There are a few people in my life whose path I’ve crossed for forty-some years. This is a good thing–especially when one of them is the remarkable Deborah Chandler, weaver and co-author of Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, Their Stories, Their Lives. Little did I know that when ClothRoads went traveling in Guatemala with Deb and Teresa Cordón, the co-author of above said book, that we were treading in footsteps of what would become fodder for her new book, A Textile Traveler’s Guide to Guatemala. More on that later.
What’s Past is Not Missing
On a cold winter evening, I attended my local weaver’s guild meeting–Deb Chandler was the invited speaker. The last time I had seen Deb was in Guatemala the year before. And before that, at various WARP meetings. But our history goes way back to the days when she owned a weaving store in Boulder, and I owned one in Chicago. We met at various conferences and shared shop talk. She visited me in Chicago and taught “how to teach” to weaving teachers. Then we lost track of each other for a while. She filled in those “missing years” of lost contact during her guild talk. I discovered that she had founded the Boulder weaving guild some 30 years prior, had joined the Peace Corp and went to Honduras, years later became director of Mayan Hands in Guatemala, wrote many books, and has called Guatemala her home for many years. What became very clear to me that evening was that weaving has led her life just as it has countless number of Guatemalan weavers. (Read more about Deb’s weaving life on her blog here.)
A Tour Highlight
When last in Guatemala, with Deb as our guide, we visited the Mayan Hands field office in Panajachel. We lucked out as there was a basket-design contest underway, an effort to expand a very successful line of pine-needle baskets. We met Josefina and Maria, members of the El Trifuno cooperative, who were making baskets in the courtyard and showed us their technique. Most of the baskets are formed by a coiling technique, in which a continuous round length of material is wound around or on top of itself in an expanding spiral. The wild grass and pine needles are the foundation. The third element, the raffia, is the stitching or wrapping fiber which surrounds the core and binds one row to the next.
These baskets have become so successful since their launch in 2014, that the El Trifuno coop has quadrupled in size. One more success story with weaving leading the life of so many Guatemalan women.
A Textile Traveler’s Guide to Guatemala
Not everyone is able to travel to Guatemala nor have the privilege of having Deborah Chandler as a guide. Some lucky folks are in Guatemala right now on the Mayan Hands tour with Deb as their guide. But we can armchair travel and/or plan a future trip to this colorful and vibrant country with her soon-to-be-released book, A Textile Traveler’s Guide to Guatemala.
This new book, published by Thrums Books, is an excellent resource for discovering artisans, markets, shops, and those storied regional textile traditions. Geared to independent-minded travelers, this guide presents the safest and most accessible methods of travel, where and when to go, where to stay, and what to eat. Expert advice from Deb helps the traveler know what to look for, how to distinguish high-quality work, and how to bargain intelligently and ethically. With abundant photographs, this guide celebrates the color, joy, and energy of folklife in Guatemala. Order now from Thrums Books.
A special thanks goes to Mayan Hands for the outstanding support given to the Guatemalan women. Founded in 1989, it has assisted many impoverished Guatemalan women in making better lives for themselves and their families. They partner with approximately 200 weavers, organized in groups of 10 to 30 women, living in different communities around the western and northern highlands of Guatemala.