In the indigenous Mayan communities of the northwestern highlands of Guatemala traditional textile weaving is still passed on from generation to generation for the past 2,000 years. Many girls already start in the age of seven to learn basic weaving techniques. As teenagers, they usually are able to work on more complex brocade textile weavings, which is the highest weaving skill and the most famous art from Guatemala. There are more than 1,000 different textile designs found in traditional Mayan clothes.
The Gift of Creation
Weaving is an integral part of a Mayan woman’s daily life, representing the life giving miracle of birth and creation. It is artistic self-expression with which each weaver communicates her individual history, identity and philosophy of life, as inspired by the forms of nature. It also helps her to stay connected with her ancestors and to the sacred Mayan universe.
SHARING STORIES THROUGH
MAYAN SYMBOLISM & THE
PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE
Every woven panel of fabric is a piece of art; one that is rich in symbolism and recreates the daily life of indigenous communities and the surrounding nature. The practice of weaving preserved important cultural elements for future generations, encoding the esoteric symbolism of the Mayan civilization into traditional fabrics. Woven into the threads of time, these ancient symbols survived the wave of destruction that arrived with the conquerors and priests.
The scorpion tail within those fabrics stings the clouds and welcomes the lightning and rain which give nourishment to seeds and allow life.
The diamond pattern is a very important symbol in Mayan textile art. It represents the four edges of the Universe, the four edges of the earth, and, in the centre, the heart of the community.
Isabel is one of our wonderful weavers in Guatemala. She has been a backstrap weaver for 11 years. That is about half of her lifetime — although Isabel doesn’t know her exact age, since she has never celebrated a birthday. Most of her nine siblings migrated to the United States, and with the income she receives, she supports her family members who still live in Guatemala. Born with six fingers on her right hand, she usually hides that hand in front of people. But for her work as backstrap weaver, it is a true gift: Her fabrics always turn into something extraordinary.
MASTER IN BROCADE WEAVING
Falseria fabric is hand-woven on a treadle loom by Maya master weavers. This technique was introduced with the Spanish in the 1500’s. Traditional designs from backstrap weaving were reinterpreted into the falseria technique. That is why it’s called falseria = false brocade. The warp on the treadle loom is lifted by foot pedals which lift each of the 29 shafts according to which are selected. The threads of the warp are alternately selected by hand to be lifted and lowered while the weft is passed between the threads with the shuttle. To produce one yard of fabric sewn in to one pillowcase, the artisan needs approximately one day of work.
The ikat technique (in Guatemala called "Jaspe") consists of 14 different artisanal dying and weaving steps. The yarns are bound by hand to create the pattern. It is then dyed by hand and when the binds are untied the pattern appears. The yarn is then set onto a pedal loom and woven. It is almost impossible to break down the amount of time needed to produce one pillowcase, since many steps and different weavers are involved in this complex process.
NEW WOOL WEAVING
In the northwestern highlands of Guatemala there are still 70 families to master traditional weaving with sheep wool. Yet the craftsmanship is threatened by mass products that are imported from Mexico. We work with a handful of families to create blankets made from 100% natural new wool. There are nine different steps involved in the weaving process. Raw material is cleaned, dyed, manually carded and then spun on a spinning wheel. Each blanket uses the wool of approximately three sheep. When wool is finally spun, the yarn is then set onto a pedal loom and woven. The last step is washing the wool in natural hot springs, a 30-minute walk away from the weaver’s homes, and brushing to receive the softness of the material. It takes up to two weeks to finish one single blanket.