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Guatemalan Traditions: Natural Dyes


Income is more valuable than ever for women in Guatemala, as construction jobs are disappearing for their husbands. Many women are now the sole wage earners in their households. With pressure to support their families and raise their children, Natural Dye Co-ops are popping up all over Guatemala.

Unique Batik partners with natural dye artisans living in San Juan la Laguna, which is located on the western shore of Lake Atitlan. San Juan la Laguna is a quiet, clean village of about 8,000 residents.  Off the beaten (tourist) path, its resulting relaxed atmosphere allows visitors to get away from the bustle of the city and experience the genuine friendliness of the indigenous Guatemalan people.

In the co-op, the women have perfected ways to create dyes from coffee, avocado, berries, cocoa, tree bark, and other plants.


Cotton thread is dyed in these homemade mixtures and then woven to make scarves,


clothing, household items, and handbags.


Shades of green pulled from avocado; Coral red plucked from achote seed; Neutral shades drawn from eucalyptus and guava.


By using local plants, many of which are growing in the back yards of the women, sourcing ingredients takes much less time. Some of the plants used can even result in various colors, depending on how long the yarns are left to boil in the dye vats. For example, the sacatinta plant yields blue to grey to charcoal, all dependent on boiling time.

Support these talented women and shop our entire line of Natural Dye items HERE.

Download a printable Natural Dye Color Chart HERE. 



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10 Simple Ideas for Summer Entertaining


This is our absolute favorite time of year. The warmer temperatures outside have everyone out of their winter slumber and ready to get social. Whether you want to host a backyard barbecue or a weekend brunch, we have 10 Simple Ideas to make Backyard Entertaining an absolute breeze!

1.Design an easy menu

Choose easy dishes that you can prepare ahead of time, that way you can enjoy the outdoor party without getting stuck in the kitchen. Cut fruit, dips, spreads, and baked goods can be easy to whip up the day before. One of our favorite make-ahead dishes for a barbecue is this Loaded Baked Potato Salad from The Shabby Creek Cottage.

2. Keeps drinks simple

Just like the food, decide your beverages beforehand and keep it simple. Depending on the occasion, wine and beer may be an easy choice, but always be sure to include non-alcoholic options as well. We are currently obsessed with infused water – not only does it taste delicious but it’s super easy to make ahead of time!


3. And you can easily take drinks to the next level with these impressive looking (yet easy to make) ice buckets from The Chic Site:


Photo Credit

4. Speaking of drinks…

Keep the drinks in a separate area from the food. This will encourage guests to mingle, and will keep folks from trying to balance plates and cups.

5. And keep those drinks bug free!


We love this idea for using a simple cupcake liner to top your cup to keep your drink in and bugs out.

Entertaining in the summer means great weather, but warmer temperatures can almost mean bugs, so don’t forget about the food –

6.Serve salads and fruit in large glass canisters with a lid, like these from 4 Men 1 Lady:


Photo Credit

That way guests can serve themselves without worrying about flies in their food.

7. Another simple solution for bugs, use slices of lemon pierced with cloves on and around food as a natural repellant. 

8. And if you’re hosting guests near water, provide a simple station with bug spray and sunscreen.

9. Keep dessert straightforward with a serve yourself Ice Cream Bar.

Fill a cooler with ice and top with salt to keep it cool without melting. Add a few pints of ice cream, a scoop, and cones – you’re done!


Photo Credit

You can even take it to the next level by providing marshmallows – guests can add one to the bottom of their cone to keep the ice cream from melting out.

10. Lastly, keep decor simple by using fresh flowers and fruit. 

Bouquets of fresh flowers are so easy to decorate with, and guests can take them when they leave – no clean up required!


Shop this look HERE.

You can also keep bowls of lemons, limes, and oranges (that you can use for drinks) to add pops of color to your tablescape without the waste!





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Artisan Spotlight: Carmelita Ramos

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re reposting this Artisan Spotlight on one of our favorite leaders: Carmelita Ramos. Enjoy!

Sparkling beads dance across her hands as Carmelita Ramos creates earrings and bracelets to sell to customers in the distant land of the United States. Her dreams of earning a living and educating her children were once just as distant, but through her work and creativity and her connection with fair trade, those dreams have become a reality. Carmelita’s story did not begin so differently from that of many, many other women in Guatemala. Being able to sell her handicrafts to a fair trade company like Unique Batik has given her the hand up — not handout — that changed the course of her life.


Carmelita making the carnival bracelet

Born into a family of thirteen children in the rural mountain village of San Jorge in the department of Solola, Carmelita’s challenges in life started early. None of the girls in her family were sent to school. This is still true for many girls in Guatemala; of the two million children who do not attend school, most are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, 90% of these girls do not attend secondary school. Carmelita was no exception.

With no education, Carmelita’s options were few. She became a maid at a young age, which is a typical path, with 98% of domestic workers being women and 70% of domestic workers being indigenous Maya. However, Carmelita’s story took a turn when, through her employers, she began making jewelry to sell for export. She immediately showed promise as a designer, creating an original bracelet featuring bamboo and making oven mitts out of scrap fabric. For her first significant order, she received a paycheck of Q1200 (the equivalent of $150 US dollars).  It brought tears to her eyes because she had never seen a Q100 note.

Carmelita’s creativity and ingenuity have been a big factor in her success as an artisan. Now part of a jewelry making cooperative of eleven people, all family members, Carmelita sources the beading materials herself and trains co-op members how to make new jewelry designs. Unlike many other artisans in the area, when Carmelita’s group creates exclusive new designs for a customer, they do not sell them to anyone else. The group members work from their own homes, but confer on pricing, production, and any other issues that might come up.

Carmelita and Maria

Today, not only has Carmelita’s story defied expectations, but her leadership of the artisan co-op has influenced the lives of many others. Her own daughter, Maria, has graduated with a degree in business administration.  She has partially paid for her education and transportation to school through part-time work making beaded jewelry with the artisan co-op. Another group member, Marta, has five children, for whom Marta desperately wanted an education. Her husband did not support her dream, but through her earnings as an artisan, all of Marta’s children have gone to school.  Since the time her jewelry work began, Carmelita and her husband, Juan, have gone from living with her mother-in-law to buying their own land and building a two-story cement block house — an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman who started with no education and no means.

The journey has not been without its challenges. Competition in the area is fierce for beaders, keeping their wages low. There is even a “bead mafia” which controls the availability of beads, so Carmelita’s group is not always able to source the colors they need. US buyers are not always reliable, and it is the long-term, fair trade relationship with Unique Batik that has made a difference in the success of Carmelita’s group. Ten years ago, a US buyer placed a big order for beaded jewelry from women in Carmelita’s village, then pulled out without paying the women for their work. A mutual acquaintance gave Carmelita Unique Batik owner Sharon Gale’s phone number. Carmelita called Sharon for help, and that began the relationship between Unique Batik and Carmelita’s cooperative.

Carmelita’s talent as a designer is special, but without the opportunities created by fair trade purchases, even with all her hard work and creativity, the story might not have such a happy ending. Given the opportunity to be treated with integrity and turn her gifts into a secure life for her family, Carmelita has transformed her own narrative. Thanks for being part of her happy ending

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Weaving in Guatemala – A Legacy of Status and Beauty

There’s no doubt that hand-woven textiles from Guatemala are some of the most beautiful that you’ll find in the world. For centuries the women of Guatemala have created these stunning, prismatic fabrics with painstaking care and effort, but it’s the spirit and history behind the art of weaving that makes their work so intensely beautiful.


Beginning with high ranking ancient Mayan women, weaving colorful cotton fabric was not considered to be merely a craft, but a true art form. The Mayans used dyes from natural plant, animal, and mineral sources, and with their spinning whorls they would create their vibrant thread with intense reds, yellows, greens and blues. With the use of a backstrap loom the women would weave intense patterns, geometric shapes, plants, and blooming flowers. The traditional Mayan shift dresses were embellished with these marvelous patterns at the borders around the neck, hem, and sleeves. This whimsical dress is called a ‘ypil’ and is still worn today by modern-day Mayans in Guatemala.

blue dye

The fact that Mayan weaving was the purview of noble women explains why the patterns are so arresting, elaborate, and time-consuming to make. The fabric was both an artistic expression and a source of wealth, often given as a gift to rulers and other important figures in society. When a girl was to be married the weaving skills of the bride were always taken into account to determine what marriage gifts would be given to her family.

Woman weaving with backstrap looms is prominently depicted in ancient Mayan art and books where you’ll find drawings of weavers using whorls to spin their thread. On a famous mural in the city of Kalakmul there is an image of a noble woman wearing a soft blue dress decorated at the edges with fantastically embellished golden glyphs. This is an example of a Mayan fabric that has been dyed the sacred shade of “Mayan Blue”, created by binding indigo to clay minerals. This Mayan blue clothing was considered to be the most expensive and highly valued fabric you could find, displaying that a woman was of the highest status imaginable.

figurineAnother key piece of art that proves the importance of weaving in Mayan culture is a figurine found on the island of Jaina, off the coast of Campeche, Mexico. Traditionally a burial place for nobles of Mayan descent, today the island is home to these famous figurines that once served as burial relics. It is here that we find the weaver figurine, portrayed by the goddess Ix Azal Uoh, known as the ‘weaver of life’. This remarkable symbol also pays homage to the sacred spirit within all. Another famous goddesses that depicts the importance of weaving to Mayan culture is Ix Otzil, who weaves the threads of destiny and pays respect to the internal weaver within each of us.

Power, beauty, art, and spirit. It’s clear that the weaving tradition of the Mayan world combines all of these elements and so much more. Fundamental to daily life and ritual, Mayan textiles have pushed themselves into the future and remain some of the most remarkable works of art you’ll find in Guatemala, or from anywhere across the globe.

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Honoring the endless circle of friendship

As summer transitions to fall, it may be time to, as the traditional children’s song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” There’s no minimum to how many friends each person is required to have, but there’s no limit either As long as they’re true blue (as well as silver or gold), you can never have enough friends.

And what’s the second verse to that song? “A circle is round, it has no end. That’s how long I’ll be your friend.” And there you have the idea behind friendship bracelets – an endless circle that represents a friendship without end. Whether handcrafted (a la 1970s macramé or 21st century beaded) or purchased, the gift of a friendship bracelet comes from the heart and reminds the recipient he or she is loved and never alone in the world.

Friendship bracelets recognize and celebrate a variety of relationships. Even though they’re technically one size fits all, individual designs may lend themselves to specific friendships.

I’m going to miss you, friend

neon friendship

He or she was your summer your camp buddy, your summer-job-away-from-home confidante, your driver’s ed partner. Now you’re going your separate ways and you’d like to offer a light, “it was fun to know you” goodbye gift Neon Summer Friendship bracelets are an obvious choice, but not just because of their name. The bright colors and basic design encourages staying in touch without pressure.

Crazy fun friend

0006123_todos-snapYou love this guy or gal who makes everything not just more enjoyable, but one of the best times of your life (or at least it seems that way in the moment). The Butterfly Slip Knot bracelet, the Skinny Crystal Bracelet and the Skinny Crystal Wrap tell your crazy fun female friend that you always want to be on her speed dial list. The Santiago Snap and the Todos Snap are a little more masculine, but let your crazy fun male friend know that you treasure every zany minute with him.

Perfect fit college roommate friend

There are more bad college roommates than there are good college roommates, but when it’s good, it’s very, very good. If it’s happening now, carpe diem and exchange Chica Friendship bracelets. But maybe your perfect college roommate was a while ago and she became your bridesmaid or child’s godmother or held your hand during a challenging time. A Balsa Wood bracelet helps you celebrate the natural bond that was created long ago and still connects the two of you.

We’ve known each other forever friend

beaded friendship

Your mom dropped you off at kindergarten and cried a little. You were holding hands with your new best friend within 15 minutes and the two of you still stay in touch. You know a lifetime of each other’s heartaches and triumphs. The Beaded Friendship bracelet has a bead for every time she was there for you, in person or in spirit.

No matter how old you or your friendships are, acknowledging the value of an existing friendship with even the simplest gesture can polish the silver and gold in your life.

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Principles of Fair Trade: Capacity Building

We have all heard the old adage “give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” Perhaps a better adage for the world of fair trade would be “buy fish from a November 2014 blog1 man for a fair price, he eats for a year; show him how to craft a better net, he eats for a lifetime.” Possibly not as catchy…but it’s a good illustration of one of the important principles of fair trade — capacity building.

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Molding a Better Future: Ceramics of San Antonio Palopo

The highlands of Guatemala have a rich geological history; through years of volcanic eruptions, various types of rock, sand, ceramics blogand ash have combined to create channels of clay in the exposed river systems of the highland valleys. This clay is perfect for making high quality ceramics. In the 1990s, his search for just such a source of great clay brought potter Ken Edwards to Guatemala. Like many who discover the wonders of Guatemala, Edwards stayed for a long time. Today, the ceramics studio he established in San Antonio Palopo provides the unique pottery pieces featured at Unique Batik, and income to generations of potters in the mountain village. Continue reading