From the desert to the mountains, seas to volcanoes, and camels to toucans, our woven textiles span a variety of different landscapes, have deep cultural roots and are as unique as the artisans creating them… It’s time to tell the story of the handloom weaving process!
The small mountain town of Paxtoca (pronounced pash toca) just outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, is a hotbed for woven Mayan textiles. Agriculture is still the primary source of income for locals (mostly corn and apples), but textile creation is very much the life blood and identity. The local women and some of the men from older generations continue to wear their traditional Mayan clothing, known as tipica.
The process begins by spinning cotton yarn into carefully measured sections called “cordeles”, which is then compiled into a larger batch of yarn called the “labores”. The cordeles are stretched over a wooden frame and separated into several individual bundles and then, in a pattern known only to the artisan, tied into small knots. These small knots define the motif and resist dye during the dying process.
After dying the cordeles, they are spun onto a wheel that creates multiple bobbins which are then loaded into the shuttle that is used during loom weaving to define the weft (the horizontal direction of the textile). The “warp” is the long vertical direction of yarn that makes up the bulk of the base fabric.
The type of loom used in Guatemala is called a “treadle loom”, which is a large wooden framed loom. The beam at the front of the loom feeds the warp yarn into the head of the loom, where the artisan sits to create the motif and warp. A wheel just underneath the artisan is wound tightly to spool together the finished textile after weaving.
One of the most important steps in the weaving process is a series of up & down motions that separate layers of the fabric to allow the shuttle to pass through. This motion defines the motif and is operated by foot pedal by the artisan underneath the loom. The process is very rhythmic and almost seems to create its own drumbeat as the artisan weaves.
In the end, the motif and colors are magically revealed! Though we understand the process well, it’s always mind-blowing how it results in this kind of detail. Starting from just yarn and a picture in the artisan’s mind, patterns of Mayan people, animals, spirits, and plants emerge on the finished textiles.