Technique: Backstrap Loom
THE TECHNIQUE : BACKSTRAP LOOM
Backstrap weaving is an ancient art form that has been used around the world for generations, and is still used today in many regions. Backstrap looms are simple and portable, often made by the weaver themselves using wooden rods. One end is tied to a tree or post, while the other end is secured to the weaver’s waist using a strap - hence the name “backstrap loom.”
Backstrap weaving is part of the culture of the Guatemalan highlands. Young girls begin to learn weaving techniques from their elders at a young age, and many women are able to support themselves and their families with their skills. These intricate products tell a rich cultural story, while supporting the talented Mayan women who weave them.
To create the colorful products, raw wool or cotton is first washed, combed, and spun, then stretched across the loom. The loom holds the lengthwise threads taut while the weaver passes a crosswise thread between them. As the cloth is being woven, colorful threads are added to create the intricate patterns. The weaver may use natural dyes, created from plants, insects, flowers and berries.
The Mayan weavers memorize countless patterns, each one a unique work of art. The patterns can have great significance in the Mayan culture, representing the weaver’s heritage, marital status, religion, personality, and the village she is from. Every region and town in Guatemala has unique patterns that distinguish them from one another.
Located in Panajachel, Sololá, Guatemala, Maya Traditions has been dedicated to connecting indigenous, female Maya backstrap weaver artisans and their families to national and international markets since 1996. Maya Traditions ensures that the culture of these artisans is preserved and seen across all of their products. By promoting a fair trade model, their main goal is to help these artisan families and their communities work towards a better lifestyle. They provide various social programs in youth education, community health, and artisan development. Today, Maya Traditions partners with eight self-governed cooperatives in six rural villages and over 100 skilled female artisans who practice many different artisan techniques.
Mayan Hands, founded in 1989, partners with approximately 200 female weavers across different communities around the western and northern highlands of Guatemala. Most of the female artisans have no more than a third grade education, are illiterate, and speak native languages rather than Spanish. Fieldworkers of Mayan Hands are committed to and involved in their relationship with these women, which enables a positive fair trade experience for both groups. Their products are made with the same techniques used to make the women’s blouses called huipiles, and the designs are also based on US market trends, thus making Mayan Hands’ a combination of the traditional and the modern. Your purchase allows these talented weavers to earn an income to feed their families and send their children to school, while preserving their cultural traditions.