When traveling to cloth-weaving villages, there’s generally one “something” that I’m intrigued by or in search for. Three years ago, it was the seemingly rare handspun cotton and handwoven cloth made from the organic natural cotton beige color “ixcaco”, the brown “cuyuscate”, and the ikat “jaspe” pattern. Rare because so much of what tourists readily find in/from Guatemala are products made of bright, synthetically dyed cotton.
While visiting a textile collector in Antigua, it was mentioned that the town of Sololá was our next stop. Knowing our predilection toward quality weaving, we were given the following directions: “Go to the market, to the right of the church go into the meat market, wind your way through to the back, turn left, turn right, and in the back stall you’ll find a man who has some old textiles.” So here’s the explanation of what that means: Market means a crowded area of vending stalls (where I could barely squeeze my way through) surrounding the main church where two days a week all the locals come to buy/trade everything from used electronic parts to very fresh vegetables. Meat market means a covered building loaded with barely-lit stalls filled with all types of dissected meat (warning: do not go here if you’re a vegetarian). Man selling old textiles means man, who may or may not be there when you are, who pulls “treasures” from a vault area one at a time and may or may not be able to convey much about the origins of the piece.
It was all worth it though. Poking out from a pile of textiles, I saw tinges of handspun cuyuscate and ixcaco cotton with indigo jaspe. Yes. Here it was—the cloth. Hunt over.
I asked the man if any communities were still spinning and weaving this cloth. His answer was vague as if he didn’t understand my question. Meaning “I do understand what you’re asking me but I’ll pretend I don’t to protect my source.”
Rare No More
Fast forward to this year. A wonderful discovery. There is a community weaving this cloth. And much more modern and beautiful than the “rare” cloth I had acquired at the market. Yolanda Chiroy Panjoj lives in the small village of Chavacruz, 12 kilometers from the main market town of Sololá near Lake Atitlán.
She is a member of the artisan’s group Waqxaqi Kan and an indigenous Mayan woman who weaves traditional cloth from handspun and naturally-dyed cotton on backstrap looms. Waqxaqi Kan was formed in 1985 by eight women who were widowed during the Guatemalan civil war and became sole providers for their families. They sought to use their traditional crafts to provide a livelihood. Today the group consists of twenty women who work in a variety of crafts. Yolanda is one of the daughters of the original group. Come along and meet Yolanda in this interview (both in English and Spanish).