Guatemalan Weaving Vocabulary

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, Doña Lidia in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Photo by Aiko Kobayashi.

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.

Doña Lidia demonstrates simple brocade patterns during an online class: mosquitos, pepenado lines, and semillas. Photo by Lisa Jennings.

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.”

A wooden footloom or pedal loom in Momostenango, used for weaving wool rugs in this town.

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.

Irma from Lake Atitlán shows her ikat-dyeing project. This is the warp to be woven on a backstrap loom. In this case, she started with already dyed-yellow thread. This will be dyed again after the knotting is complete, so the parts under the knots will remain yellow while the rest will be dyed with the second color.
Here is an example of an ikat pattern from dyeing the warp, visible on the loom. During the knotting and the dyeing processes it can be difficult to decipher what the design will look like when finished.

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 on the loom, taken during a Textile Travel visit, Cobán area.

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.

All three panels used for this picbil piece have four clean selvages, which can be noted here by the absence of fringing. Cobán.

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.

All the floral and zigzag patterns above are created on the loom with the incorporation of supplementary weft threads. Master weaver Doña Lidia from San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

Supplementary weft: the additional threads used to create designs for brocade figures. This allows for extra color to be incorporated into the textile.

This ikat warp is being put on the loom after the dyeing process. Lake Atitlán.
The warp on a pedal loom in Momostenango.

Warp: the vertically-arranged yarn/thread that is necessary in all types of looms.

Doña Lidia inserts additional weft into the textile (blue) along with the normal weft (bright pink, wrapped around the shuttle.

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.

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

 

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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

 

 

 

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

Guatemala Update: on the virus and traveling

Well, it’s been quite some time since writing here on the blog. Here’s an update on our recent happenings.

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

XOXO,

Mari

 

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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

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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