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!

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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

Kaleido Collection: Beautiful forms in a beautiful country

<I’m super psyched to announce something brand new for us. I shared a little bit about the difficulties being away from artisans, and the idea for Kakaw Designs has always been to support talented artisans in Guatemala. With that in mind, we’re excited to be adding gorgeous handwoven cushion covers by Kaleido Collection onto our website this Fall. Emmy shares her honest story about the how and why behind her new brand, take a look! -Mari>

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Emmy practicing her backstrap weaving skills during Textile Travels – she joined us for a workshop 🙂

I first came to know and live in the beautiful country of Guatemala through working at an NGO focused on coffee communities. Working in a small town primarily made up of small-scale agriculture, I worked alongside coffee producers and got to know the skilled work and art of coffee. Along the way, I met several artisans, some who have generations of craft experience and others who are newfound makers. What started as purchases and custom-made requests for myself turned into a desire to share these beautiful forms with others while supporting talented artisans.

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s hard not to notice the colorful and intricate textiles found throughout Guatemala. Sadly, many people, both visitors and chapines, don’t know the hours of meticulous work and faces behind these woven pieces. I was one of those people that admired woven and embroidered textiles but didn’t truly understand all that went into producing a piece. Not to mention that there are a multitude of different processes and techniques. That’s part of what makes Guatemalan textiles so amazing.

Picking up the textiles with Francisca

Picking up textiles with Francisca

<I interrupt to give a virtual high-five for anyone who can spot a custom Kakaw textile in this shot 😉 -Mari>

My first visit with the Corazon del Lago weaving cooperative was a trip to San Juan la Laguna at Lake Atitlan with my sister. Like many visitors, we came for an afternoon to check out the little shops that line the main road up from the dock. Little did I know at the time that my first scarf purchase from one of those little shops would grow into something more. A year later, I found out that it’s the same cooperative that Kakaw Designs works with. Through Mari I was introduced to Francisca, the co-op president, and I set up a natural dyes demonstration to get a glimpse of the process behind botanical-based dyes. My inner environmentalist was intrigued by the amazing, vibrant colors that plants can produce.

In talking with Francisca, it’s clear that the co-op has benefited many women in the community but like many businesses in Guatemala, it’s not easy to grow in an economy that is often reliant on the ebbs and flows of tourism. Through my work with community tourism in coffee communities, economic markets tied to tourism and agriculture harvest seasons are stories that aren’t uncommon to hear. Diversification is essential.

Over time I began to learn more and more about the world of Guatemalan textiles and the skilled people that make it happen. It also meant that I was acquiring more woven pieces ranging from huipiles from one of the textile shops in Antigua and learning where they are from to requesting custom sewing orders from Elvia, an expert seamstress who I’ve worked with through the coffee organization. One of my favorite personal pieces I have worked with Elvia on has been pillow covers, of which there have been several iterations with the most recent being the collaboration with the weaving cooperative!

In Elvia's home studio - Lavender Love is her favorite

In Elvia’s home sewing studio – Lavender Love is her favorite

Throughout all this, I had never really thought about starting a business. After getting to know several brands that collaborate with artisans like Kakaw Designs, I realized that it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. So begun the idea of not just buying pieces for myself, but to contribute to other market avenues for artisans, albeit small. I still have a lot to learn, but I figured that the worst failure would be never trying.

The word Kaleido means beautiful form in Greek. I found it fitting, as there are so many beautiful things in Guatemala – the breathtaking landscapes, detailed craftsmanship and especially the gracious and hospitable people.

Artisan relationships are the heart of Kaleido Collection. Valuing artisans’ work and time is unfortunately not the norm for many of the things we consume and buy. Kaleido Collection hopes to be a small part of that change along with many other like-minded organizations and brands that seek to make just and dignified work the only acceptable practice.

I hope you enjoy these pillows as much as I have enjoyed the journey in producing them!

 

<see more of the beautiful cushion covers online>

 

Textiles

Finally online… new treasures!

It’s no secret that designing and producing new items is more challenging when far, far, away from the talented artisans we work with. I’ve been outside of Guatemala for the better part of a whole year now, and this is one of the things I miss most about being in Guatemala: the ability to try new things with artisans, this sort of “trial and error” process that every new product needs. I can still sketch anywhere I am, and of course I’ve gotten new ideas for products as a student in Europe – new product needs, new patterns, new colors, new aesthetics, new weather needs, too ❄️. But the conversations with artisans, and physically feeling textures and seeing colors… these are things very challenging to accomplish while so far away.

All this to say that I’m extra pleased to announce the addition of these items, finally online and available for shipping from the US.

I’d like to add a special note here to say that these items would not have been possible to make come true without the existing relationships with the talented artisan groups we partner with in Guatemala. I think over the years we’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths, and have been able to figure out what kind of beauties we can make together. It must be extremely challenging for them to also communicate with me via email and messages, they’ve done a wonderful job and I am so grateful.

It felt great to be back and lead the first Textile Travels in August. I’m thinking about doing another trip in the summer of 2019, let me know if you’re interested in hearing more. Photos below were taken in Chichicastenango by Leander Khil.

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

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<Find the items in New Arrivals section of our website>

Textile Travels Recap

Though it’s been over a month now since we said our goodbyes to our friends from our very first Textile Travels, I feel like I’m still processing the experience, there is just so much to take in.

 

First off, I’d like to say that we had a wonderful trip. It was a small group, which was great considering this was the first trip of its kind that I’ve organized, full of workshops with artisans for the goal of collaborative idea exchange. It’s a new concept for me and our partner artisans, so this was a trial run – a successful one at that.

Amanda indigo scarf

Amanda shows off her shibori work at Lake Atitlán

My favorite part was probably dyeing with Francisca and her cooperative of dyers and weavers. Indigo was especially fun, and I feel like where we were able to explore different designs and ideas well, since we all had a bit of experience with the magical dye, and had at least seen (some had even made) intricate shibori designs. I even stuck my jeans in the vat, and by the end of the day there was a whole line of indigo-dyed jeans, all from the weavers and their family members.  I loved that they  liked the idea!

Indigo Jeans

Line-up of jeans dyed in indigo

Shibori scarves

Indigo beauties, trying new things with the weavers

We also organized workshops for embroidery, ikat, backstrap brocade weaving, as well as many visits to observe other techniques. It was a packed itinerary, but we squeezed in down time whenever we could. I would personally prefer a slower-paced trip, but it’s hard when there are so many beautiful places to visit, so many textile workshops to participate in… and not everyone has the luxury of taking part in a longer itinerary.

 

I have some new ideas on how to improve the trip – how to encourage even more idea exchange, prepare the participants better for them, and make sure the artisans get as much out of the workshops as possible (and not just the travel participants). I’m excited.

Margarita in moutains

Rural travel is beautiful in more ways than just textiles

And now, looking at 2019, I’m wondering if people have any requests on the time of the year. This first trip took place in August, which was meant to be helpful for those busy during the school year. Though we got very lucky with the weather, it’s possibly not the ideal month for travel because it is still during the rainy season. October/November are usually better weather-wise.

 

With that said, please let me know if you would like to receive more information about the next trip, or if you have any particular requests.

 

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

Brocade weaving class

Brocade weaving class

Brocade loom and threads

ikat on floor

Ikat + Indigo

Are you in Guatemala? Join our textile fun, even just one workshop.

We are opening our creative textile workshops during Textile Travels  to those already in Guatemala! Come learn more about the textile traditions of the beautiful Maya country, and practice some of the techniques yourself. Get creative, have fun, exchange ideas to benefit artisans and participants alike.

These workshops also include home-cooked meals and local visits to experience authentic village life. Cultural exchange through shared passions in textiles.

Interested? Let me know! Email mari@kakawdesigns.com

 

Brocade backstrap weaving workshop2

Textile discovery embroidery class1

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Mother’s Day Sale + Bundle

SALE for all scarves until May 13th, 2018. Use code LOVEMAMA for 25% off all scarves, because this is the product that has the most impact for our partner women weavers.  Naturally-dyed + handwoven, they make excellent ethical gifts.

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<<shop scarves with 25% off code LOVEMAMA>>

 

ALSO… We’ve got the perfect textile-loving bundle for all the Mamas out there!  Gift a handwoven Hummingbird Wrap in Indigo + Cardamom Collective pouch of your choice (block-printed or ikat) + hand-printed card written to the special Mom.  All for $90.

To claim a bundle, email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com.