THE ARTISAN : PRECIOUS HANDS
Precious Hands works closely with artisans in Guatemala to help design, produce, market and sell their handmade goods. Precious Hands commits part of its profits to their micro-loan program, which provides long-lasting and sustainable assistance to individuals in the communities where their artisans live and work. Through the program, individuals can earn fair wages, grow their businesses, and prosper, thus improving their lives and the lives of their children.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Precious Hands
Guatemalan indigenous women face high rates of violence and discrimination. With a population of 15.08 million, Guatemala is one of the most unequal countries in the world, in which 53 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 13 percent in extreme poverty. However, Guatemala has a rich and incredibly diverse culture, passing down handicraft techniques and traditions from generation to generation. Precious Hands works closely with women artisans to help design, produce, and market beautiful handmade goods in order to lift these women out of poverty and help them build a better, more sustainable livelihood. We spoke to Precious Hand’s founder, Irma, and are excited to share with you what we learned about the technique and significance behind each one-of-a-kind product.
QUESTION:What motivated you to form Precious Hands? When was it founded?
ANSWER: I started working with artisans from various places in the highlands at the age of 24 with a Guatemalan/Danish company. After 14 years of running this company, I decided to take a couple of years off to think about a business of my own, not particularly in the handmade business; but a business where I could help myself and my family and make a difference in the lives of other people. After thinking and talking with friends, it seemed that, what I had been doing for years, working with artisans in Guatemala was the best way I could help myself and others since I had gained a lot of experience and there were many people needing to work and eager to learn and make new products, at the same time that they helped themselves, their family and their community thus helping the country as a whole. In October of 2007 Precious Hands LLC was created to facilitate payments on written orders at fairs or our website and then Manos Preciosas in Antigua on May 2008 to produce and export our products.
QUESTION: Can you explain the technique behind the one-of-a-kind Huipils?
ANSWER: Guatemala is a place where indigineous people proudly wear their traditional dress called “traje”, which consists of a huipil and corte (embroidered blouse and skirt, both made on a foot-loom and back-strap loom). The technique, back-strap, to make these huipils is passed from generation to generation, dating back to the ancient Mayan civilizations. Each Maya village has their own specific pattern and style and often use different weaving techniques (back-strap, foot-loom and embroidery) which holds great cultural significance and sacred meaning as well as the personality, marital, social and wealth. The huipil is a traditional, square cut blouse that is hand woven on a back-strap loom and then heavily decorated, from the neck down to mid waist, with hand embroidered designs according the village they live or come from. These huipils are 100% handmade which makes them one of a kind since you cannot find two alike in the same color or design.
QUESTION: What is the significance of the different patterns on each Huipil?
ANSWER: As written above: Each Maya village has their own specific pattern and style and often use different weaving techniques (back-strap, foot-loom and embroider) which holds great cultural significance and sacred meaning as well as the personality, marital, social and wealth.
QUESTION: How long does it take to produce one Huipil?
ANSWER: Depending on the village, it can take from one to six months.
QUESTION: What is the process for using Huipils to create the beautiful Precious Hands products?
ANSWER: We use recycled huipils which have been used between 2 to 6 years where the embroidery is still in good condition and where most of the foot loomed fabric are torn or stained from every day use. The huipils are collected by local Mayan women, from the different villages we use, to make our products and they call us when they have between 20 to 50 huipils so that we can come to pay them and pick them up. We bring them to our workshop and cut the embroidered part to the size of the purses and bags we need. Once they are cut we bring them to the houses of women to sew them in their homes, along with all the necessary materials to make the purses or bags.
QUESTION: We’re so excited about the new Corte duffel bags that we carry at The Little Market. Can you explain the technique behind these beautiful products?
ANSWER: We use recycled corte, which is the Mayan women skirts. These skirts are made on a foot loom that are normally done by a male weaver since you need strength on your feet and arms to make them, since these that are normally made by 50 yards, which are then cut by four, six and eight yards to make the skirts. Once they are cut to the length desired, then you can add another piece to make it longer which is done by the women, weaving/embroidering by hand with multicolor threads with animals, flowers or geometrics designs. Mostly you will find these weaving/embroidery on the dark/blue cortes such as the ones we use; these cortes (skirts) come from the village of San Pedro Sacatepequez, Santa Maria de Jesus, Nahuala and Quetzaltenango.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the microloan system and other assistance provided to the artisans?
ANSWER: This program provides small loans (up to $1,000.00) to qualified applicants in the communities where these products are made. The Precious Hands Micro-Loan Program provides small loans for educational and training opportunities, investments in existing businesses or to start new businesses.
QUESTION: What is the one thing you want your audiences to know about Precious Hands and its artisans?
ANSWER: The brand that we are representing, Precious Hands, are the hands of our artisans who work every piece 100% by hand, from a bracelet to a tote bag, which are made with patience, dedication, passion and love, thus making us proud to sell each product!