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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.


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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