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
Photo: Adventure-life.com
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 warpthreads 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.
photo: weavolution.com
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.
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