Born from a desire to preserve the Guatemalan history of the backstrap weaving culture of indigenous women, five women volunteers of the Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Dress launched ProTeje (for the weavers) in 1994. Starting with only two women weavers, this project has grown immensely over twenty-three years, now supporting 300 weavers from nine departments and twenty-four communities.
ProTeje continues as a project of the Ixchel Museum, the women still volunteering their time with the foundation, along with the addition of three paid staff. They are dedicated to the preservation and production of high-quality, backstrap woven, indigenous textiles, which in turn gives economic support to Guatemalan weavers.
Natural Cotton: Cuyuscate or Ixcaco
The fiber used in ProTeje’s weavings is fine, soft cotton. Based on the ancestral use of cuyuscate or ixcaco, this heirloom natural-colored cottons in brown, green and ecru are the signature colors of the ProTeje weavings.
Growing natural-colored cotton takes dedication, passion, and land. When ProTeje was launched, one of its purposes was to preserve cuyuscate, the brown cotton. They started with cotton seeds from Horacio Villa Vicencio who owned a cotton plantation. Now deceased, his daughter Luisa keeps the project going, growing natural and brown cotton.
ProTeje began using natural dyes in their weavings in 2012. The dyed colors come from the San Juan Laguna community. While there has been some success, all the colors are not natural or naturally dyed. But the palette chosen for the products are ones chosen by ProTeje to give a cohesive and appealing palette to the products.
The Woven Motifs
Adapting symbols from traditional dress, with each community having its own design, guarantees originality and avoids duplication. The motifs are suggestive of the weaver’s life and history–slithering snakes and the twisting of vines; birds, animals, fruits and flowers; the seasons portrayed in the woven colors of the tree’s leaves. The Tree of Life is one example of elaborate symbolism, each one representing the importance of lush trees to the Maya and reflects the arduous work of the weavers.
Some of the decorative motifs are woven using the brocade technique, a way of patterning using supplementary wefts. The supplementary wefts float under the warp threads or twist around them, the patterns picked by hand while the panel is being woven, creating a distinct design.
Recording the Oral History
In 2011, ProTeje published Mayan Threads of Guatemala: The Language of Symbols. This hardcover book, in both Spanish and English, is the culmination of research by Nancy Tunche Granados, an indigenous woman from San Pedro Sacatepéquez, and a member of the ProTeje staff. After conducting interviews with fifty women from the different communities, Tunche captured the oral history of stories, legends, and myths that informs the world vision of the weavers. This history is artfully detailed through the photography of the motifs woven through their fabrics and is available through the Ixchel Museum http://www.museoixchel.org/
ClothRoads Introduces the ProTeje Collection
We now offer a ProTeje collection of pillows, runners, and table settings to the ClothRoads line of handwoven textiles. Every product is unique, artful, and highly crafted by the women weavers of Guatemala. We are proud to support this project and this time-honored tradition.
If you’d like to support the ProTeje project or the Ixchel Museum, contribute through Friends of the Ixchel Museum.
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