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Artisan Adventures with The Thread Caravan

Posted by Molly Berry on

I'm always up for a trip to Lake Atitlan. About a 2+ hour drive from Antigua, I visit the lake often because many of the weavers that I work with live there. But also, Lake Atitlan happens to be an incredibly beautiful and magical destination so I go as often as I can.

This week, I had an exceptionally unique visit when I tagged along with my friend Caitlin Garcia-Ahern and her company, The Thread Caravan. In short, The Thread Caravan offers artisan adventures around Latin America.

Whether it's learning how to make Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico or sailing through the San Blas Islands in Panama learning about the art of mola textiles with the Guna people, each unique trip packs a punch of authenticity leaving one with experiences and images suitable for the finest of travel magazines.

In my case, I joined the caravan for 1 full day (out of 6) in a small village called Santa Catarina Polopo on Lake Atitlan. The group was made up of 5 other women who had all come (separately) from the United States. A variety of ages and professions (even one toting her beautiful 8 month old daughter) these lovely ladies were there to experience Guatemala while diving headfirst into learning about the process of back strap weaving.

For the 4 days that they would be based at the lake, the group (including me for a night) stayed at an incredible home (and Airbnb) known as Casa Colibri which truly speaks for itself. The only issue I had was trying to decide if I should read in a hammock, or take a swim in the pool, or drink a beer in the ah-mazing living room while chatting with the group.

I cut myself some slack and did all of the above.

But the real adventure started when we boarded a boat mid-day and crossed the lake under the watchful eye of majestic volcanoes. A breezy 25 minutes later we arrived at the village of San Juan de la Laguna, famous for their specialized art of natural thread dying. And that's just what we were there for: a hands-on workshop on how to naturally dye cotton threads for weaving.

We were greeted at the dock by a local, Mayan woman named Mirna and her adorable daughter Rosa Linda. We followed them up steep and windy side streets until we cut across a tiny path to the location of her weaving cooperative. After a traditional lunch that they prepared for us, we got started with the workshop.

The dying materials sat in messy, beautiful heaps on overturned wood cartons and included flowers, leaves, bark and seeds. We watched and participated in awe as we boiled chamomile flowers which turned our threads a rich yellow. We split small pieces of Campeche bark and our eyes shined as it's rich plumes of deep blue swirled through the boiling water. We strolled around the wild garden gazing at tiny, hand made nameplates which displayed which of the leaves or flowers that were used as dyes.

We bathed the raw cotton threads in pure copper and aluminum as "fixers" before we dyed the threads, which ultimately effects if the final color will be dark or a light. (The copper fixer is for dark and the aluminum fixer is for light.)

I held a bright pink thread in my hands convinced it was made of a synthetic dye as Mirna explained it was dyed naturally with a special bug that lives on the cactus plant. There was casual chatter as we all did our own thing, feeling free to roam and ask questions as they arose. Conversations with the weavers were in Spanish, but there is always a translator provided to the group for those who aren't fluent.

I helped one of the women untie the tiniest of knots on a group of indigo blue threads only to reveal a pure white cotton beneath, which would later be opened up on the loom and woven into a beautiful ikat design.

Most of all, I think I can speak for the group when I say that we were fully present in the moment, entirely humbled and impressed by these women and their knowledge, skill, and connection to the natural environment. They were teaching us a process that they have only learned by doing, over decades, overseen by their mothers and grandmothers, which they eventually teach to their daughters and granddaughters. To me, there is something unspoken and deeply sacred in that. A form of shared history that is so rare in today's modern world.

This experience allowed for such a deep appreciation of the heritage and art of weaving and how it is so deeply intertwined in the history of Guatemala.

Once it was time to leave, we packed up about 8 pounds of dyed thread which would later be used by the group for the following workshops (thread spinning and back strap weaving). We said our goodbyes and thank you's as the skies turned a dark gray. We raced down the hill in a torrential downpour, bounding onto the boat laughing and shrieking at the rain...or maybe at the beauty of it all.

It was an experience that will be remembered so fondly, not just because of what I learned, but because of where and how I learned it and most of all, who taught it to me.

To learn more about how to book your own Thread Caravan adventure, visit their website: www.threadcaravan.com

Thanks to The Thread Caravan for sharing some of these photos!


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