According to legend, backstrap weaving originated with Ixchel, a Maya Goddess taking numerous forms – Moon, Water, Weaving, and Childbirth. She is the deity of fertility and procreation, and represents female empowerment. Ixchel taught the first woman to weave, and since then the practice has been passed on from mother to daughter, generation after generation. At birth, baby girls are presented with the necessary tools for weaving. At the age of eight or nine, Maya girls are taught to weave for the first time by their mothers, older sisters, and older women.
While backstrap woven textiles are used for everyday clothing and provide protection against the elements, they are also incorporated into ancient ceremonies and rituals. Women’s traje, or traditional clothing, consists of a huipil, a blouse, worn with corte, a skirt, which is secured at the waist with a woven belt.
Textile designs vary by community, and techniques and colors are often indicative of a specific village or region. A woman’s clothing identifies her as a cultural being, as well as communicating traditional Maya beliefs about the universe. This identity is visible within the techniques and designs that each cooperative is able to produce.
Backstrap weaving is an ideal technique for busy indigenous artisans. The equipment needed is light and extremely portable and the apparatus can be set up almost anywhere. This is essential because most artisans balance many duties including raising children, maintaining the home, and earning a living through weaving.
Maya Traditions follows the Fair Trade Principles closely when working with these cooperatives of indigenous female artisans.