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 in many regions today. Several of The Little Market’s artisan partners in Guatemala use this technique to weave the beautiful textiles used to make some of our most popular products, including overnight bags, luggage tags, and pillows. These intricate products tell a rich cultural story, while supporting the talented women who weave them.
The loom used for backstrap weaving is simple and portable, often made by the weavers 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.”
To create the colorful products, raw wool or cotton is first washed, combed, spun, and 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.
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. The 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.
Women working with our artisan partner ProTeje in Guatemala have been preserving the backstrap weaving technique over time. Their pillows are made from cotton thread, which can be a natural and raw color, a product dyed naturally, such as with leaves and seeds, or cotton dyed chemically. Based on the size of the order, it takes the weavers approximately four to six weeks to complete an order. Every community has different techniques, and one can determine the region of Guatemala the weavers are from by looking at the weaving and design.
The Little Market is proud to work with the talented weavers of Maya Traditions, Mayan Hands, and ProTeje and to showcase their beautiful work. Every purchase helps preserve the backstrap weaving technique while supporting the talented women who weave them.
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.
ProTeje works as a support program for more than 80 women weavers in communities throughout Guatemala. They are committed to the preservation of backstrap loom weaving. This incredible technique, traditionally practiced by women, has been passed down through generations but is becoming less common over time. Most of the women working with ProTeje are between 40 to 50 years old. Some work with their mothers and daughters, representing three generations of women committed to preserving this traditional technique. The weavers meet once a month and receive information and materials from ProTeje. ProTeje, in turn, provides these women with a source of income, which allows them to take care of their families and provide their children with access to a higher quality of education.