How Our Fair Trade Guatemalan Quilts Are Made & the Fabulous Artisans Who Make Them!
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About our Handmade Quilts! Guatemalan patchwork quilts are renowned for their beauty and many people use them for tapestries or wall hangings. They are handcrafted from cotton patches and each is unique. They have tabs sewn on the corners to allow them to be hung as tapestries. Like most hand-made patchwork quilts, they should be hand washed using cold water. Cool dry. You can also dry clean them.
Designing a quilt!
Artisans begin the work of designing a new quilt by laying out the patches [some hand embroidered] on plastic which has been measured and cut for king, queen, and twin-size quilts. [In these pictures they are doing that on a soccer field].
The patches come from the fabric the women have sewn to make their skirts and "huipiles", which are the traditional hand-woven and embroidered blouses that Mayan women originally began wearing around the time of the Spanish conquest. This clothing varies from region to region within Guatemala and the secrets of this beautiful craft have been passed down at the family and village level for generations. The quilts are made of patches from various regions of Guatemala and reflect a variety of styles and colors.
The women then move the patches around until they have a design which is pleasing to them and satisfies a basic pattern and color scheme.
Once they have captured their intended design with the patches, they will begin sewing them together. They double stitch each patch to make the quilts durable. Some of the quilts are then dyed [with vegetable dyes] to reinforce the overall color scheme.
Once the quilt dries, the women sew a solid colored backing onto it to complement the color scheme. This too is double stitched in place. Finally, they go over the entire quilt to cut loose threads and fix any imperfections they might find. The resulting quilts are unique, museum quality works of art!
Two of the artisans who make our fabulous Zacualpa Bedspreads & Pillow Covers!
To make a Zacualpa bedspread on a back-strap loom, the weaver starts with raw cotton that must be washed, combed and spun. She first stretches the long threads along a warping board to the desired length and attaches them firmly to her loom. Then she begins the complex process of weaving. To brocade, colored yarns are woven into the cloth to create the designs as the cloth itself is being woven. The weaver adjusts the tension of the loom by leaning forward or back because of the strap that fits around her back, hence the name "back-strap loom."
The Use and Meaning of Symbols in Mayan Textiles
Mayans of Guatemala
are some of the last indigenous people who continue to wear native, hand
woven clothing. A Mayan woman seldom refers to herself as "Mayan",
but as being "de corte" or "of the skirt". Each Mayan
village has a style of clothing unique to that village because dress
communicates one's place in the world, identifying such aspects as
geographic origin or current community. The Maya perceive each town
or village as a unique social and political entity which is the foundation
of life and which centers the person in the universe.
Hundreds of symbols have
been identified in Mayan textiles. The weaver selects a combination of
symbols, like those shown below, to portray a mythological story and no two
weavings are identical.
represent the Universe and the path of the sun in it's daily movement.
Undulating designs, often called snake or flower, symbolize the fertile
earth with its abundance of holy plants and animals. Patterns with three
vertical lines refer to the ancestors. Figures such as the toads are
representations of the rain god who watch over the world and make it flower.
Below is a report we recently received from our Guatemalan representative concerning the artisan cooperative which is working with us to bring you these fabulous textiles.
Dear Don, here is more information about the families in Chucam which are part of the new cooperative making the quilts, tapestries, and pillow covers.
CHUCAM is a community located in the municipality of Chichicastenango, Department of El Quiche, Guatemala. The road from Chichi is not paved and access is very difficult during the rainy season. In this community live 17 Quiches Mayan families which make the patchwork for producing quilts and other textiles. These families suffered through 36 years of civil war in Guatemala. They are very poor and the illiteracy in the community about 60%, but the women know the ancestral art of weaving and they find in this activity a very important source of income to give a better life to their children. Women learn to make the weaving since they are very young because they make their own clothes. They usually weave in waist mills or they back-strap weave. Their blouses “huipiles” have symbols which represent the universe, corn, birds and others. Men work with wool to make their own black belts and jackets. Their suits, pants and jackets are like the ones used by the Spanish soldiers during the colonization.
For their dances they wear masks made of wood and painted like the faces of the Spanish soldiers. They also use very luxurious suits for their religious dances. Their main days to celebrate are the days taken from the Christian calendar and the most important celebration is the day of Santo Tomas which is the Saint of the Municipality. Their main activity is growing corn, beans, apples and prunes. During the sugar cane harvest season (January to March), villagers emigrate to the south coast to work in the fields for a very low salary (less than $200 per month). The members of the 17 families involved in weaving for Fair Trade Quilts & Crafts don't have to work outside the village because they now have a new source of income within their community. Their incomes now are twice or three times the amount they used to earn.
They talked a lot about their experience working for Fair Trade Quilts & Crafts and what the new opportunity has meant to them. They feel happy because in the past they had been selling their textiles only to the local market but never got fair prices for their products. Now, they can get more and better food for their children. They feel very excited about continuing working to make crafts for Fair Trade Quilts. Sincerely,Cecilia
What our customers say: I received the beautiful Guatemalan quilt two days ago. I am nearly moved to speechlessness with its beauty. It is so stunningly gorgeous, I am compelled to touch it every time I pass by...Lorraine Kim, Champaign, IL
Travel Log & Pictures
with Artisans in Guatemala:
I returned to Guatemala recently to meet with our artisan groups and to make a
video of their work. I’ve been working there with various organizations
including Fair Trade Quilts and Crafts and World Share since 1994. But this was
one of the most difficult trips. I knew that the country had been hit hard
over the last few years by hurricanes and devastating mud slides, but I was not
prepared for the other plagues that Guatemala faces right now. As I left the US
I reviewed news accounts of the rising drug gang problem that is spilling over
from Mexico and the ever increasing murder rate. These problems have devastated
the tourist industry and the general economic situation was worse than I could
ever remember. The Mayan population has been especially hard hit and I noticed
the clear signs of malnutrition wherever I went. And, to make matters worse,
there is little faith in their Government officials who many believe have ties to the drug
gangs or are too intimidated to oppose them. Despite the many problems, the
Mayans I have been working with for years were still the industrious, talented,
friendly people I learned to love years ago.
I traveled with our long-time Guatemalan partner Cecilia Najera, dear friend Darla Jennings, and Ron Powers, a former Board Chair of World Share and long-time Fair Trade advocate. During the week, we traveled from Antigua to the Western highlands. The highlight of our trip came while visiting our largest textile cooperative in Chucam, a community located in the Department of El Quiche, Guatemala. We work with dozens of families in the village which make our patchwork quilts, tapestries, pillow covers and other textiles. They are very poor but the women know the ancestral art of weaving and they have found in that activity a very important source of income to provide a better life to their children. They weave in waist mills or back-strap weave. Their tools are quite basic, but their talent is anything but! We worked with them for most of a day to design a new embroidered bed scarf [see below] and made a video of their work. And when the work was over, we celebrated our 10 year partnership with a wonderful meal and a Marimba band.
Returning to the States, I felt rejuvenated and happy that we had started Fair Trade Quilts & Crafts 15 years ago. I feel very proud to work with these fabulous Guatemalan artisans, and those we support in Central Asia. I know that the work we provide them makes it possible for them to earn a living wage, and by expanding their market to the US, we make it possible for them to improve the lives of their families and strengthen their communities. Thank you for making this a reality!
Pictures from our most recent Visits With the Artisans & their Families
More Pictures from our Visits
We are pleased to share some of the people we meet and places we visit as we pursue wonderful new crafts for Fair Trade Quilts & Crafts!
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Some of the Wonderful Artisans Who Create Our Beautiful GuatemalanTextiles
More Pictures from Guatemala
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A Guatemalan woman's Huipile
A beautiful smile
A single Lily
A harbor on Lake Atitlan
A big brother to watch over me!
Lake Atitlan w/ Volcano in the distance
Sewing the backing on a Guatemalan quilt
Another beautiful smile