Casa Maestros Weaves New Ways to See — and Wear — Ancient Textiles

Why Daniel Carrillo opted to create Casa Maestros, a platform for Latin American artisans to share their work and preserve tradition.

Artisan from the mountains of Guerrero, México.

Kickstarter just turned 10. This essay by Casa Maestros founder Daniel Carrillo is part of a series that celebrates past projects and introduces a few new ones. Read more here.

The story of Casa Maestros is the story of a journey. My brother and I first traveled to Guatemala back in 2009, where a lively and diverse textile tradition exists in tandem with daily life.

Sunrise at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

On our journey, we met artisans who preserve and protect rare and complex traditions—ancient techniques that have been passed down from generations.

From left: Chichicastenango market, Guatemala; Tata Rumualdo performing a sacred ceremony, “Welcoming Father Sun.” Cherán, Michoacán, México.

Some indigenous villagers call textiles “our second skin;” others think that textiles are a way of expressing culture. The elder weavers say that their textiles are the “books” of their ancestors, through which they tell stories about cosmogony and oneness with nature. We think most people have forgotten the true meaning of culture, which literally means “to till the soil.”

Some indigenous villagers call textiles “our second skin;” others think that textiles are a way of expressing culture.
Natural dyes workshop in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala.

After years of researching sustainable clothing, we noticed that there are fewer and fewer Latin American artisans still practicing ancient fabric dyeing techniques.

Cotton threads naturally dyed.

Most artisans today prefer to buy pre-dyed, factory-produced fabrics, which are the second largest contributor to pollution worldwide. Some have tried to compete with fast fashion, but unfortunately this approach is unaffordable due to the amount of time and work they dedicate to each piece. Beyond a natural impact, however, there is a cultural and historical loss.

Many of these artisans have lost hope of selling their garments at a fair price. They’re moving out of their towns and leaving their families for “better opportunities,” ending these ancient traditions that have endured through the passage of time.

José Luis and Rigoberto Romano, master weavers from Tlaxcala, México.

After meeting these grand masters throughout México and Guatemala three years ago, we decided to create Casa Maestros, which means “the house of the masters.” These artisans have won awards, and some have gained a place in Candida Fernandez De Calderon’s Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular Mexicano (Fomento Cultural Banamex, 1998). They preserve the ancient knowledge of how to exist and dress in harmony with the Earth.

Francisca Palafox, Master weaver from San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, México.

After spending time with these artisans, we realized that the only way to commercialize their craftwork at a fair price would be to create a platform where they could show the world what they’re capable of doing. We want to create a space for them to experiment with new designs and support their unique form of wearable art.

From left: Organic Huipil dress, hand spun with three kinds of natural cotton; Garment from “Dyes of the Earth,” dyed with cochineal insects.

After three years of research, adventure, knocking on people’s doors, sunrises, waterfalls, rivers, hikes, and so many magical experiences with these beautiful people, we created our first collection. Named “Dyes of the Earth,” it attempts to reconcile the world of fashion with nature. (And by “nature” we not only mean the materials used, but also the hands that create the garments.)

Weavers from the mountains of México.

We’re currently on Kickstarter to fund this project and make it into a reality, but the real challenge comes after. Next, we hope to create a botanical garden in a cooperative in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico, where together we can grow veggies for natural dyes and teach artisans who have forgotten these ancient traditions how to reconnect with nature.

The answer lies in culture, by getting our hands dirty and getting “back to till the soil”… together.