Now that we’ve got 3 options coming up (Nov 2023 – Jan 2024), you might be wondering the difference between them, and which one might be the best fit for you.
In short, here are the main differences between the offerings:
For the most “well-rounded” experience, I recommendFrom Fiber to Fabric, happening on Thanksgiving week. This trip will give you the best overall introduction to many of the steps involved in traditional textile production. It’s all-inclusive meaning from airport pick-up to drop-off, all accommodations, workshops, and meals are included (except for two free afternoons). You’ll love taking in the beauty at Lake Atitlán.
The Intensive Backstrap Weaving Week is the perfect opportunity for weavers of all levels to learn from master weavers from San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Doña Lidia (see below video) is a caring and patient teacher with dozens of years of teaching experience, including in English, all around the world. Her sisters Doña Blandina and Doña Zoila are also joys to work with, and as we are capping this experience at only 4 students, you’re sure to have plenty of one-on-one personalized attention to improve your weaving skills. This is also a great itinerary for creatives who prefer free time to explore on their own, and Antigua is a great town for just that! Have your afternoons free to visit colonial ruins, sip on excellent coffee, explore the local markets, and more.
If you’re most interested in natural dyes, then Colors of Guatemala is the best option for you! We’re so excited to learn all about the importance of natural dyes historically for the Maya people and get our hands into dye baths and vats to see the variety of colors that can be achieved in a number of different ways. There are so many variables to consider when it comes to natural dyes! All of these topics will be explored in partnership with indigo practitioner (and dear friend) Abigail Rothberg from Mysa. We encourage you to bring your own fibers and materials to add to the vats – it will be great fun! This itinerary will include a backstrap weaving loom that will be prepared in parts by our artisan partners so that we can dedicate more time to dyeing.
Earlier this season, we were able to organize a visit to our two partner groups of weavers near Cobán, Alta Verapaz. It’s always a bit of a trek to get out there, as it takes a full day of travel to reach their communities, and since the pandemic, it had gotten even more logistically complicated. But when we got news of a bit of funding for improving digital capacities through the Nuttingham School of Art and Design (thanks to Dr. Katherine Townsend), we knew we wanted to take this opportunity to work with the weavers in these communities.
The weavers’ work is spectacular, with delicate advanced pikbil in Chamelco and intricate colorful brocade in Tactic. And we saw great potential benefit in photography training so that we can better represent their work and facilitate the telling of their stories to the world. And because it is important for us that the weavers all understand how digital images are shared and used, we dedicated time to discuss those important topics as part of the “Informed Consent” portion of the workshop.
This visit was led by Evelyn Arévalo, our on-the-ground production manager extraordinaire, accompanied by professional photographer Juan Salvador Galich. Take a look at the Q and A below with Evelyn, as she shares about the very first visit that she lead (spoiler alert – it went very well!).
How long have you been working with the weavers in Chamelco and Tactic, and in what capacity?
Since transitioning to full-time with Kakaw Designs in 2020, right during the pandemic, I’ve been more involved with our work with artisans. Before that, I knew the representative of the association in Chamelco, Margarita, but it was this time that I started to work more closely with the group.
And with the weavers in Tactic – we started working together also in 2020 as part of our Artisan Direct project on our website.
Did you already know these towns? Or Alta Verapaz in general?
The department of Alta Verapaz is beautiful and known for its green areas. I hadn’t been able to visit for 15 years, and without a doubt it was joyful to be able to go back. It was my first time in Chamelco and Tactic.
And what did you think?
Chamelco strikes me as a well-organized municipality, with paved roads surrounded by nature. People walk the streets calmly, and the houses are painted colorfully.
The area where the weavers live in Tactic is higher up, with a spectacular view surrounded by plantations, vegetation, and small paths. It’s a small community, so all the weavers know each other, many of them are even family and their kids are always present in their activities.
We visited the house of the group representative, Aura, who is in charge of organizing the group of weavers so that they can offer handwoven pieces for sale. Because her house also serves as the neighborhood day care, there are books, little desks, and other materials for kids. They adapted an area of the house for the weavers to work on their looms after day care, and they come together to share their progress on their work and stories about their day-to-day lives.
Each weaving requires so many hours of dedication, I love the moment when the weavers weave together, and their children are nearby learning, playing, and helping. This is work learned through the generations, and the weavers simultaneously dedicate time to be mothers, wives, daughters.
Was there something that surprised you during your visit?
How beautiful Cobán and its surroundings are! I love that the people are still preserving their traditions, and even given the situation with Covid, business is already going back to normal.
And something that you liked most?
Most definitely the green landscape of Cobán, and the friendliness of the people.
Tell us a bit about the workshop, and the weavers’ reactions.
It was lovely to get to know more members of the two groups of weavers during our visit for the photography and informed consent workshop. In Chamelco, the board members were the participants, and they are in charge of sharing what they learned with other members of the group. It was a dynamic day with delicious food and a one-of-a-kind chocolate drink.
Both of the groups received us with open arms and lots of enthusiasm to learn, both youth and adults paid attention when it came to photography technqies, and with the available resources on hand, we discussed how important it is nowadays to be able to share through images their work and the artists behind each handwoven piece.
It was a unique experience to share with hard-working women, with hands that produce art every day. Without a doubt, I would like to go back soon to get to know each and every one of them more. They told me that each handwoven piece reflects the weaver’s feelings, as a part of their heart is woven into their work.
Visita Comunitaria en Cobán
Escrito por Evelyn Arévalo
¿Cuánto tiempo llevas trabajando con las tejedoras en Chamelco y Tactic, y en qué capacidad?
Desde que inicié de lleno con la marca Kakaw Designs en el 2020 justo en la pandemia pude involucrarme más con el trabajo de los artesanos. Yo ya había conocido a la representante de la asociación de tejedoras en Chamelco, Margarita, pero fue entonces que empecé a trabajar más de cerca con ellas.
Y con las tejedoras de Tactic, empezamos la relación en 2020 como parte de Artisan Direct en nuestra página.
¿Ya conocías a estos pueblos? ¿O a Alta Verapaz en general?
Alta Verapaz es un departamento hermoso y reconocido por sus áreas verdes. No había podido visitarlo desde hace 15 años, y fue sin duda una alegría poder regresar. Fue mi primera vez visitar Chamelco y Tactic.
¿Y cómo te parecieron?
Chamelco es un municipio muy bien organizado con calles pavimentadas rodeado de naturaleza. La gente muy tranquila caminando por las calles, y las casas pintadas de distintos colores.
La aldea de las tejedoras en Tactic está a lo alto, tiene una vista espectacular rodeada de plantaciones, vegetación y calles muy pequeñas. Ya que es una aldea todas las tejedoras se conocen, hasta la muchas son familia y sus hijos están siempre presentes en todas las actividades.
Visitamos la casa de la representante del grupo, Aura, quien se encarga de organizar el grupo de tejedoras para que puedan ofrecer sus piezas a la venta. Como su casa también es la guardería de la vecindad, tiene libros y mesitas y algunos materiales para los niños. Adaptaron dentro un área para que las tejedoras puedan trabajar en sus telares cuando ya no estén los niños y así compartir como va su trabajo y las anécdotas del día.
Cada tejido requiere muchas horas de dedicación, me encanta el momento en que tejen juntas, y sus hijos están cerca aprendiendo, jugando y ayudando. Es un trabajo aprendido de generación en generación, y las tejedoras siempre dedican a la vez tiempo a ser madres, esposas e hijas.
¿Hay algo que te sorprendió durante tu visita?
¡Lo bello que es Cobán y sus alrededores! Me encanta que aún se conservan sus tradiciones y ver que a pesar de la situación del Covid, el comercio ya está volviendo a la normalidad.
Y lo que más te gustó?
Definitivamente me quedo con el paisaje verde de Cobán y la calidez de su gente.
Cuéntanos un poco sobre el taller, y la reacción de las tejedoras.
Fue agradable conocer más miembros de los dos grupos de tejedoras durante nuestra visita para el taller de fotografía y autorización informada. Los miembros de la junta directiva en Chamelco fueron las que asistieron al taller y serán las encargadas de compartir lo aprendido a sus compañeras. Fue un día muy dinámico con comida deliciosa y una bebida de chocolate única.
Los dos grupos nos recibieron con los brazos abiertos con muchas ganas de aprender y tanto jóvenes y adultos pusieron mucha atención sobre la técnicas de tomar una buena fotografía con los recursos que tienen a la mano y se les explicó lo importante en estos tiempos el poder compartir con imágenes la elaboración de su trabajo y quién está detrás de cada pieza.
Fue una experiencia única compartir con mujeres trabajadoras, con manos que producen arte cada día. Sin duda quisiera regresar pronto para poder conocer más de cada una de ellas, como ellas me indican cada pieza refleja su sentir así que es parte de su corazón plasmado en ellas.
We have the great pleasure of introducing our good friend Kelly as one of the co-leaders of our upcoming Textile Travel in November, 2022. “From Fiber to Fabric” is our favorite week-long itinerary for fiber and textile enthusiasts. Spinners, dyers, weavers, knitters and overall creatives — this trip is for you! And if you’re just getting started on your fiber art journey, you’ll love the introduction to the techniques included in this week.
So, who is Kelly, you ask?
She is a passionate art educator and practitioner who draws inspiration from her extensive travel all over the world:
Kelly has taught in France, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Italy and has attended classes and art workshops in Italy, Sweden, India, Peru and Guatemala. In her graduate work she took a close look at the way we can explore issues of history, place and community through the artistic traditions. She is the owner of Cardamom Collective, which uses the traditions of textiles and craft along the Silk Road to connect and understand the way we have influenced each other throughout history and across continents. For the past six years she has taught K-8 art in Milwaukee Public Schools where she strives to create a dynamic and supportive space rooted in social justice and artistic traditions around the world. She has traveled to nearly thirty countries and believes the best way to understand the world and ourselves is to have authentic conversations with each other and learn from the communities we are fortunate to visit. She loves Guatemala and is thrilled to be co leading this trip!
Last year during our week at Lake Atitlán, Kelly was kind to lead a watercolor workshop for the other participants one afternoon. It was so much fun — and we’re sure to include time for some more painting this year!
This year’s trip is sure to be another week full of artistic exploration rooted in cultural heritage, learning alongside our local Tzutujil teachers at Lake Atitlán. Join us November 20-27th! We are currently taking reservations with a $250 deposit. As this trip is held on Thanksgiving week, we have participants joining us both in solo and family units – it will be a great mix of artistic minds.
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:
As we get more and more involved with online weaving classes, we thought that a short list of common vocab might be helpful. The following is meant to be a simple introduction, and explained by me (Mari) in the context of weaving in Guatemala only. Please keep in mind that there are so many different textile traditions around the world, and many of these techniques in a different context are applied in a different way. But here’s something to get you started, with pictures:
Backstrap weaving: a pre-colombian simple loom technology that consists basically of sticks and yarn. On one end, the loom is attached to a pole, tree, or anything stable, and on the other, to the weaver, around the waist with a belt. It can be rolled up and moved easily. This is the technique used in Guatemala for traditional huipiles (blouses worn by women) and more garments. Predominantly practiced in Guatemala by women. Similar looms are found in many parts of the world.
Brocade weave: technique used to create patterns in the weaving. In Guatemala, the type of brocade is supplementary weft brocade. Many additional threads are introduced into the weft during weaving, row by row. Some people describe this process as “embroidering while weaving.”
Footloom weaving: using a larger wood-based loom that was brought by the Spanish to Guatemala. Also called “pedal loom” or “treadle loom.” This type of loom allows for much wider and longer textiles to be woven. In Guatemala, the weaving on such a loom is performed predominantly by men. It is possible to incorporate techniques such as ikat and brocade on this type of loom, as well as tapestry weave.
Ikat: a resist-dye technique applied to thread before the weaving process. Knots are placed in calculated positions in order for the thread to reveal patterns when the knots are opened after dyeing. In Guatemala, ikat is referred to as “jaspe” and the technique is practiced for both warp and weft threads independently, and in both backstrap and footloom forms.
Picbil: a light-weave with supplementary weft for gentle brocade, regional from around Cobán. Traditionally, this weave is for blouses, using only white on white.
Selvages / Selvedges: the finished edges of a fabric that do not fray. Footloom-woven textiles usually have two clean selvages, but not the starting and ending points of the panel, because these parts are cut off the loom. Backstrap-woven textiles may have four clean selvedges, but making a textile like this requires the knowledge, skill, and patience. Not all backstrap-woven panels have four selvages; they may have two, three, or four. Traditionally, Maya textiles are used to their fullest extent by not cutting the panels, thus keeping the structure intact an utilizing the selvages.
Supplementary weft: the additional threads used to create designs for brocade figures. This allows for extra color to be incorporated into the textile.
Warp: the vertically-arranged yarn/thread that is necessary in all types of looms.
Weft: the yarn/thread that is inserted into the warp to create a structurally-sound weave. In Guatemala, the use of additional weft threads create colorful brocade designs.
This heartfelt writing by Kelly from Cardamom Collective brings tears to my eyes, just reminiscing about how we have both personal and professionally grown over the years of working together on special collaborative projects. Kelly continues to surprise us with her unique color and pattern choices, and it is so refreshing to depart from the local norms. Francisca can tell which orders are Kelly’s at first look of the design, and it’s a wonderful thing to have this creative, inspirational push to try new designs. And hey, this all began as an Instagram friendship, did you know? It’s definitely a real-life in-person friendship now.
Without further ado… Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your thoughts on the years of making beauties together.
Kelly when she came to visit us in Guatemala 💙
It’s hard to encapsulate a friendship that spans years of collaboration and growth, especially one that has unfurled like a dynamic tapestry of travel, voice recordings, written words, coffees on Chicago streets, a shared love of all things ikat (jaspe), chewy corn tortillas in San Juan La Laguna and of course, tastes of chocolate and cardamom wherever we can find them!
Knowing and working with Mari has felt like a Field Notes guide that we’ve packed with ethnographic entries, textile (and bird!) sightings, watercolor pages and postal codes. When I try and synthesize the effect these adventures have had on my life and business, I search for words and struggle to arrive, until my eyes settle on my coat hook. That’s right, so much can be expressed in the entry ways of our homes, the doorways to our spaces and where we spend our time. Mine are infinitely more colorful and thread-rich than they were six years ago.
Our coat rack has seven small black hooks, and hanging from each one is at least one (and often more) of the many generations of bags and scarves we have co-conspired in bringing to life. I’ve dragged them to France, Italy and Spain. I’ve stuffed them with wild sage in Montana. They’ve carried my curriculum, spilled coffees, smashed crayons, and the abundance of flotsam and jetsam that comes from being a K-8 Art Teacher for the last four years. When I look over these pieces I see my past and so much potential for the future. I love seeing how the designs have evolved as Mari has helped me to understand the process and many hours (lifetimes of learning actually) that go into each step of each piece. Each time a new item is born I am transported to my last night in Antigua. Walking the cobblestone streets under the butter yellow arch that bridges the path from the sky and frames Fuego, clutching my prototype like the sacred cloth it was, sharing a platterful of spices and seasoning and making plans over hot terra cotta bowls of Pepián. I recall entering the studios of the master leathersmiths and spending the day with Francisca in San Juan, turning corn tortilla dough in my hand as we waited for our natural dye experiments to come to life in the Lake Atitlan sun.
I love to remember these sensory details and sharing stories is one of my favorite things about designing and understanding textiles. I am sure some of you are asking, how does it actually work? Typically, I start with an inspiration, a piece of artwork, a color scheme that is speaking to me, a place I have been…it varies. I sort through these ideas via small sketches, typically done in watercolor. Designing textiles has always been rooted in handwork for me, it is where I find the most joy and while I respect the incredible things that can be done in design programs, it is not how I work. When I have a relatively solid idea, I will send Mari images of these sketches and imaginings and using the natural dye book that she and the weavers sent me, will send color codes. Often we will discuss the colors and possibilities of pattern, which is one of the areas where Mari’s expertise is invaluable.
As she has built decades of trust and understanding with the communities where textiles are made in Guatemala and lives there herself, she has a nuanced understanding of the process as well as the ability to communicate both linguistically and through cultural understandings that I do not. I loved my trip to Guatemala and spend time reading and learning about the history, weaving process and customs but I have truly only spent a very small amount of time there. (I hope to return very soon!) When someone lives and works in a place the way Mari does, they are able to act as a bridge between the artisan communities and the designers.
What is not visible from instagram or social media is the countless hours of conversations, studio visits, travel over bumpy roads, (and choppy Lake Atilan waves!) dense traffic, and countless other gestures and moments that it really takes to make Kakaw work. In turn, these collaborations are possible with other small businesses like Cardamom Collective. Mari does all of these things and more and does it with integrity, an open and curious mind and a drive to push herself and the other designers she works with to have thoughtful conversations around the work we are creating and who we are creating it with. Guatemala has so many incredible artists. Many families have been weaving, dyeing, and working in leather for generations, and possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is profound. What I have always appreciated about collaborating with Mari is that she works hard to build a community of shared voices and one that creates a space for creative exchange between brands and the artisans, of mutual respect.
Our collaborative projects have had many iterations, most recently we have ventured into hand carved jade and threads, which has been such an exciting addition to the Cardamom Collective and Kakaw textile “family”! I feel so grateful for years of pushing each other and growing in our shared and individual creative visions!
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.
To start, these are the contents of each kit. We currently have three naturally-dyed color variants available.
And these are the parts of the simple backstrap loom:
You’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:
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:
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 email@example.com.
Happy weaving at home! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.
Well, it’s been quite some time since writing here on the blog. Here’s an update on our recent happenings.
COVID-19 has hit Guatemala. And on the day the very first positive virus test result was found, we were meant to start our Textile Travels. What a timing, huh? While we had a few cancellations, there were two participants who were already in the country, along with my mom. We had a good talk together, and we decided to continue with our itinerary to Lake Atitlán. I’m glad we did, as we had a wonderful time there.
But on the day we were scheduled to come back to Antigua, it became more dire to do so, and quickly, because a public transport ban had been announced the night before. While I didn’t think that our private minivan would fall under this category, I was wrong – something about the licensing for transport of that size fits under the same category as the big refurbished school buses we like to call Chicken Buses. At that point, we did decide to cancel the rest of the trip, and hang out in Antigua.
I’d just like to put it out there that although these measures have been strict and drastic (we now have a shelter-in-place curfew at 4pm), I really can’t complain. I think these are good steps for trying to control the virus. And perhaps more than that, these are good measures for controlling the panic that can arise, especially in rural communities. For me personally, the potential chaos arising as well as the antagonizing of foreigners (because COVID-19 is coming from outside the country), have been more worrisome, especially when responsible for a small group of foreigners. Misinformation and at times flat out lies can spread as fast as the virus itself in areas where access to reliable information and the education to be able to weed through such rumors are lacking.
But, we made it. Everything went fine. We cancelled two of our workshops that were planned in surrounding areas of Antigua, and the whole portion going to Cobán. That’s okay. We still had a great trip, an adventure hopefully never to be repeated, but still a pleasant adventure together. What we couldn’t fit in were textile markets – unfortunately, they had been shut down by the day we were meant to rummage through vintage collections of handmade beauties. Well, there’s something left for next time, then. We always have to leave something for next time. Right?
I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy wherever they are. All the internationals from our travels have gone home now. I am still here in Guatemala, hanging out at home with Berry. It’s going to be a challenging time for small businesses and local artisans, so I’ll be pushing online sales, starting with a One of a Kind Sale on our website this Sunday, March 29th.
“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?”
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!
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.