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Guatemalan Weaving Forms a Life
A few nights ago, I sat inside a church basement at a local weaving guild meeting to hear Deborah Chandler lecture on the simple looms of Guatemala and what the weavers do with these looms to create such complex cloth. Almost a year ago, ClothRoads traveled through the Guatemalan Highlands with Deborah and Teresa Cordón, authors of Traditional Weavers of Guatemala. They opened up their world of weaving, spinning, jaspe dyeing, embroidery, and basketry to us, as well as translated the outpourings from the artisans. And, since Deborah always has fascinating tidbits to share, I knew her lecture would yield more about Guatemalan weaving and the artisans.
When the room went partially dark and Deborah related parts of her life’s journey from being a weaver and weaving shop owner, to starting this very guild some 30 years prior, to Peace Corp worker in Honduras, to finding herself years later as director of Mayan Hands in Guatemala, to the creating of this book, it became very clear that weaving has led her life just as it has the countless number of Guatemalan weavers. (Read more about Deb’s weaving life on her blog here.)
Throughout the evening, Deb held up one huipil after another explaining how a specific type of cloth was woven on a crudely built loom with added contraptions. These Guatemalan artisans make the most colorful and technically proficient huipils (traditional upper garment), cortes (traditional skirts), and cintas (hair ribbons) on the most basic of foot-pedal or backstrap looms.
Deborah showed images of some of the artisans from her book with stories of their responses upon seeing the finished book: “What should I do with this?” “I can’t read.” “I’ve never seen a book before.” One of the weavers was Emilia Chay Poz from Zunil, Quetzaltenango. Emilia is about 60 years old and when we visited with her last year, we could tell that her memory wasn’t as sharp anymore, but her hands remembered what to do.
Emilia is a cinta weaver. Those exquisite hair ribbons of weft-faced weavings woven on narrow floor looms. They’re tiny tapestries, with traditional patterns of diamonds, zigzags, wavy lines, people—all symbols for sleeping snakes, fish scales, lanterns, etc. Every cinta is finished with a colorful handmade pompom at the ends.
The cintas from Zunil are the most intricate from any others in Guatemala (although other communities would argue that.) One inch in width and three yards long, one cinta can take 10-20 days to weave. The cinta Emilia was wearing on our visit was a modern design of fruits and flowers.
During one of Deb’s visits with Emilia, she asked her, “How do you decide when to change the pattern?” Her response was, “When the cinta tells me.” So you see, weaving is not a straight path but it does show us the way if we listen.
Deb was selling some of her dear pieces at the guild so she could return to Guatemala to purchase others, to keep the cycle going.