As soon as you arrive in Guatemala you can’t help but notice all the incredibly beautiful textiles that the country produces. They are absolutely everywhere, as are the women sellers who wander the main parks and streets (particularly in Antigua) to sell these items for ridiculously low prices.
While I’m sure that some fraction of them are actually mass produced, traditionally they are weaved with a backstrap loom and take an amazingly long time to create – even for an expert. To get a little taste of what is involved, I decided to do a backstrap weaving working shop in Antigua through Tintos y Arte.
There were 2 of us in the workshop with Angelica as our very patient (and tiny) teacher who started off by explaining the multi-stage preparation of the yarns.
Then it was time to sit down at our looms which had already been strung up for us. Yes, those are individual threads running up and down, and you pass more thread from side to side to create the fabric. We were going to make 2 bookmarks each as our handiwork.
Let me just say – it is incredibly complicated to do even the most basic weaves! All those dowls have a purpose, and their position depended on whether you are doing the normal weave (most of mine was normal weave, and I did finally get the hang of it towards the end) or putting in accents (I had a few of these in my finished product and no, never got the hang of them). In particular, the positions of the two smaller dowls towards the top of the loom had a very big effect on what was happening in the weave.
The following image is pretty much what it looked like most of the time, with Angelica and another lady helping us constantly. And although it’s called a backstrap loom, you actually sit on it -and you have to pull it really tight.
It took several hours to produce a very small item, using only the most basic of techniques (Angelica finished one of my bookmarks off by twisting the ends). As you can see from my handiwork, keeping the tension correct in the weave is difficult, and there are actually a few “missed strands” in some of my weaves, where I didn’t quite get all threads sorted correctly before passing the thread through.
The workshop was really interesting and I have a whole new appreciation for just how much work goes into making the beautiful textiles in Guatemala. Given the labour invested in just these two measly and simple bookmarks, I can’t imagine how the ladies can sell their work for so little in the street and in the artesania markets!
Recommendation: Really worthwhile to get an appreciation for what all those ladies you see walking around do!
Cost: Eeek – can’t remember – I think $20, which also includes free coffee, wine or water
Time: About 3 hours. We stayed and chatted with the ladies for another 2 hours afterwards!