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:

 

 

 

 

The evolution of Juan Carlos’ masks

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

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

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

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

mask mari purple

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

masks with filters

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

<buy a bundle here>

masks packaging

maska packaging

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

Brocade weaving with Doña Lidia

We received special interest from more advanced weavers for backstrap looms prepped for brocade. We knew just the right person to help us prepare these looms and demonstrate the weaving process: Doña Lidia! She is a master weaver and a friend for so many years. She and her sisters are the talented weaving teachers during our Textile Travels, too.

lidia weaving 4

While we can’t have in-person weaving lessons right now, we thought ,”why not offer some looms for weavers who want to practice brocade from home?” What makes these brocade looms different from our more simple Practice Looms are two additional rods that have separated the warp precisely in order to facilitate horizontal brocade lines to be made, as well as a wooden needle for inserting supplementary weft threads. Oh yes, and we include 8 different colors of thread for supplementary weft, too.

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After some sample weaving by Doña Lidia

We spent some time in my garden at home one morning to take these videos demonstrating some of the brocade weaving process. We are speaking in Spanish, and for absolute beginners, Doña Lidia’s movements are probably fast-paced. However, if you’re already familiar with weaving, you should be able to keep up 🙂 Take a look:

In video 1/5, Doña Lidia patiently shows how to wrap the loom with the provided maguey belt to start weaving.

 

Small brocade figures known as “mosquitos” are woven in with supplementary weft threads in these videos 2-4.

 

 

 

In the last video (5/5), Doña Lidia demonstrates inserting supplementary weft to make horizontal brocade lines using the additional rods.

 

brown tone loom 2

3 looms togetherThree unique looms with everything you need to practice brocade weaving will be available this Sunday on our site!

 

Questions? Let us know at mari@kakawdesigns.com 🙂

 

XOXO,

Mari

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

Why Ceramics?

Maybe you’ve noticed. We started working with a new cooperative, new medium, not too long ago: hand-turned and hand-painted stoneware ceramics.

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Our Ikat Donburi Bowl and Ikat Tumbler on display at Xilabla Joyas

At first it was for completely selfish reasons. To be honest, this is how most of the product designs come about. For entirely selfish reasons – because I got a new computer, and want a laptop sleeve. Or I got a scooter, and want a new backpack (it’s too hard with a shoulder bag). Or it’s getting chilly, and I want a thick and cozy shawl. The list goes on and on.

For our ceramics, I felt this desire for a new product when I was working on my master’s in Europe. I was getting pretty used to the coffee (espresso) culture in Austria, but I still missed having cozy and large vessels for tea. That’s how I grew up in Japan, after all – tea all day. (Side note: I remember the first day of class in Austria, where education was surprisingly traditional, the professor said that there would be one break, or sometimes no break at all, for a 3-hour meeting. But then he added something like, “Unless you need a coffee – in that case, feel free to leave and take a coffee break whenever you need.” They sure love their coffee.)

And at the time, I was sad to not be able to work in-person with our artisan partners while away. I felt like I wasn’t being as creative as I usually was. And I just wasn’t feeling all that cozy, living in a sterile apartment with all white walls, everything electric, no garden, and for me, no character.

So even though I was thousands of miles away from Guatemala, and months away from spending summer here, I did the most reasonable thing in order for me to obtain some ceramic pieces I wanted in Europe. I designed them to be made in Guatemala. 🤷🏻‍♀️

It took several tries to get each design right. We now have four different ceramic items we are making in partnership with a cooperative at Lake Atitlán. They have been received well in the Antigua community, and have been selling well at the stores here. It has been a very interesting process to work with the new medium.

ceramic capucchino sets

Prototype Cappuccino Sets in the making at Lake Atitlán

One thing I love about working with ceramics is the ability to incorporate textile designs in a non-textile way. Something about this departure is freeing. With woven designs, I find myself worrying about using traditional Maya patterns, or even the opposite – introducing designs that are somehow inspired by all the different traditions from around the world that I have been exposed to. My conclusion is that above all, I believe it’s important for our artisan partners to make a living. Traditions will only continue now if they can be a source of income for rural families. But still, there are other ethical concerns whirling in the back of my head. And with ceramics, we’re actually working entirely with non-indigenous techniques to begin with, and so I see no conflict with trying something new. New shapes. New sizes. New patterns. New colors.

cappuccino rebozo

Our Cappuccino Set features simple and calming running stitches in an indigo shade

With that said, I do try to stay away from designs that are strictly Maya. I don’t want to copy village patterns. So you won’t see any of the beautiful brocade patterns found here on the stoneware. What I wanted to show was more of a global common thread of textile traditions. Thus, the simple ikat patterns in indigo, and the simple running stitches, also in indigo. We tried other colors, but settled on my favorite, the calming navy blue. What’s more fitting than the magical indigo hue, the strongest of the natural dyes, found all over the world in textile traditions?

Anyway, thank you for reading. If you’d like, here are the links to take a look at our ceramic bundles online:

Ceramic Bundle with Tumblers

Ceramic Bundle with Cappuccino Sets

XOXO,

Mari

 

Just Leather Shoes

Ever since we started Kakaw Designs with custom-made boots, we’ve gotten requests from people wanting simple designs with just leather, no textile. I’ve been resisting against this for some time, just because I’ve always wanted our focus to be textile over leather.

But… you know what? I was wrong. I love these Quetzal Shoes in Just Leather, and it’s always a pleasure to support Don Julio’s cobbler business. And through these sales, we can also invest more in textile prototypes and pursue new designs. So really, it’s win-win.

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I’m sorry I was narrow-minded and it took me so long to incorporate Just Leather shoes. But now, they’re here. I hope you like them too, I’m loving mine.

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Available online for $185. Choose “Just Leather” option under “Textiles”.

 

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Thank you, Don Julio!

 

mindful morning bundle

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.

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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

$85 plus shipping, ready in the US.

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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

Working with artisans – is having a brand the best way?

To tell you the truth, I struggle with this concept of working with artisans as a brand.  Maybe I didn’t think it through when I started the business (and by maybe, I mean definitely). I chose to start a brand because I love designing things, working with artisans, and I thought that I could add something special through new ideas and high-quality details.

< Read: 4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan Made Brand >

 

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I definitely don’t regret it, because it has been an amazing experience and I have been able to build relationships with local artisan groups, textile lovers all over the world, boutique stores focused on quality, and similarly-minded designers. And I have learned so much. Also, I just don’t think I would’ve known any other way, these thoughts are the result of years of experience, and seeing some loopholes in the logic of artisanmade brands.

And maybe it’s because I am away now, in Europe studying Sustainable Development, and this distance of course makes it challenging to work with rural artisans even more. We’re only able to manage this because of our wonderful Production Manager back in Antigua, Evelyn.

But it’s got me thinking for other ways to support the talented artisans we work with. This was the root of our Textile Travels this past August, inspired by idea-exchange through textile workshops, to benefit both international participants and local artisans alike. This way, I thought, the artisans could get new ideas, maybe some feedback on existing products, and continue to improve on their own. Sometimes that’s all it takes, a spark of a new idea, encouragement from other textile lovers.

Indigo San Juan

Now, we’re trying out another way to increase impact.  I’m so excited to share a different brand with you: Kaleido Collection actually works with the same talented weavers specializing in natural dyes and ikat patterns at Lake Atitlán. The founder is Emmy, a good friend from our time in Antigua, Guatemala. She’s been able to create gorgeous cushion covers together with the partner weavers and a talented seamstress she’s known for years. I can tell you from experience that one of the hardest parts about production in Guatemala is the actual sewing, especially when zippers are involved. But Elvia is truly a pro! These cushion covers are so beautiful, and I’m so impressed by Emmy’s sincere way of writing and story-telling. It took me a lot longer to understand how important the sharing of stories really is.

Read the blog post by Emmy about her thoughts behind Kaleido Collection >

 

We invite you to take a look at the limited-time listing. Our goal is to increase impact for these talented rural artisans we work with, and it’s always a good thing for the artisans to diversify and work with other brands and try out different designs.

XOXO,

Mari

 

Photo Aug 12, 11 35 22 AM

 

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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>

Emmy weaving edited

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