IKATS OF THE WORLD: GUATEMALA!

Happy #textiletuesday!

This is our third stop in the series of skates around the world and I am really excited to share this post with you. I love researching for these and have enjoyed digging deep into the world of ikat ( though I feel like I have really just begun to scratch the surface) but, I thought this week we would do something a little different. I have followed Kakaw Designs and owner Mari Gray on Instagram for some time, inspire by the world she is doing and beautiful pieces she creates with the weavers and leather workers she collaborates with directly. I realized as ancient as ikat is, it is still evolving in each country differently, and adapting to modern life and consumers in its own unique way in each place. I reached out to Mari to see if she would be willing to give me her perspective on ikat today in Guatemala and she kindly obliged. All photos are hers, and what follows is a glimpse into living and working with ikat artisans in Guatemala. I have also added a post she did oncochineal which I found fascinating. Look for Kakaw designs soon at Khazana!

Thank you for all your hard work putting this together remarry and for inspiring us, we hope to see you in Guatemala soon!

" My Experience with Ikat in Guatemala

I grew up watching my mother weave her giant tapestries, and backpacking all over the world with my parents on vacations.  How they traveled so far with a little girl who always managed to get sick on any moving vehicle, I do not know.  But that's how I grew up, between Japan, Guatemala, Thailand, even Laos one year, and that's probably why as a “grown-up” I have lead a pretty nomadic life, until now, settling down in Guatemala.

I never thought I would do anything related to textiles, but here I am now, two years strong with Kakaw Designs, producing handmade boots, bags, and accessories, all with traditional textiles from Guatemala. 

There's so much I love about Guatemalan textiles, and ikat is clearly at the top.  Traditionally, ikat or “jaspe”  in Spanish can be found in cortes, or wrap skirts that the indigenous women wear.  But cortes are woven on a large foot loom by men, and since I choose to work with women using backstrap looms, my experience with jaspe is a little different.

In the village of San Juan la Laguna, natural dyes have made a come back, and combined with unique ikat designs, the result is absolutely stunning.  It has been wonderful to work with a cooperative of weavers from San Juan to produce the textiles we use for our Kakaw products.  I spent a few days going through the process with the weavers to shoot this video.  I'm sure it will explain so much more than my words alone ever could. 

After those few days, and even before that, I could say that I understood the process.  I do, in theory.  But how these women have these designs memorized, and can create new designs as I ask for them, is absolutely beyond me. It's a completely different type of intelligence that I clearly do not possess.  Spatial awareness to the max, combined with muscle memory, I think.

We're now moving towards double-dyed ikat, and working on intricate designs that are not necessarily strictly traditionally Mayan. That's another amazing thing about the woven world – so many diferent cultures all of the world use both backstrap and ikat, so sometimes the result can be pretty similar.  They're techniques that go that far back, and it is fascinating.

The traditional weaving traditions are still alive and continued in Guatemala, and I can't speak for all weavers, but at least the weavers I work with are very open to new designs and perspectives. They are clearly market-minded, this is a business for them, after all.  In the end, their work needs to be compensated.  It takes a great investment of time and energy to complete these textiles, and it simply would not make sense for them to continue the work if they could not make money from it.  I'm honored to be working with the cooperative, and we'll keep working on new ikat designs together."

Founder Mari with a group of inspiring, hardworking weavers and the co-op Kakaw works with, Corazon de Lago in Lake Atitlan, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Founder Mari with a group of inspiring, hardworking weavers and the co-op Kakaw works with, Corazon de Lago in Lake Atitlan, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Anju Kataria