My first adventure out of the country continues.
The next several days we traveled to the pueblos of Guatemala to visit local industries and weaving coops. During the final weekend we went south to El Salavador and saw the miraculous resurrection of a century old indigo plantation and the studio of a woman who is trying to reintroduce the weaving tradition lost during decades of political upheaval.
There follows a whirlwind tour that only barely hints at this remarkable journey.
San Andres Xecul As you drive across the valley and up the hill to San Andres and gaze at rooftops full of drying yarn, it is clear that this is the home of many dyers. Dyeing yarn for the weavers is the major cottage industry of this pueblo.
An extended family both lives and works in these multi-storied workshops with everyone, including the youth, contributing. The safety of working with the dyes and chemicals is overshadowed by the need to make a living. Guatemalan pueblos are not yet ready for OSHA.
Chirijquiac We drove across fields rutted with dirt to the tiny settlement of Chirijquiac to see the women of the area who have formed a coop to help them improve the marketability of their weaving.
In the courtyard the women demonstrated how they worked and we had a lively discussion that included many hand gestures and a fair amount of laughter.
We traveled to another pueblo where the standard of living was a little higher. There a workshop had been established at the home of one of the weavers who had a larger house. She had a larger loom and was better off because her husband, whom she had not seen for five years, was in the U.S. working and sending money back to support his family.
Clemente is a master weaver and so is Clemente’s father. For ten years Clemente has worked with the coops of UPAVIM to help weavers improve their work to attract a wider market. We visited his father’s workshop. And later the new workshop Clemente has started. He has left UPAVIM to start his own business and hopes to help make Guatemalan handweaving economically viable.
Clemente’s father has a separate building for his workshop. Men, some young, some older, work at about a dozen looms. Their young sons run through the workshop and sometimes help with warping the looms.
At Clemente’s new workshop he is developing more modern techniques for producing traditional textiles. Complex designs are worked out for production on the early version of a “computerized loom. Holes punched in the wooden slats move as the loom is treadled and indicate which shafts rise.
The main industry in Salcajaj is weaving corte, the lengths of fabric for women’s skirts. Many of these have intricate patterns that are made by tie-dyeing the threads before they are woven. In order to do this the warp threads, sometimes up to 100 yards in length, are stretched for a block or more down the streets.
After they have been tied and dyed, they are restretched and untied. Then through an intricate sorting process they are rearranged to form the pattern that appears in the cloth. Amazing !