Weaving in the Mayan Tradition

During our trip to Lago Atitlán, I had the opportunity to learn how to weave on a backstrap loom. My instructor, Rosa, was from the Asociación de Mujeres Tejedoras con Tinte Natural Lema’. The women in Lema’ are Tz’utujiles, a Native American Mayan ethnic group. While I was able to communicate in Spanish, most of the women spoke with each other in their native Tz’utujil language.

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The association’s mission is as follows:

We are Tz‘utujiles women. By making these handmade textiles with natural dyes and colors, we are keeping our ancestral Mayan culture and tradition. This association provides work, especially for women, hoping to increase the quality of our living in our village, San Juan la Laguna.

The corner storefront is filled with beautiful handmade textiles. The Mayan motifs and patterns could be found on table runners, scarves, small bags, huipiles, and belts.

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There were sturdy handwoven baskets in simple yet beautiful designs.

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I thought these would make great cosmetic bags.

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I regret not buying this belt. It is incredibly detailed and covered in strawberries.

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In one section of the store, they had samples of the natural cotton used to make yarn.

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Also on display were the plants from which they created natural dyes.

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All of the dyes were made from plants native to the area.

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I signed up for the class one evening and was able to select the colors for the scarf I was going to weave. I selected this deep red made from the crushed seeds of the achiote tree.

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The next morning, the threads had been set up on the loom and several inches had been started. My instructor, Rosa, then strapped the loom onto me until we got the right tension. Then began the rhythmic process of weaving. Lift the green section of threads with the beater – here, a flat piece of wood sanded through use – and throw the shuttle with the yellow thread through the opening. The beater is then turned so it lays flat and pushed down over the threads to line them up tightly. I was mesmerized by how the colors shifted after pulling down on the shed and heddle rods – the two horizontal sticks (second and third from the top). From time to time, I wasn’t able to catch all the threads when I threw the shuttle. Rosa’s capable hands would step in and correct my mistake and show me what I had done. I wove, slowly, for a couple of hours. I finally got into a rhythm and could tell for myself when I had missed a thread. Rosa stepped out for a while but her daughter kept watch over me.

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When Rosa came back, she helped me finish the scarf. It took her 20 minutes to complete the number of inches it had taken me two hours to weave! And here is my scarf – woven on a backstrap loom in the Mayan tradition.

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If you ever venture to Guatemala, Lago Atitlán is a must-stop. Spend a few days going from village to village as each has its own special character. When you go to San Juan La Laguna, stop by Lemá and say hello to Rosa for me. You can find Lemá on Facebook or Instagram or contact them via email at asociacionlema01@gmail.com or phone at (502) 586 68446.

When our trip was over, we took a small motorboat across the lake to another village where our driver would pick us up. That trip across the lake was magical.

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As I rode across the lake,

With the wind blowing back my loose hair,

I closed my eyes and turned my face to the skies.

As the hot sun warmed my face,

I imagined I was an indigenous Mayan woman

Crossing the lake to trade in the neighboring village.

It was as if my own ancestors emerged from my being.

Fermented by the Mayan sun,

My face reflected on the waters of Atitlán

And captured the hopes of the women who came before me.

And I smiled.

I was home.

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One thought on “Weaving in the Mayan Tradition

  1. Your photos are book quality and gorgeous! And that shop is amazing. Everything in it! I especially loved the baskets, how did you not buy them all?!

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