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The heart of the matter, at Maya Traditions, Guatemala.

 Lake Atitlan , Guatemala

 There are rumors of magic in these waters..

But while I was at the lake, I happened to find magic almost everywhere else...Lake Atitlan is a one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Central America.  And -it is lined, on all sides,

with volcanos...

 volcanos!

What the *&#@!!

 On the plane from Mexico City, a very old woman sitting next to me, nudged me and motioned for me to look out the window and whispered...

'eruption volcanica'...

And sure enough, there in the distance was  a clearly defined smoking haze, well, erupting, from a volcano..

Magic, I sighed, wistfully.. 

Who was this old woman beside me, with the sparkling eyes ? I looked around the plane at the comfortable postures and easy smiles of my fellow passengers.

 Who are these beautiful people?

In a country steeped in ancient civilizations, mysterious traditions, and just the perfect amount of folklore..

There is magic everywhere,

And I found a whole lot of it tucked away in the hands of very unassuming looking women. I felt myself drawn to the beautiful, subtle magic they possess. This calmness, this knowing..

Women were owning it everywhere I looked. No offense to the men or whatever,           But this jam is all about the ladies..

And  the ladies, let me tell you, they are killing in in Guatemala...

So, enamored as I was, I set out for Maya Traditions. There I was to meet Elisiana Diaz & her staff of smart young female interns, coming to Panajachel from all over the world. Maya Traditions is one of the first fair trade initiatives in the area, founded by the late Jane Stiller Mintz, and has some amazing weavers and dyers working with them. I had set myself up to meet the crew and attend a brocade demonstration, and had decided to walk there, my first morning in Panajachel. It seemed like it would be a nice walk, towards the outskirts of town, away from the tourist bustle.. 

Seemed like a good idea.  Of course I got lost about a dozen times. And definitely, 100% embarrassed myself trying to ask directions in my terrible Spanish. I also mistook the time of the meeting, so I showed up an hour early.                            

Then, I burnt my face walking around in the blazing tropical sun, trying to kill time for said hour. When I finally was able to sit down with Pascuela for a brocade weaving lesson/interview, I was mildly stunned and -looking at my notes now, possibly a bit delirious. 

Very typical Hope + Twine.

This lady, sadly, was not killing it.

But Pascuela was. Beautifully soft spoken, incredibly patient and detailed. Though barely five feet tall, she seemed incredibly strong, in her quiet, graceful way.  She was infinitely patient, as she set about teaching me to brocade. And as I studied her movements, amazed, I kept thinking, "How could you have the patience to do this?! "                       And how on Earth did she learn this impossible craft? ( she used to watch her mother weave and imitate her movements) Now, after 15 years of practice, she is a master at brocade. And with this talent, handed down through generations, she can earn an additional income and help to provide for her family.

 

She has traveled for hours on the local bus ('the chicken bus") just to get here for this lesson. This is her livelihood. And her family and community are much better off because of fair trade organizations such as Maya Traditions.

 

 

And, as the concentration on her face belies, she is a focused, powerhouse of strength.  Is that what makes her so adept at the precise, frustrating, and yet incredibly rewarding art of weaving?

 

And again, my lack of patience rears its ugly head as I fumble my little brocade project. 'why wouldnt you just give up' I inwardly screamed as I tried to imitate her. The counting of the threads, her quick repetitious movements. The tiniest signs of progress emerged in the picture opening up before her...

Of course, I had my answer right there.

 Progress. She is making headway, slowly but surely. And she is working on a much larger picture than the one in her embroidery here,

Pascuela will now be able to provide a better life for her children.

Progress.

 

If you wish, you can purchase one of our handcrafted throw pillows and be a part of making socio-economic advancements in the lives of women and children in Guatemala possible. 

 

 

 

 Many thanks to Pascuela and all of the amazing women at Maya Traditions in Panajachel, Guatemala, for sharing your stories, your hopes and your light with me, 

 

Peace and Love

Hope + Twine 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wool Artisans of Y'abal, the highlands of Gautemala

Momostenango, Guatemala, 

I have always been fascinated with textiles. I could pick out high quality fabric with my eyes closed as a child. Somehow I just knew which clothes were made of a finer material. It must have driven my mother bananas when I would consistently pick out silk, linen, and satin clothes.. But even though we couldn't afford them, and I inevitably ended up trudging to school outfitted in polyester and spandex- I still liked that I knew quality when I saw, or felt it.

Lately I had been thinking on the fact that in our fast fashion culture, a lot of people don't really know how or why silk becomes silk, wool is wool or how cotton is cotton.

This begs the questions, how does it go from nature to clothing? Are wool products good for the environment, are they good for people and animals too?

Are they sustainable, practical, and made in a healthy environment? 

I have heard about the deplorable practices in some countries of mulesing Merino sheep- (Australia, I'm looking at you ) Were there any other things one needed to be aware of regarding the making of wool products? I was eager to find out, so I did some research into wool production and found that in many countries it is done pretty much the same as it was hundreds of years ago.

Happy sheep, which are pesticide free, manually operated looms which require no electricity or fuel, and natural colors, dyed by hand without the use of chemicals, oh and then hung to dry in the tropical sun.

Sigh,

Could there be a more lovely textile baby then that?

Add to that- that wool has natural antibacterial properties

~is renewable and biodegradable

~naturally breathable

~resists dirt and stains

~is hard wearing and long lasting- 

and wool is rumored to actually assist in a better nights sleep...

Intrigued with this overlooked textile, I headed to Momostenano, Guatemala, a part of the world renowned for wool production, to take a look at just how sheep fur becomes a blanket-

and, to see if indeed, it would make me sleep just that much deeper...

 

Once settled in the picturesque highland city of Quezteltanago, I set out down cobble-stoned streets to meet Allison Havens of Y'abal Handicrafts. Y'abal is a wonderful non-profit initiative in Guatemala, working to provide dignified work to rural women.

Sourcing gorgeous textiles from communities all over the region, Allison has helped put into place health and education programs in some of these communities, with the profits going right back into the programs established. Aside from the weaving co-ops, she also works with a family of artisans crafting wool blankets and rugs and she invited me to go along for a tour and meet them. One of the highlights of my trip, was climbing up to Momostenano. I was in awe not only of the gorgeous lush scenery, but of stunning beauty in the culture,  the hope and the kindness - amidst a technicolor background..

 

 

 

 

And so through the towns and cities we drove, past a never ending parade of color.  The green of the foliage, the shocking violet flowers, the crumbling pastel walls, the deep jewel tones of the traditional Maya dress...

 

 

I could have literally kept a journal devoted entirely to color. (OK I did- this was an excerpt)

Once at Luis' farm, the color journey continued, through the deep browns and earthy reds of an adobe hallway, past a room of colorful, playful, religious shrines.. bundles of fresh yellow corn hung from the ceiling. In the courtyard, oatmeal colored wool .. freshly cleaned and hung to dry..and a shallow stone tub with a mat of  bright turmeric yarn, vivid orange in the cool clear water..


  As Luis shows me around his home and the yard, I see various family members, working together on projects or tasks.
‘’All family” Luis tells me proudly, as he shows me his book of designs, explaining the different types of symbols he can weave, a chevron, a bird, corn, water, and a word or two on their meanings...

He asks if I want to try the foot loom, and although I try to demure, I can't.

         

 

And let me tell you- to weave a rug , its is way harder than it looks !

Luis assures me, it take years of practice to become an expert..

His family has been raising sheep and making wool for five generations.

His father taught him, and he’s has been doing it all of his life. He is  proud to show me his process. I can see it in his eyes, and hear it in his voice, even if I can’t always understand the words. Pride.

 

During my tour of the family workshop, I  learn that only after the wool is sheared, cleaned, and carded (this is done by vigorously brushing it between two large hair brush sized paddles until it becomes light and fluffy)-is it ready to be spun into yarn.

  Then, using a natural mix of dyes, ashes, and salts, the yarn will be dyed. It may sit for a few hours or a few days in a tub of water with the colorant, depending on how deep or bright they may wish the final product to be. Once it has reached the desired hue, it will be hung to dry.  Luis tells me he how here, he is at the mercy of mother nature, and although this terrain is great for raising goats and sheep, it isn’t quite so dependable when it comes to dolling out sunshine.  

Sometimes it can take a week, if the sun won’t show, he tells me. It gets cold at this altitude, and the day has been overcast. I nod with the realization of what this means, and contemplate the true meaning of slow fashion.  I think about how much time and effort go into producing a garment, and how much respect families like this truly deserve.

Reflecting on the day, I am full wonderment, but also- troubled at the slow and steady loss of this beautiful culture..

I recall reading about the trials of the Maya, to preserve their culture in modern Guatemala.. 

"Women may still wear their traditional huipiles and cortes, but the significance of the symbolism in the weaving is being lost. Poverty and illiteracy along with inadequate access to health care still plague the indigenous people. Yet their pride is intact in their rich cultural heritage. I hope that in a small but significant way, that we may continue to foster empowerment of the Mayan community" {Deborah Brown, Coloures De Pueblo}

 I can't help but wonder how people will avoid falling through the cracks in this country..

  But for now, anyway, I can see that this family is happy. Happy to share their knowledge and expertise, and this one family will have to be enough for today.

Perhaps there will be more tomorrow. I thank Luis and his family profusely, for allowing me , a perfect stranger, into their home today. I curse my mangled Spanish, and wish there was a way to convey my emotion more accurately.

Luis especially, has been more than open, and in his guiding me through the day to day of his life, accepted me as a link, sharing family traditions and his culture with the world. He wants to show me some more of the designs that they can do, and the colors they can produce that I have not seen yet, before I go..

And there is is again, that something special, that sparkle in his eye when he shows me his blankets and rugs..

That thing you want all the artisans, all the people who make the things we wear and sleep in and furnish our house with, to feel

Pride. ..

and yes, now that I think about it - knowing all this,

I do sleep a lot better ..

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5 tips on how to avoid 'the mall' this Christmas

   .. surviving the ‘Christmas Consumerism Blues'

                       

            Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year...       

Except sometimes- Not so much.                 

             Whether its breaking down in tears during a traffic jam en-route to the mall, or cleaning up the remains yet another wasteful holiday, the yule tide season tends to send stress levels through the roof.

So If you have also spent one too many Christmas mornings feeling disillusioned and empty as you wade through piles of wrapping and the discarded plastic of presents already forgotten about, Cheers to you. I have been there too. And guess what? That means you are a completely normal person. So if you are still reading thus far, Congratulations! You are not a brainwashed Christmas zombie

You care,    

Yay!

Now this is something to celebrate  

                             

And in celebration for all of those who are trying so hard to keep it real, Hope + Twine has compiled a little list.. and not the kind of naughty and nice list Santa makes. Nope, we torment ourselves over our inadequacies enough on our own this time of year. And the emphasis on false over truth and quantity over quality really, really bums me out.

 So if the festive cheerleader inside you seems to have been replaced by a snarling troll. And the twelve days of Christmas have just become a mad race to the end, I feel ya. But do we have to give up on the season all together?

This time of year shouldn't have to be something to 'just get through'. Didn't it used to be fun? I swear it did. So lets not toss the proverbial baby Jesus out with the bathwater right?. I believe you can celebrate Christmas and not have panic attacks at the thought of it. You can stick to your beliefs and not be a total spazz. And you can take what you want, what works for you, and leave the rest- without being a Scrooge.

Here are a few tips on how to have your Paleo-friendly, vegan, non GMO Christmas cake and eat it too;

5 – Investigate the tourist trail in your region, go to craft fairs and flea markets..

Explore your own unique stomping grounds,  be it a small locally owned art gallery, a mom 'n' pop organic vineyard or farm, or simply a creative neighbour.                           Go to a craft fair, support a young avant-garde art student or a great grandmother who knits like a fiend. No wait, support both.

How about that lavender farm, selling tea and homemade candles, that only tourists go to? Go there! Then, on the way home, hit any other specialty shop you can think of. You'll get to have a cool little afternoon wandering around your own neck of the woods -Plus, you get real and meaningful interaction with members of your own community and you get to support a local business.

Win Win ! (actually I think there are three wins there, but who’s counting?)

For example, found in my own backyard of Vancouver, BC - The lovely Jeanette Schwartz at           

http://www.alocalartisan.com

She sells gorgeous home made Craft Salts out of her online shop- combined with a local wine- and a set of handmade napkins @ www.hopeandtwine.com/products/rustic-block-print-napkin-set

-it would be a really cool gift for the foodie in your family, actually ..

     +   

 

4 Ditch the wrapping paper

So, obviously way more Earth friendly than the shiny crap sold at Wall Mart and made in China. But also- Its way more fun!!!  I keep ALL clean brown paper that comes my way through out the year; and Christmas is a great time to put it to use. Pus having a clean canvas to start with means you can get inventive with other embellishments, like a sprig of holly, or home made stamps. And since bows and film and ribbon are all off limits too, you really do have to think outside of 'the box' -and use what you have within your reach. Its amazing what you don't need to buy.      

The Note Passer is one of my favorite sustainable blogs, there are more than a few holiday gems on the site, as well as ideas on making your own fabric Christmas wrapping- check it out here :

http://thenotepasser.com/blog/2013/12/20/ethical-gift-guide-wrapping?rq=christmas

 

3- Shop for 'new' things online

 

Being surrounded by all that Christmas rush and the weight of all of that endless, empty stuff can get you down- and interfere with the Christmas spirit. So if you must get that new gadget for your techie brother-in-law, buy it online. It will totally save your sanity.  Just picture it now- no parking. No lines. No feuds over the last toy in an outrageously fluorecent aisle in Plastic Land.                                                                                       And all that extra time you have on your hands? Cuddle up with your favorite book  and some of that lavender tea ( you picked up a little for yourself right?) and watch the snow fall… Definitely worth the shipping and handling.

               

 

 

 

2- I. O.U ‘S

Remember when you were little and you gave your parents coupon books? I, – ---(your name scrawled in red crayon here) -- promises to do the dishes once this week.       Pretty lame right? well,                                                                                                     Flip the script! Now that you’re an adult it doesn’t mean you have to toss out this little DIY gem, it just means they get way better. Promise, in writing, to take your nieces bowling, or to a movie. Buy your parents tickets to the symphony, or a rock concert (depending on the type of parents you have ;)  & include reservations somewhere fantastic. Pick a day, after all the rush is over, that will work for everyone. Quality time with your loved ones and something awesome to look forward to in the epically depressing month of January? Sold.

 

1- Online Subscriptions

Just in case you haven't been paying attention, the times they have-a-changed, and these aren't the lame memberships of yore ( Chevy Chase and the Jelly of the month club anyone?) 

Clubs are making a comeback. Oh yeah. Anyone here interested in wine? Thought so.  Way back when, I worked in a winery in Australia. And packing up the wine club every week was one of my favorite jobs. I remember being so jealous of, ahem, I mean so happy for, these people in small towns all over the country, getting beautiful, single vineyard wines delivered to their door.

 

     

 

This little gem just popped up on my radar and I am dying to try it  (hint hint). Pour This 
http://www.pour-this.com/  looks like a super rad twist on the old wine club scene. And one of my favourite local wineries, for any Okanagan dwellers reading this, is the newly launched Little Engine Wines in Penticton B.C- and it has a 'lil wine club too https://www.littleenginewines.com

 

Do you know a Celiac, or a hopeless cook?  Online recipe clubs are the best ! Here is one of my all time faves

http://www.easyhealthyeats.com

                  A subscription to this site is an amazing gift for anyone on your list who loves healthy food but lacks skills in the kitchen. Erica Lawrence is a beautiful soul, who truly wants to help people eat better. She always includes vegetarian options, and all of the recipes are naturally gluten free - oh and a  3 month subscription can be had for as low as $9 a month. 


                                            

        ....   match it with a set of ocean colored, sustainably made place-mats

                                                                                 
 
          www.hopeandtwine.com/products/remind-me-of-the-ocean-placemats 

                              

                            And you are pretty much the winner of Christmas.


 

1 . Give the gift of Fair wages this year & Buy Fair trade.

Lastly, and this is so important, If you don’t have time to craft fair and lavender farm your way through town all December ( and I get it- your busy!)- By all means buy sparkly new presents for all. But please, pay attention to labels. Look up the brands. Read the tags. Including all the small print. In fact, after reading all those things, whip out your phone and double check. The extra few moments might save somebody's life. 

And remember, just because you hear a brand name often doesn’t mean you are well acquainted with its practices. Some of the biggest players in retail are also some of the most unscrupulous when it comes time to handing out employee bonuses of any kind, let alone providing even basic health and safety needs.

Here are a few links to help you navigate the muddy waters of brand transparency

 https://www.rankabrand.org/sustainable-luxury-brands/DKNY

http://www.goodguide.com/

 

And of course, Hope+Twine is on the 'Nice' list every day of the year. We are always working hard on stocking our store with unique and authentically luxurious, ethically made pieces. Follow us on Instagram @hopeandtwine for inside scoops on the artisans and first-hand access to sales and coupon codes. Oh, and do watch out for our fantastic, hand crafted wool blankets to hit the shelves this month. A truly perfect Christmas gift, these luxurious all natural pieces were handmade made by a beautiful, multi generational family of artisans in Momostenangeo, Guatemala.

  May you be happy, may you be healthy and may you be filled with gratitude this year,

 

                                                          Hope + Twine 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Artisrty of Block Printing- with Sustainable Threads, Karnataka, India

 
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