I finished my first weaving!! Check out my chalina (scarf):
This news is a little late, since I actually finished it about two weeks ago. It took me six mornings, about 18 hours, from start to finish– with half that time spent winding the warp and setting up the loom, and the other half weaving and finishing the cloth. I think many people would have found the work tedious, but I really enjoyed finding a rhythm and listening to the sound of Kaqchikel conversation in the background.
Finished warp (at the bottom, you can also see the woven reed mat that women sit on while working):
Women here sell scarves like this on the street for 5 quetzales– about 65 cents!! The huge number of weavers and competition for the tourist dollar drive prices way down, to the point where the selling price doesn’t even cover the cost of materials, let alone pay a fair wage for the labor.
For my lessons, I rode 40 minutes in the back of a pickup truck on a dirt road that winds along the lakeshore, to the town of San Antonio Palopó. There I learned from Vivian, a young woman whose family runs a weaving business that employs about 30 women, many of them widows or single mothers. San Antonio got hit really hard by Tropical Storm Agatha last May, and there’s a whole section of the middle of town that’s still just rocks and mud.
Kids in San Antonio, playing with kites in the sunshine:
At the Cojolya weaving museum in Santiago Atitlán, I learned a bunch of interesting things about weaving. Including:
-In the Mayan cosmovision/belief system, weaving is linked to birth and creation. A cloth isn’t just woven, it is born.
-The jaspe technique of tie-dying thread to produce patterns in the finished weaving, also called ikat, originated in Japan and was brought to Guatemala by traders after the Spanish conquest! I read about ikat in Indonesia and was really curious about the random connection of two faraway places that I’m visiting this year. Jaspe designs are everywhere here, especially in women’s cortes (wraparound skirts).
-To weave the intricate brocada designs (they look like embroidery, but are woven in) it takes a master weaver a whole day to weave 10 inches of cloth! I really want to learn, but that’s daunting.
-Weaving on a backstrap loom has always been thought of as women’s work– the motion of moving the hips and leaning forward and backward to control the tension of the loom is thought of as a female motion, comparable to the contractions of giving birth.
As-yet-unsolved mystery: why is it socially acceptable (in fact, really common) for men to weave on foot-pedal looms? They would never weave on a backstrap loom.
I’m bursting with joy at the fact that the rainy season seems to be over (fingers crossed)! Parting shot: beautiful, sunny San Antonio…