work is notable in the soft cotton that just gets softer with use. While industrial cotton commonly used here is two-ply and spun with lots of tension, we prefer the softness of the natural cottons achieved through hand-spinning.

 

Here are some products made by this group of cotton spinners and weavers, available on our site:

 

 

 

 

How to weave on our Practice Backstrap Loom

Looking to learn a new crafty skill while at home these days? We’ve got the thing for you, then: learn how to weave on a simple backstrap loom.

These looms have been prepped with naturally-dyed cotton warp and weft by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán. The design is already so pretty, there’s no need for complicated weaves – the most simple weave will make a beautiful wall-hanging with all the tools still attached.

all looms kantha

<Find our Practice Backstrap Loom Kit online>

To start, these are the contents of each kit. We currently have three naturally-dyed color variants available.

What's in a kit

And these are the parts of the simple backstrap loom:

Parts of a loomYou’ll see droplets of water in the above picture because I decided to starch the warp and iron before weaving. After the starching, I spent some time to separate the threads. After that, though, it keeps the fibers more neat and avoids fuzziness and clumping. It’s up to you if you would like to starch, it is an optional step.

Here are some simple videos filmed at home, following COVID-19 restrictions so not at all professional, but I figured better to just to it. I hope they are somewhat helpful and can get you started on your first backstrap loom.

To start, this one explains the parts of the loom:

 

See how I’ve attached the loom to a pole on my terrace in the following video. It should be attached higher than where you will sit – whether that’s in a chair or on the ground directly.

 

Once you’ve got your loom in place, you’re ready to start weaving:

 

For this simple loom, there are only two steps (yay!). They are demonstrated separately in the following two videos.

Learn Step 1, which is pulling the heddle and inserting the weft from right to left:

To check from the side if you’ve lifted the heddle or rod correctly, you can take a look like in the below picture. In the first picture, you can see that it’s not “right” – there are some threads that are going from above the rod to below the sword. So it’s INCORRECT:

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But in this one below, you can see that the sword is inserted neatly without messy threads, so you know it’s been done CORRECTLY:

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And then Step 2, using the shed rod and inserting the weft from left to right:

The rest is just repetition. Step 1, Step 2, Step 1, Step 2… until you’ve reached the point in the loom where it becomes difficult to pull up the heddle. I would suggest stopping there, and leaving all the tools attached to the loom, and hanging the piece on your wall as home decor. You’ll be able to tell your friends and family that you wove it, and hopefully those around you will also gain appreciation for the handwoven world.

Remember that it’s ok to make mistakes! You can always retrace your steps, cut the weft (NOT THE WARP), or my personal preference: just move on. It’s all part of the process, and you should be able to see in your work how you are improving. It’s kind of fun to remember how you once made simple mistakes – and learned from them.

So I must admit, I’ve never tried to explain the steps of backstrap weaving digitally like this. I’m not an expert. You likely have some questions. Please feel free to ask questions below in the comments so others can benefit from them too, or if you’d rather ask privately, shoot me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.

Happy weaving at home! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

 

XOXO,

Mari

Q&A feature on Birds of a Thread

“How great would it be if we could come together and share our textile experiences and practices together, further strengthening bonds and supporting rural artisans to pursue innovative designs on their own?”

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

That’s the inspiration behind our Textile Travels concept. As a small brand, we facilitate the reaching of new markets internationally through our unique designs. We work closely with talented artisans to make this happen while honoring their traditions. But if the artisan groups have their own storefronts or access to other stores/buyers, really the best case scenario as far as impact would be for them to be able to run with new designs on their own. Unfortunately, as a brand, we have to ask them to be respectful to our unique designs, meaning that they should not copy exactly what we have designed together. This hurts my heart a little every time!

with Francisca and Diego.jpg

Thus… we’re off to creating a safe space of sharing creative ideas and having fun – among international textile lovers with unique experiences and backgrounds and rural artisans thirsty for new ideas. It’s win-win for everyone.

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

XOXO,

Mari

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Indigo San Juan

Shibori scarves

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mari with indigo shibori

Reviews of textile adventure in Guatemala

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“Guatemala has been on my textile travel wish list for years, so when I spotted Mari’s trip I snapped up the opportunity and oh what a treat it turned out to be! Antigua is an absolute delight, but it was extra special being taken off the beaten track by Mari into the rural villages and meeting the wonderful artisans and cooperative groups in their homes. The workshops were a highlight and it was a privilege to spend creative time with the charming and very patient artisans who happened to be great cooks too! An unexpected bonus being treated to their traditional homemade dishes. At all times, I felt totally safe and reassured in Mari’s capable and calm hands plus traveling in a small group was really pleasant. The moment I left, I longed to return, thank you Mari, it was textile heaven! “

-Ricky

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We’re honored that a couple of participants of our Textile Travel from last year shared their experiences with us. Thank you 🙏

This  year’s trip also incorporates new ideas gained from last year’s first adventure, and feedback based on slowing down a little bit to have more time to take in all the beauty and textile techniques, and debrief with more energy in our group setting. Accordingly, we’ve also added new workshops like our pomom and tassel-making at our favorite cozy hotel in Antigua.  Learn more about this year’s trip here.

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“Traveling with Kakaw was such a fantastic experience. I loved that the other participants were as excited as I was about really learning new skills. The individual instructors were master weavers, dye artists, and embroiderers, and being welcomed into their homes for meals and workshops was such a great experience. The whole trip was really thoughtful and well planned. I came away with a few new skills and a pronounced appreciation for the work that goes into the beautiful textiles of Guatemala.”

-Amanda

 

This year we have two itineraries available:

Creative Textile Adventure: August 1-9

The Quetzal Adventure: August 8-14

Sign up in February and receive $150 off as an early-bird offer. Bring a friend, and get $100 off each too 🙂 Email mari@kakawdesigns.com for more information.

 

Xoxo,

Mari

A special bundle for you and your best friend 🐶

collars both colors

Announcing…. a  limited-time bundle for our furry friends and their humans 🐶💁🏻‍♀️ We’ve come together with our friends at El Chucho Feliz for this fun bundle. We love collaborating with other makers out there, supporting talented artisans in Guatemala. We’re only one small brand, but together with other socially-minded businesses, we can support a bigger movement that stands for ethical production practices and support for traditional crafts.

Order by Nov 29th and your shipping is only $7.50 within US for each bundle 💙 That’s because we have a friend taking these to the US herself (Thanks, Lea!). International shipping from Guatemala to US is not cheap, so we are happy to be able to reduce the final price this way for you. Shipping to other countries is also much cheaper from the US. Email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com to put in your order.

Scarf + Bark Bundle includes a dog collar made with naturally-dyed and handwoven ikat textile and genuine leather, made by El Chucho Feliz. We have the lucky pup’s human friend covered also with a naturally-dyed and handwoven scarf by Kakaw Designs.

Choose from Pretty in Pink and Indigo Ikat

The Pink hue for both the scarf and collar is from the natural dye cochineal. The footloom scarf is a new design, which means it’s not available anywhere else. The navy blues are, you guessed it, from natural Indigo. These naturally-dyed textiles are all dyed and handwoven by hand. The Corte Wraps are a little different because they are made with repurposed traditional cortes, and then are decorated with plant-dyed indigo cotton threads along the edges and the fringes. The collar might look more green than blue, which is because this ikat design has two colors: indigo and turmeric (blue + yellow = green).

Indigo fringe Kelly 1

Collar sizes:

S (11″-13″ / 28cm-33cm)

L (14″-16″ / 35cm-40cm)

XL (16″-21.5 / 40cm-53cm)

XXL (14.5”-20.5” / 35cm-50cm)

Scarf size:

Humans are so much easier, one size fits all when it comes to scarves.

Width: 20 in / 51 cm
Length: 90 in /230 cm

Price: $80 plus $7.50 shipping within US. Put your order in by November 29th, for this reduced special shipping price.

Normal combined retail price ranges from $110-$135. (That’s a savings of $30 – $55 per bundle!)

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Curious about ikat designs, and the whole weaving process in general? Take a look at our video.

XOXO,

Mari