Guatemalan Adventures with Thread Caravan

We caught up with Caitlin Ahern, the founder of Thread Caravan, to gain some insight into the world of art workshops, international adventuring, and volcanic eruptions. 

What’s the story behind Thread Caravan? What inspired you to make this vision a reality?

Travel and art have both been appealing to me for a while. I was having dreams of doing a farm-stay in Peru, learning to sheer llamas, spin the wool and then craft it into textiles. I was brainstorming ways to make that happen but sort of put it in the back of my mind. I’m also interested in fair-trade production and was delving into that field. I had one of those a-ha moments when I realized I could take fair trade to the next level, offering workshops around the world for travelers to get to go connect with the artisans in person, learning about the craft, and hopefully gaining an appreciation for and better understanding of  handmade goods.

How did you select the locations for the Thread Caravan trips? And how did you develop the local connections that you utilize?

I chose to start in Guatemala for a few reasons. 1. I’d been here before 6 years prior and was itching to get back. Because I’d traveled here before, I was already familiar with area to go and organizations to partner with. 2. Guatemala is affordable and quick to get to because it’s close to the U.S. It’s not as big of a commitment as travelling around the world to say, Asia. 3. The textiles – duh! Weaving is so ingrained in the culture here that the two have evolved congruently. They say Mayan backstrap weaving literally “ties the woman to the house”. She is able to provide a consistent income for the family while also taking care of needs at home. In addition to the textiles, the country is a beautiful place to travel. There are bright colored tuk tuks and chicken busses, volcanoes erupting in the distance, and more.

How would you describe Guatemala in two words?

Vivacious and tenacious. The culture runs very deep and despite political and other constant changes, the country’s unique characteristics are able to continue thriving.

What’s your favorite slang word thus far?

“Frijolito” meaning “tiny bean” and used to refer to those old Nokia cell phones that everyone uses.

What’s the biggest misconception about artisan crafts that you’d like to dispel?

For starters, many people associate the word “craft” with glitter and glue guns. While that serves a purpose, when we say “craft”, we are referring to artistic skills. Most people also just think of crafts as visual. For me, craft and arts can refer to all forms – dancing, singing, cooking, building, etc – and our workshops in the future will demonstrate this diversity.

What’s the long-term vision of Thread Caravan?

I’d love to be able to support both artisans and travelers at a greater capacity. For starters, I’d like to make trips feasible for everyone to attend. Once we’re a bit more established, we’re planning to create a scholarship program for teens and young adults that wouldn’t be able to afford trips.

In terms of artisans, we’d like to build up workshops so that they’re happening on a regular basis, providing consistent and reliable support for the artisans.

And of course, our company vision is a little more abstract than the aforementioned goals. One intention behind the company is to educate participants about certain crafts so that they can gain a greater appreciation for them. We want to give travelers a platform to dive deep into the world’s cultures, connecting in a way they wouldn’t typically be able to. We also strive to preserve the diversity of the world’s cultures. By employing artisans to continue at their craft, they feel less pressure to assimilate to the larger societal workforce norms.

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Video & photos by Karim Iliya