Women's Weaving Collectives in Guatemala

Women's Weaving Collectives in Guatemala

Having just returned from two inspiring weeks in Guatemala I am having trouble adjusting back to Canadian life. While I was traveling, I made a point to visit women's weaving collectives and co-ops. I was able to visit three that stood out to me. One was in a small village of San Juan on Lake Atitlan, and the other two were in Guatemala's second largest city Quetzaltenango. 

I knew while staying on the lake that I had to visit San Juan de la Laguna. It is known for its traditional appeal and for its textiles. Although I didn't sign up to do one of the day long back-strap weaving workshops offered, I got to explore the vast array of shops selling weaving. A few of them set up in large buildings right on the busiest street. The place I really wanted to see was Casa Flor Ixcaco. It was a bit off the beat and path, and not wanting to put out my fellow travelling companions I almost didn't go, but I am very happy I did.

Casa Flor Ixcaco is made up of a group of Mayan women originally from the small town San Juan. They have kept alive the process and production of handmade fabrics, working with organic cotton, natural dyes and back strap looms. It was started more than 30 years ago with the aim of improving the quality of life of the women and their families. Currently there are 34 women who work together creating artisanal fabrics, growing their own cotton, using natural dyes, and weaving the garments on traditional back-strap looms.

Casa Flor has an extensive shop with so many beautiful products. They also have a room dedicated to demonstrations of spinning, dyeing and weaving. I loved that this collective tags each item with a photo of the weaver who created it, and that the money spent on a garment directly helps the woman who made it. The photo make the purchase more personal and meaningful. To see more about the weavers of Casa Flor Ixcaco and their garments go to Casa Flor Ixcaco.

Next, I traveled to Quetzaltenango to visit Trama Textiles and while looking up information, I stumbled upon the collective Y'abal. Once I realized they were both in the historic district and only about a seven min walk from each other, I decided I needed to go see both, and I am so glad I did. I loved this place. It was full of wonderfully made woven items from home decor to fashion. The products were less traditional than the other collectives I visited, which may attract a more varied audience. I certainly had a hard time choosing what to buy. Carrying only a back pack while travelling limits my purchases significantly. Which, for me, is good, but I often have to leave treasures behind. I almost did at Y'abal. While looking at the products, I found a lovely half moon purse that I thought was absolutely fantastic. I didn't really see how I would get it home easily so I put it back. After leaving the shop, I couldn't stop thinking about this bag. On my way back to my Airbnb, I had to stop into Y'abal again to purchase the bag. It would have been a regret for sure, if I had come home without it. This place is a must visit even if it is only to their website Y'abal.

Seven minutes away from Y'abal, I ended up at Trama Textiles. Many of this collective of weavers don’t speak Spanish, so they are often forced to sell their products to middlemen for very low prices. This is where Trama Textiles intervenes. Trama allows their weavers to decide on the price of each product and are paid upfront. This guarantees both a fair wage and a reliable source of income for the women in local communities, meaning that they can support themselves and their families in regions where work is hard to find. In this way, Trama preserves and develops cultural traditions by maintaining textile arts and their histories.

The products at Trama textiles sells were more traditional. They had huipils, skirts, and sashes, all of which I love. I searched their stash for a huipil to buy, but didn't find what I was looking for. They also carried trendy indigo pants, kimono style jackets, little drawstring bags and bracelets, as well as some home decor products. The interesting thing about Trama Textiles is that you can volunteer to work for the organization. While I was there I got to chat with a German woman who was just finishing up her month long stay with Trama. She is a textile artist, but not a weaver. She did learn to weave while she was there. Her experience rekindled my desire to learn Spanish, so I can return to Guatemala and spend some time at Trama Textiles. At Trama you can pay to see a demonstration, or take weaving classes, or apply to volunteer. For more information go to their website: Trama Textiles.

It feels good to visit and support organizations focused on helping women improve their quality of life, and the lives of their families and communities, while keeping the tradition of weaving alive. I always like to support artisans, and women helping women is the best of the best. Especially in Guatemala, where most of these collectives were born out of the horrific civil war that took a lot of their men from them.

You can support these women by sharing their stories by following along on social media, or by purchasing one of the many wonderful products available on their websites. 

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