Community Visit to Cobán

//Español abajo//

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!).

-Mari

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. 

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Meet Kelly Moe-Rossetto!

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!

Kelly in Iceland

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.

<Learn more about this itinerary and others here>

FAQ: Online weaving class

We’ve hosted several online backstrap weaving classes with Doña Lidia now, and thought it might be helpful to share some questions we’ve received. We’re really learning a lot through these online offerings, and are enjoying being able to facilitate connections between international creatives and master weaver Doña Lidia ❤️

  1. Do I need to know Spanish to take this class?

No, you don’t! Doña Lidia speaks great English (as well as Kakchikel and Spanish), and I’m also online to help translate, narrate, and overall facilitate the experiential learning (Mari). We always have one more helper actively involved on the ground, too, as we are sharing the weaving action on two different devices always – one computer view for a larger view and one cell phone view for a more detailed close-up.

2. How much weaving experience do I need?

For a beginner class, nothing. If you’ve never practiced backstrap weaving before, we recommend taking a look at this short blog post with videos before the class (we’ll also send you more info to prep a few days before the class).

For a more advanced class, we do recommend some relevant experience. Please check each course description in our Experiences section to choose the right one for you.

3. Do I need a physical backstrap loom to take the class?

While not an absolute requirement, we do recommend having a loom either for the class or shortly after, so you can practice your learnings. Need a loom? We have three options prepared by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán and Doña Lidia’s family for you.

4. Will the class be recorded?

Yes! The speaker view will be recorded and the link will be sent to participants after class.

If you would like to record the session in your screen view, please make sure to log in with a compatible device, and we can give you permission so you can record it directly.

5. Do you have any documents to guide us with weaving?

Yes, we do! Doña Lidia has shared with us some handouts that she has in the past used for her in-person backstrap weaving workshops around the world, and we’ve also created our own PDF guide with pictures and video links to help facilitate your weaving journey.

We also started this Facebook group for backstrap weavers to share their progress and challenges. We hope to build a community supporting and helping each other. If you have any questions, you can share them there!

6. How do you know Doña Lidia?

Actually, she’s known me (Mari) since I was a little girl. Our connection is even originally from our parents- Doña Lidia’s mother Doña Margarita was a master brocade weaver also, and my mother’s friend ( Aiko Kobayashi).

7. Where does Doña Lidia live?

She lives in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, just 15 minutes out of Antigua, Guatemala. The online classes are hosted from the open patio of her home.

8. What is that strange noise we heard in the background?

That was probably Tikal, the beloved family parrot. He gets a bit talkative sometimes — saying things like “Hola!” and “Tikalito” 😆

9. I’d like to request a special topic class with Doña Lidia, Is this possible?

Yes, this is how we first got started with the classes! Doña Lidia is a wealth of knowledge and we would be happy to facilitate either a private or a special topic group session for you. Please write to Mari at mari@kakawdesigns.com to set this up.

10. When are your next classes?

We will keep updating our Experiences section with new class offerings. Please check there.

Any other questions? Let me know!

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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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

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

 

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Textile discovery embroidery class1

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Featured on The Maker Journal!

Take a look at this beautiful website full of narratives about artisan traditions and slow fashion practices around the world.  I love this online community feel of people who believe in the value of handmade beauties.

Our upcoming Textile Travels was featured!  Take a look at the whole piece here.

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I’ve found myself in a little pickle as the founder of Kakaw Designs, a small artisanmade brand based in Guatemala, and now also a master’s student in Sustainable Development in Europe.  It seems to me that conscious consumers are more and more focused on the environmental side of fashion, pushing for locally-made products and a general reduction in consumption.  While I am a big supporter of these movements and personally believe that More is not always Better, these trends lead me to wonder about the social and economic side effects for the small-scale producers that I’ve worked with for years now in Guatemala.

We are so excited for all the possibilities to come this summer.  Time to explore new creative ideas, together with our artisan partners.  Want to know more?  As always, just email me at: mari@kakawdesigns.com.

XOXO,

Mari

Who is leading the Textile Travels in August?

Maybe you’ve heard the news – we’re so excited to be launching a new creative travel experience concept this year.Textile Travel announcement

We can’t wait to get into all the weaving, dyeing, experimenting with fun creative ideas, together.  We will be visiting our partner artisan groups with a small group of Makers (we’re thinking only around 6-8 participants for this first trip!).  Can you just imagine all the sharing, learning, laughing we’ll do?

**Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself a Maker – the artisans can benefit from any feedback from consumers, and you’ll have a grand time learning traditional techniques in Guatemala anyway**

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One question we’re getting is…

Who are the leaders?

Well, that’s a fun team!  It will be me and my mother, two generations; like mother, like daughter.  My mom, Aiko Kobayashi, is a career textile artist and the reason why I have grown to love Guatemala so much (oh yeah, and also the reason why I was born in Guatemala to begin with!).  Her passion for all things textiles, her knowledge of rural Guatemala and Maya traditions, plus her personal friendships all over the country makes her an excellent leader of textile tours, which she’s been doing for over 20 years now.  But she’s been wanting to change things up, and I had this idea of creating an idea-exchange opportunity…. so we’ve teamed up to offer you this unique experience!

I’ll be arranging all of the workshops, coordinating everything with our Kakaw Designs partner artisans.  My mother will be bringing her experience leading international groups in Guatemala, her passion for rural travel, and most of all, her friendly relationship connections all over – people are sincerely happy to see her, every time.  After so many years, she’s built strong relationships with people in rural communities, and it’s a treat to be invited into people’s homes, to share family updates, and bring back pictures for locals from the previous trip.  It’s a nice personal touch that only she can provide.

I hope this answers a bit about the leaders of the trip.  Please let me know if you have any questions!  We’re taking reservations for August trips, starting at only $1800.  Let me know if you’d like to save a spot.

<<see the itineraries>>

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

Dye Pot Plants

Supporting traditions with roots as deep as the chocolate tree.