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.

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

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

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.

Textile Travels featured on Birds of a Thread!

Note: This piece was first published on Birds of a Thread on January 5th, 2018.  Big thanks to Jacqui for helping spread the word about the trip.

I’m super excited to share this travel opportunity, hosted by Mari of Kakaw Designs, with you. Read on for the details. -Jacqui

Textile Travel announcement

Come together to share, learn, and create

Are you a crafty person who likes to make things and who cherishes handmade traditions?  I am, too!  But I bet our experiences and ideas are different.

That’s the basis of our upcoming Textile Travel for Makers, launching in August 2018.  While working with textile artisan communities in Guatemala through my business Kakaw Designs, I’ve come to realize how interested our partner artisans are in learning about different techniques, patterns, designs, and concepts.  And ultimately, wouldn’t it be ideal if these talented artisans could themselves take a more active role in the design process, without depending on designers from outside of their communities?

This is the part that I love most about working with artisans: getting excited together about new creations, and trying out new ideas.  But I’m just one person, and I only have a small limited number of ideas.  That’s why I’d like to invite other creative Makers out there to join us on this new journey of idea exchange in Guatemala.

We’re so excited to share our crafts together – our partner artisans are experts in natural dyes, backstrap weaving, embroidery, making ikat designs, and more.  But it’s no surprise that it can be challenging to think outside of the box in the rural context, especially for tactile and visual traditions like in textiles.  So, we thought – why not come together and share our ideas in beautiful Guatemala, and have fun while at it?

Our artisan partners are happy to share their traditional craft techniques, and they’re also looking forward to hearing about different experiences and ideas, especially with textiles.  We’ll be hosting workshops to facilitate creative idea exchange in a safe space for all of us to come together and take part in a true and real kind of cultural exchange that we can all relate to as Makers.

Who can participate?

Anyone crafty and creative is encouraged to come. Obviously weavers, embroiderers, and seamstresses have a lot to directly contribute to rural artisans, but also I think it’s really interesting to hear from people with experience in other techniques that are not prevalent in Guatemala, such as quilting, knitting, block printing, shibori, sashiko, or leaf printing.  Skills such as color theory, presentation of products, and simple photography could also all be very helpful, so please feel free to reach out, whether you’re an active “maker” or not. I think we all have something to contribute and can learn from each other.

How much will it cost, can what can you expect?

I’ll be leading the small group through Guatemala, together with my mother, Aiko Kobayashi, who has been a textile tour guide for over two decades.  We’re excited to add this creative twist, further enhancing both the visitors’ and the artisans’ experiences and making sure that local communities benefit in a meaningful way.  We’re currently taking sign-ups for the trip, with two available itineraries starting at only $1800.  For more details, please go to our website and/or email me.

Isn’t it great when an idea is just all-around good, benefiting everyone involved?  That’s how we feel about this new branch of Kakaw Designs.  Supporting our partner artisans even more while at the same time enhancing participants’ travel experiences in an ethical and sustainable way through exchanges based on common interests as Makers of the world.  We’re so excited to get our creative juices flowing, together.

Mari Gray
mari@kakawdesigns.com
kakawdesigns.com

 Cardigans

Announcing: Textile Travel 2018

We’re so excited to be branching out (get it, like the cacao tree? 😆) to include a new and exciting way to support our partner artisans further.  Read on!

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I started Kakaw Designs as a way to financially support talented artisans in Guatemala through custom orders, and help continue the beautiful handmade traditions so dear to my heart.  This seemed clear to me: more money for beautiful, valuable work, more likely the arts will survive in this ever-changing world.  I still believe this.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that artisans are also hungry for new ideas, and ideas can be hard to come by.  For rural artisans living in a country where copying is the norm, it’s not easy to “think outside of the box.”  This really hit home for me when I was hosting a few weavers from Cobán at my house in Antigua.  They started to flip through books I had on Guatemalan textiles, and they were so genuinely delighted to see other work from their own country!  You see, Guatemalan textile designs and techniques can vary greatly depending on the region, and they were thrilled to see colors and patterns uncommon in their area.

This is where it gets a little bit complicated as a brand, because while we encourage our artisans to continue building up on these new design ideas, we still need to somewhat protect ourselves as a business.  I find myself in an ethical dilemma that I am uncomfortable with, since the end goal is to support the artisans, and being protective of designs created together does not seem to support that.

<<Read more about these ethical dilemmas I’ve encountered, published on Eco Warrior Princess>>

That’s why I want to encourage more idea exchange.  That’s what this Textile Travel for Makers is all about.

Dyeing together

We’ll be visiting beautiful parts of Guatemala: towns, villages, families, homes.  People I have known for a long time; or rather, people who have known me all my life (through my parents).  We love building up on these life-long connections, and we’re ready to add a twist:

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We will be hosting workshops to exchange ideas.  Of course, there is so much to learn from the traditional artisans: backstrap weaving, dyeing with local plants, making ikat knots, different weaves and embroidery techniques, too.  This is all valuable for the participants, and the artisans are so excited to share their crafts.  But again, we want our partner artisans to benefit in this idea exchange, too – so we’ll be arranging workshops for the participants to share their creativity with the artisans.  Things like different dyeing techniques (think shibori, or wax-resist), or color preferences, new embroidery techniques, or just different products we might use in non-rural settings.  These ideas will be for the artisans to use on their own, if they wish.  I can’t wait to be sharing different textile traditions from around the world, flipping through books and physical samples… and I hope that you’ll join us.

Textile Travel announcement

Let’s have some fun with this.  Let’s get our creative juices flowing together, and support rural artisans in a new way – in a bilateral exchange.  We want everyone to benefit.

Want to learn more? Send me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.  We currently have two itineraries, with prices starting at $1800 and possibly even less depending on the final number of participants.  I would love to include you in this new adventure.

 

XOXO,

Mari

Cardigans