Maya Tradition, Guatemala

Located in Panajachel, Sololá, Guatemala, Maya Traditions has been dedicated to connecting indigenous, female Maya backstrap weaver artisans and their families to national and international markets since 1996. Maya Traditions ensures that the culture of these artisans is preserved and seen across all of their products. By promoting a fair trade model, their main goal is to help these artisan families and their communities work towards a better lifestyle. They provide various social programs in youth education, community health, and artisan development. Maya Traditions follows the Fair Trade Principles closely when working with these cooperatives of indigenous female artisans:

Los Pinos of Patanatic

Artisans from the Los Pinos Cooperative create high-quality hand-woven pine needle baskets and home furnishings from fallen pine needles gathered in their community.

6 artisans | Specialty: Basket Weaving, Tassels, and RandasThe Community of Patanatic
Patanatic is a small village, located in the hills by Lake Atitlán. The majority of the village residents are K'iche' Maya and speak the language of K'iche', the most widely spoken Maya language in Guatemala. Many of the women wear traditional red "huipiles," traditional blouses, with black and white designs. The red represents the blood that runs through veins of the Maya people, the white the clarity of the day, and the black the sunset. The community remains connected to these cultural symbols—and they serve as an inspiration for the artisans.

Qato Q'ib of Chirijox

Artisans from the Qato Q’ib Cooperative create backstrap woven textiles with a modern Maya feel featured in many of Maya Traditions’ bags. These artisans also create high-quality brocade pillows and woven scarves.

14 weavers | Specialty: BrocadeThe Community of Chirijox
Chirijox is a small village off the Inter American highway in the highlands of Guatemala. Its community members are K'iche Maya and speak their native language of K'iche. The women of the community wear their traditional dress, the "huipil," their traditional blouse, distinguished by a white base with colorful embroidered designs. These designs are representations of Maya leaders and the sacrifices they are required to make to serve others.

Flor Juanera of San Juan

Artisans from the Flor Juanera Cooperative create bright and colorful backstrap woven textiles with Ikat tying and natural dyeing techniques to make Maya Traditions' scarves, bags, and housewares. These artisans produce sought-after designs and colors with a contemporary twist.

14 weavers | Specialty: Naturally Dyed Ikat, Cruzetas, PetatilloThe Community of San Juan La Laguna
San Juan La Laguna is a small town in the department of Sololá, Guatemala on the southwest edge of Lake Atitlán. A beautiful community with over 6,000 residents, the majority are Tz’utujil Maya. Women in San Juan wear "huipiles," traditional blouses, with a design strip around the neck. This design is made up of 24 squares which represent the town’s patron saint. The different colors on the huipil represent the purity and blood of Tz’utujil women, nature, the sky, and the water. Each of these elements is cornerstone to the Maya culture and are prominently featured in their dress.

Chuwila of Quiejel

Artisans from the Chuwila Cooperative create handmade pillows, wall hangings, and textiles using the brocade technique of backstrap weaving. Their designs are rooted in traditional symbols and techniques.

15 weavers | Specialty: BrocadeThe Community of Quiejel
Quiejel is a small village near Chichicastenango in the Highlands of Guatemala—inhabited by the K'iche' Maya who speaks their native language of K'iche. The women in this community wear traditional dress to preserve and celebrate their cultural identity. Their "huipil," the traditional blouse, features designs of plants and animals. This small community values their customs, traditions, beliefs, and practices passed down to them from their ancestors.

Nawal Ja' of Nahualá

The highly skilled artisans from the Nawal Ja' Cooperative create handmade pillows, wall hangings, and textiles using the brocade technique of backstrap weaving. These artisans produce complex geometric designs that are in high demand.

10 weavers | Specialty: BrocadeThe Community of Nahualá
Nahualá is located high above the mountains in the department of Sololá. Nahualá is a relatively large town surrounded by smaller communities, and quite colder than the surrounding areas. The majority of inhabitants are K'iche Maya and speak the native language of K'iche. This community preserves and celebrates their cultural identity by using traditional dress and speaking their native language. The women of Nahualá wear "huipiles," traditional blouses, with patterns that feature stars and represent the strength and courage of women.

Waqxaqi' Kan of Chuacruz

Artisans from the Waqxaqi' Kan Cooperative are famous for creating ikat dots and small weavings. This group from the Sololá region creates textile with a modern edge and is a popular choice for bags and small accessories.

14 weavers | Specialty: Ikat dots and LisoThe Community of Chuacruz
Chuacruz is a small, rural village in the mountains by Lake Atitlán, close to the city of Sololá. The community members are Kaqchikel Maya and speak the language of Kaqchikel. The women from this picturesque village wear "huipiles," the traditional blouse, which feature bright colors and traditional designs. The reds represent the blood of their ancestors, the green plants and animals of the region, the black darkness and night, and the white the purity of Maya women. Each of the colors tells a story and connects the textiles to the cultural history of the region.

 

THE TECHNIQUE

Backstrap Weaving

The art of backstrap has been practiced in the region since the time of the ancient Maya. Five of Maya Traditions’ partner cooperatives employ this technique to create elaborate textiles. Maya Traditions’ artisan partners practice two types of weaving: simple backstrap and brocade.

How It Works:

1. Thread is selected with the patterns and colors of the final textile in mind. The artisans are provided with thread in skeins, which are rolled into balls at home.

2. Once the thread is rolled, the design is painstakingly layered on the uridora, or warp board. Here, the artisan establishes the final length and width of the piece as well as creating specialized patterns such as maya. The warped thread is then carefully transferred to the backstrap loom.

3. One end of the loom is tied to a tree, post, or wall. The other end other loom is wrapped around her back, allowing her to increase or decrease tension by moving forward or backward. If utilizing brocade, the artisan will create the pattern in this stage, counting and pulling the threads needed to create the design.

4. Once completed, one representative from the cooperative will gather all of the finished textiles from the women and return to Maya Traditions’ office. The Production Manager receives and reviews each textile to ensure impeccable quality. These textiles are sent along to a local tailor for construction.

EXPLAINED WITH A LEGEND...

According to legend, backstrap weaving originated with Ixchel, a Maya Goddess taking numerous forms – Moon, Water, Weaving, and Childbirth. She is the deity of fertility and procreation, and represents female empowerment. Ixchel taught the first woman to weave, and since then the practice has been passed on from mother to daughter, generation after generation. At birth, baby girls are presented with the necessary tools for weaving. At the age of eight or nine, Maya girls are taught to weave for the first time by their mothers, older sisters, and older women.

While backstrap woven textiles are used for everyday clothing and provide protection against the elements, they are also incorporated into ancient ceremonies and rituals. Women’s traje, or traditional clothing, consists of a huipil, a blouse, worn with corte, a skirt, which is secured at the waist with a woven belt.

Textile designs vary by community, and techniques and colors are often indicative of a specific village or region. A woman’s clothing identifies her as a cultural being, as well as communicating traditional Maya beliefs about the universe. This identity is visible within the techniques and designs that each cooperative is able to produce.

Backstrap weaving is an ideal technique for busy indigenous artisans. The equipment needed is light and extremely portable and the apparatus can be set up almost anywhere. This is essential because most artisans balance many duties including raising children, maintaining the home, and earning a living through weaving.

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