From regions rich with picturesque mountain ranges, unencumbered nature and generations of craft, Patti Carpenter works to keep the cultural heritage of village life alive by connecting artisans with the global design community.
Carpenter crossed into the home arena from the world of fashion, and that fashion-conscious influence can be seen at every turn in the lines she helps to develop – from native Bolivian shawls morphing into throws to traditional ornamental hair poms being reborn as trim for decorative pillows.
The collections Carpenter has developed over the years with artisans in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, to name just a few, have found their ways into such prestigious locations as ABC Carpet & Home and Bloomingdale’s, as well as on Oprah’s list of favorite things, and for good reason. The products she sources for global markets through her eponymous company – carpenter + company – are as reflective of the regions from which they hail as they are in tune with global trends in color, pattern and overall design.
“I have always included color and trend as part of the business model because your product can be beautiful, but if your color or pattern is off, it just won’t work,” Carpenter states.
One important aspect the entrepreneur has always been mindful of is keeping the goods she helps to develop from being of a nature that could be viewed as “crafty.” On this, she shares, “You want to include their traditional colors and weaves but also to bring in that element that makes it desirable as a design element. You want to show the artisans have the talent and the capability to create and produce for a larger audience.”
Educating the artisans on what that audience will respond to is another key component of Carpenter’s work. She recalls the group of artisans who laughed at her when she said they were going to recreate a classic, multicolored tzute design in a black-and-white palette. “They wondered who would buy something in just two colors,” Carpenter recalls.
Currently trending in the textiles from this region is a desire for indigo and for natural dyes that take their bases from vegetables and assorted flowers and plants. “The vegetables create those really intense colors, but there’s also a rise in that grayed or washed effect,” she explains. Carpenter likened the effect to that of Ikat, “something that has been tie-dyed or dipped a few times.”
She also notes that there is a welcome and increasing trend of Western designers being interested in this type of work and product: “There’s a return to craftsmanship, a new look at those skills and an appreciation for textiles that are beautifully woven in a way that not too many people can do anymore.”
For Carpenter, the rediscovery of such quality handmade goods was inevitable. “Everything is cyclical,” she says, “and these cultures and their artisanal skills are alive and vibrant and growing all the time.”
tzute refers to a square or rectangular cloth that is usually back-strap woven in the specific village style. A tzute may be used to carry a baby, to cover a basket, to carry items bought in the market, or it may be used for ceremonial purposes. Usually, large carrying cloths are called cargadores – used to carry bundles of goods on the head or babies on the back. A tzute diario, or daily use carrying cloth for small purchases and personal possessions is similiar to a purse, an indispensable utilitarian article for the majority of Mayan women. Tzutes, when not being used for carrying, can be worn over the shoulder or folded on the head depending on village tradition.
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