Friday, April 19, 2013

Weaving Traditions of Guatemala by Lauren

The dress or traje of the Mayan women in the Highlands of Guatemala are very distinct in pattern and color and vary from village to village. They are handmade with an array of bright colors woven into many different designs, some most commonly seen are the zig-zag (cheveron) pattern and the iconic Quetzal bird (Seen on the Stela 9 Weekender bag!). The weaving tradition dates back to ancient Mayan civilization, when basic looming techniques were first used to make traditional wear. Here’s a little introduction to some of the basic garments worn by Guatemalan women and how they are made!

Huipil (wee-pil) – The top or blouse worn by women and is made from cotton. The fabric consists of cross-stitching with ikat or zig-zag pattern. Though the style remains pretty consistent throughout Central America, it may be worn in different ways (tucked into skirt or loose), signifying which village a woman is from. The Huipil is traditionally worn with a Corte (skirt) and a Faja (belt/sash).  These beautiful pieces are handmade with dyed-cotton and a loom and typically take 3-4 months to finish, if it’s worked on for 4 hours a day.

Here are a few ways these beauties are made: 

Hand Looming/Backstrap Looming: A loom (palita) which is secured from the top is pulled forward by a backstrap that sits around the waist of a woman who sits while she is weaving. Movement of the body pulls the weaving apparatus for tension needed to loom the cotton. The loom is supported by two horizontal wooden beams. The “weft” threads are the horizontal threads, which are woven into the “warp” threads, the vertical ones. Sometimes sticks, wood, bamboo or bone needles are used in the weaving process. This weaving usually takes place in the women’s home while she cares for her kids and prepares meals.
Photo: Begonia Photography

Foot looming/The Treadle Loom: This loom (below) was introduced to the Mayans after Spanish conquest in 1524. Larger textiles can be made on this, because it is larger in size. It is a wooden structure that sits alone, while the artisan controls the foot pedals to power it. It is structured by two or four long narrow frames (harnesses) that are tied by ropes to a roller at the top of the loom. The warp threads pass though looped fiber (the eye) and are drawn down by the foot-activate treadle. The warps extend from the front and back beams to create tension (seen in hand looming). This process is much more complex and time consuming than hand looming.

Embroidery: This method was exercised by Pre-Colombian weavers, a technique that involves decorative yarn stitchery done with a needle on a ground fabric. Used for intricate designs or adding on additional iconic imagery to the bags.

Looming is a highly skilled and timely process, but in the end you get gorgeous, intricate, and unique textiles—the very same fabric used in Stela 9 bags! Enjoy!  

Sources:  1. Schevill, Margot, and Christopher Lutz. Maya Textiles of Guatemala: The Gustavus A. Eisen Collection, 1902, the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the University of California at Berkeley. Austin: University of Texas, 1993. Print.
          2. LaCaria, Tania. "Hand Woven Textiles from Guatemala." Passport To Design RSS. N.p., 2011. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chichicastenango, Guatemala with Lauren

I would refer to Chichicastenango as the Grand Bazaar of Central America. It is a crowded, colorful place with emanating smells from the comedores (little eateries throughout the market), a place where vendors sell their  handmade crafts, fresh flowers, candles, limestones used to prepare black corn tortillas, chickens, peppers and even machetes. Beautiful hand-woven textiles, often used in the production of women's blouses an handmade bags were hanging from the fronts of little store fronts. I was overwhelmed with how many beautiful artisan gifts I wanted to purchase and take home with me! I did find a super rad overnight duffel with beautiful patchwork embroidery and long straps to be worn like a backpack, which has been really useful for weekend getaways. We spent a few days in the town of Chi-Chi, exploring the churches, greeting new people in the market place, trying amazing food...

 In the market place, you can find intricate wood carved masks for sale that are traditionally used in The Dance of the Conquest- a dance that tells the story of the last king of Maya, Tecun Uman, who defeated the Spaniards in 1524.
Credit: Jeremy Woodhouse Photography

Pretty central to the market place, lies the Church of Santo Tomas, which dates back 400 years! Amazingly, it is built upon a Pre-Columbian temple platform, with 18 steps leading to the front entrance. Each of the 18 steps to the church represents one month in the 18-month Mayan calender. It is here in the church, that Maya Priests, K'iche', perform ritual ceremonies, prayer, and candle lighting. 
Wikipedia image: Church of Santo Tomas

Women in the marketplace, preparing tortillas.