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How Our Fair Trade Guatemalan Quilts Are Made & the Fabulous Artisans Who Make Them!

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Guatemala weaverAbout 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]. 
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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. patchwork quilt

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!

Guatemalan ArtisansTo 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

The 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.  guatemala

Traditional dress is the daily expression of their simultaneous communal and individual identities. Huipile [blouse] and skirt designs convey the person's place of origin and identity, but also incorporate her own taste and design skills. 

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.

Diamonds 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.

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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.

065w.jpg (229927 bytes)CHUCAM is a community located in the municipality of Chichicastenango, Department of El Quiche, Guatemala.Guatemalan artisan 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 forpatchwork quilt 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 

Guatemala artisansMeeting 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.

Guatemala artisans 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 Don Lam with Guatemalan Artisans 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

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More Pictures from our Visits

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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! 

7134web.jpg (534526 bytes) Special! A Brown Guatemalan Embroidered Shoulder Bag [ 9 x 9.5 inches. 40 inch shoulder strap. Cotton. Zipper close] Free with Every Order of $100 or More until November 30th. 

Also, A Free Handmade Card when you send your purchase as a gift to friends or family. See the  "Ordering Info." Page for Details. 
We offer Sale Items, Overstocks, Irregulars, and One-of-a-Kind Crafts on our Overstocks & Sales Page
And Remember, Shipping is Free in the Continental US.

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Some of the Wonderful Artisans Who Create Our Beautiful GuatemalanTextiles

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More Pictures from Guatemala

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Thank you for supporting Fair Trade!

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More Pictures!

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Questions? Click here: info@fairtradequilts.com

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Boys playing

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A Guatemalan woman's Huipile

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A beautiful smile

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A single Lily

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A harbor on Lake Atitlan

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A big brother to watch over me!

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Lake Atitlan w/ Volcano in the distance

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Sewing the backing on a Guatemalan quilt

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Another beautiful smile

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Info & FAQs

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