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

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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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Meet Elena, designer behind capsule jewelry collection 🌺

Today, we have a special blog post written by Elena Laswick. In case you hadn’t heard yet, we’re working together for a Capsule Jewelry Collection, and we are so excited for this collaboration.  So we thought we should introduce the lovely lady – so here she is, ready to tell you how she fell in love with textiles and how she came to working with Ixil women of Guatemala in particular.

 

Hi there!

My name is Elena and I’m teaming up with Mari this spring to bring you some new jewelry designs inspired by the textiles of the Ixil region of Guatemala! 

But who am I and why am I posting on Mari’s blog? Well, let me introduce myself. 

I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, a mere 100 km (60 miles) from the Mexican border, where I was surrounded by Mexican culture and immersed in Spanish throughout my childhood. In middle school, I even played the violin and sang in a mariachi band! And in high school, I danced folklorico (Mexican folk dance) in a school club. 

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Elena in high school in her folklórico dress, circa 2007. Photo: John Laswick.

It truly was an upbringing from the borderlands of the U.S. Tucson is also right on the edge of the Navajo Nation, where there are many talented weavers who produce beautiful rugs. My mom’s motto has always been, “Support your local artists,” so a lot of those rugs found their way into my childhood home. It’s no doubt my parents and Tucson are to thank for my affinity for Spanish and textiles.

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Elena’s mom’s current living room setup. Note the Navajo rug hanging on the left-hand wall above the couch. Other textiles featured: On the couch; Pillowcase from Santiago Atitlan, “servilleta” throw from Nebaj, Guatemala. Floor rug: Turkish. On the reclining chair: A Kilim pillow, also Turkish. Wall hangings above/within the mantle: Molas from Panama. On the coffee table: Kuba cloth from the DRC. Under the coffee table: Cat from the local animal shelter. Photo: Elena Laswick.

During and after college, I worked for a few different Central American NGOs and found myself critical of their theories of change. When I initially moved to the Ixil region of Guatemala three years ago, it was to work with a local social enterprise. Although I hoped this model of development would be a breath of fresh air, it too seemed plagued by similar problems as those I had encountered in the NGO world. The true novelty ended up being the wealth of textiles Guatemala had to offer. I soon realized that the only things I cared about spending money on were textiles and artisan-made products in general (not surprising given the type of household I grew up in). The irony was, I was thousands of miles from home and yet once again I found myself living amongst indigenous people with deeply rooted weaving traditions. 

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 Elena’s neighbor and friend in Nebaj, Juana, weaving a new huipil (blouse) for personal use. Photo: Elena Laswick

After I quit my job at the social enterprise, I began researching Guatemalan textile-related brands. In the process, I stumbled on Kakaw Designs’ Instagram, where I eventually learned that Mari, the founder, was studying Sustainable Development in Austria. Before reaching out to Mari about meeting in person when I was traveling through Austria last fall, I tried to familiarize myself more with Kakaw Designs. Besides the beautiful plant-dyed and leather products, what most resonated with me was Mari’s life story. It seemed we had both followed similar trajectories from NGOs to artisans and had ended up returning to our roots as a result. My meeting with Mari confirmed that we are both textile lovers whose theory of change revolves around investing in artisans and trusting them to re-invest in their children and their communities. 

This capsule jewelry collection grew out of our shared desire to invest specifically in rural artisans, who have less access to an international market base. Working with me as an artisan liaison to ethically source textiles directly from weavers in the Ixil region, Kakaw Designs will soon offer a capsule jewelry collection with designs that incorporate the intricate brocade of San Juan Cotzal! I hope that these pieces make you feel connected to a place, to skilled weavers and artisans, and of course that you’ll love to wear them for their own sake as well. 

-Elena

Announcing: Spring Capsule Collaboration

While we were able to restructure ourselves and have for the most part figured out how to keep the business going while I work on my master’s in Sustainable Development in Europe, there are certain aspects that have been difficult to keep up from so far away.  Product design is one of these things.

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Mari with partner weavers at Lake Atitlán

So when Elena wrote to me when she happened to be traveling through Austria last year, I was missing Guatemala so much – the colors, the weather, the people – and I was delighted by the surprise connection made through Instagram, and the opportunity to feel connected to Guatemala again, even for just an afternoon.

We got to talking, and it was clear that Elena and I had some common passions and concerns about the textile tradition and weavers in Guatemala.  We talked about the role of private brands and designers; the pros and cons associated with western influence.  At this point, she was just exploring the idea of being an Artisan Liaison, someone who would connect textile artisans in the Ixil region to different buyers, including designers.  I told her I thought that was a great idea, especially since I had been away from Guatemala for the first time since starting the business, and was feeling first-hand the importance of being on the ground, next to artisans, in order to develop new products.

Elena

Elena in traditional handwoven outfit from Nebaj, Ixil region in Guatemala

Well, we are excited to be teaming up for a small spring capsule jewelry collection featuring handwoven textiles from San Juan Cotzal, in the Ixil region of Guatemala.  This is a very rural area, and while I had admired their brocade designs for years, had not seriously considered working with the group due the geographic distance.  It’s hard to communicate new designs, and to make sure the designs come out the way they should. In the almost 5 years of Kakaw Designs, we have never developed a perfect product on the first try.  Trial and error are just part of the process, tweaking the details to make things better.  There is also plenty of room for misunderstandings when working with real people, and things just take a bit longer in the handmade world.  That’s why I wasn’t willing to take on that risk with a group so far away… until now, and that’s because we’re really counting on Elena.  Without an Artisan Liaison, we would not be able to work with such a remote group.

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Santos works on a prototype.  Photo by Elena Laswick

We’re so excited to be sharing more with you, SOON.

The capsule jewelry collection will be released along with spring/summer blouses, cardigans, and bags.  All in happy tones – because this has been such a cold winter in Europe, I just need more color in my life!

<Want to learn about other collaborations? Find some here.>

<Interested in the complex reality of ethical dilemmas working with artisans? Find it published on Eco Warrior Princess.>

XOXO,

Mari

Backstrap vs. Footloom

We started Kakaw Designs focused on supporting the backstrap weaving tradition.  It’s an amazing process, and we especially liked the idea of the women  being able to weave from home or anywhere else they want to – because the simple loom is easy to set up.  And each order is easy to divide among several women to weave separately.

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The process makes much more sense after watching this video:

 

But we’re getting into footloom scarves as well now.  Originally, I was hard-headed and thought that backstrap was the only way.  Turns out, I was so wrong.

We started with footloom because of a special request.  Cardamom Collective wanted to try them out and see what happened.  They came out so beautiful!  That’s when I knew I needed to seriously give footloom textiles a go.

Indigo Footloom Scarves, Kakaw Designs

Special order footloom scarves in Indigo

 

Why the original hesitance?  Well, because it’s not as flexible for the weavers to work with a footloom – the cooperative we work with has only one (which is completely sufficient), so the weavers would have to travel to where the loom is kept in order to weave.  And since not everyone is trained on how to use this bigger, more complicated loom, the work cannot be shared among many weavers as easily as its backstrap counterpart.  Oh, and it’s also more complicated to weave ikat designs, so footloom textile designs are more limited.

I’ve learned that the weavers are happy to take footloom orders.  Irma, left in the above photo, wove the very first batch with the help of other cooperative members for the dyeing, setting up the warp, and finishing the fringes with macrame.

footloom

A footloom is bulkier, but much faster for weaving larger orders.

Right now, we’re reserving these scarves for wholesale orders only.  We’re really loving working on special orders, so if you’d like to collaborate, let us know!  There are so many naturally-dyed colors to choose from… I’d be happy to share them with you.  Send me a note at mari@kakawdesigns.com!

We’ll continue working with the weavers on backstrap textiles too.  So we’re not replacing one thing with the other – we’re just increasing options!

 

XOXO,

Mari

What is indigo?

Our hands-down #1 favorite naturally-dyed color is indigo.  It’s our best-selling color for a reason… it’s so beautiful!

But do you really know what “indigo” is?

indigo plant.jpg

Indigo comes from several plants

Well, indigo is a dye that is derived from plants (there are actually several different ones).  Most commonly, the leaves are used to make the indigo dye, and there are indigo plantations around the world that produce the dyes.  We get our indigo dye from our neighbors in El Salvador, and it comes in powder form as seen in the bowl below.

 

Have you ever seen the indigo dyeing process?  It’s pretty magical because the classic navy blue color sets with exposure to oxygen and light – this means that it takes a moment for the colors to turn blue.  Take a look at this video, at about 7 minutes you can see the transformation of the yarn coming out of the indigo vat:

It’s pure magic!

The cool thing about indigo is also that it can traditionally be found all over the world…. think Japanese kimonos, Indonesian batik, and the beautiful handwoven textiles from Mali.

Japanese Kimonobatikmali indigo

All indigo.  All over the world.  Loved because of the strong dyes that don’t fade easily.  Indigo is also said to repel insects, snakes, and even fire – so wearing something dyed with indigo can come with some really practical benefits, too.

Intrigued? Take a look at this BBC video highlighting an indigo dyers in Nigeria.

It’s no surprise that we are all attracted to this deep blue color.  I wonder if it might even be ingrained in us in an evolutionary way – the way green nature calms humans, maybe the indigo blue has the same effect.

Whatever the reason behind our attraction to indigo… there’s just no beating this classic color.  It’s just a great, go-to staple.  Don’t you think?

Make sure to check out our Hummingbird Collection and our Quetzal Wraps in particular.  The intricate ikat designs made by our partner cooperative of weavers are just beautiful.

Hummingbird Collection by Kakaw Designs

Hummingbird Collection

Quetzal Wrap by Kakaw Designs

Quetzal Wraps – both color options have Indigo

 

XOXO,

 

Mari

 

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#textiletravels April 2016!

It’s always fun to explore this beautiful country.  Guatemala, you have so much to offer!

I’ve come back from the trip refreshed and full of new ideas.  Met new and known artisans, saw beautiful places, and the trip gave me lots to reflect upon.  Rural life, development projects, how to best support artisans, how to grow the business…. so much to do.  How exciting!

I’m excited to report that the Quetzal Backpack proved to be the best travel pack, practical and pretty.  I’m so pleased with how this backpack held up all around rural Guatemala that I want to share the happiness!  So use the discount code TRAVELPACK for $20 off this special pack, only for the next 3 orders!  I’m also super ecstatic that I was fortunate enough to see real quetzales, the gorgeous birds out in the wild.  It is the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.  I’m such a lucky girl.

I hope you like the little glimpse of my trip!

XOXO,

Mari

 

Backpack Church Edited20160411_115628Francisca Mari EditedIMG_5770IMG_5786 - CopyIMG_5823 - CopyBackpack Caribbean20160408_092759