I learned long ago that I am not at the center of the universe, but Ix Chel, the Mayan Goddess of Weaving and her drop spindle, are. Also the goddess of fertility and procreation, representing female empowerment, Ix Chel is said to have founded the city of Palenque and set the universe in motion, introducing weaving to all her people. Weaving has since been passed down from mother to daughter, each generation passing the baton to the next, helping to keep the spirit and culture of weaving alive. Ix Chel is often pictured in traditional Mayan textiles, still being produced in remote areas of Guatemala today.
Before tuk tuks and motorbikes, there was the traje. Originally put into law by the Spaniards, the traje helped to identify the indigenous peoples communities for tax collection purposes. Today, stories of community, religion, history and identity are written into the clothing with symbolic colors and designs.
The traje is made up of three components: huipil (blouse), corte (skirt), and faja (belt), all of which are made by hand on the backstrap loom using techniques passed down from mother to daughter since the 1520s. To gain a better idea of the intricate patterns and techniques used over the decades, below are just some of the more common methods that have been perfected by our artisan partners.
Liso is the basic weaving technique using two parallel sticks keeping in place the warp threads (vertical base) which intertwines with the weft (horizontal threads).
Keeping the loom grounded is the Maya woman, using a strap loosely wrapped around her hips, giving her control over the thread, moving to the beat of her process while the shuttle is passed back and forth through the weft. This process isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. The upper and lower body have different jobs controlling this detailed and delicate process.
Randa: A Guatemalan embroidery method, is said to be the most important technique in Maya weaving. Adapted in the 1520’s from the Spanish, Randa’s stitch holds several pieces of backstrap tapestries together. A corte, huipil, bedspread or wall tapestry, the stitch comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs.
Brocade: Similar to Randa, brocade is a process of embroidery that happens on the loom simultaneously with the weaving. The artists meticulously integrate a separate threaded design with each passing of the weft, creating a slightly raised scheme on the surface of the fabric. The floral photo below shows the intricacy that can be involved in this design. The artisan is painting a picture with thread.
Cruzetas: A technique, often seen is scarves, resulting in a lighter textile, smooth and soft to the touch.
Petatillo: In the beginning stages of the weaving process, the thread is wrapped around the warp, creating the beginning stages of the final design. The Petatillo is a traditional, linear, two toned design created using two different colors of thread.
Maya: Like the Petatillo, the Maya design is created in the beginning stages while wrapping the thread on the warp. The final product creates lines of alternating colors.
Ikat: This natural dying process utilizes knots, plants, fruits and other dyeing agents to create a tye-dye like pattern that is then woven into a textile. Ikat involves dyeing the yarn before it is woven, whereas traditional tye-dye and batik are applied after the weaving is done.
As more time passes, societal changes begin to take root and creativity flows, colors are evolving and personal flare is woven in; but the women of the Guatemalan Highlands still work hard to represent their community, culture, struggles, beliefs and strengths. Women continue to tell their stories and express their pride through physical strength, mental stamina and the support of Ix Chel by their sides.
The Maya women are fighting new battles today in the ever-changing world of consumerism, however, it’s never as simple as a personal sketch or color palate. In her article last month, Aisling Walsh, a writer for opendemocracy.net, spoke to a group of local Maya women who are actively “fighting to protect their designs and their identities”…
‘“Mayan culture is like the threads of our weavings,” said Carmelina Lix Socop, referring to the brightly-coloured textiles that have become almost synonymous with Guatemala’s tourism industry…
“We cannot separate our language from our food, our spirituality from our weavings. They are all part of the same culture and our struggle to protect our identity,” said the founding member of the local weavers’ council in Tecpan, about 80 kilometres outside Guatemala City, the capital.
Socop is one of numerous Mayan women in Guatemala who are now organising to defend their art – pushing for new legislation to recognise and protect their traditional designs and ‘collective intellectual property.’
Such legislation, the weavers argue, is necessary to challenge the appropriation of their art by companies and individuals around the world.’
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