Guatemalan Textiles from Chichicastenango Market

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Greetings from Guatemala! Over the next few months I will be researching, photographing, and writing about the diverse world of textiles in Guatemala exclusively for the TAC community.

Just a few days ago I traveled to the famous market in Chichicastenango (Chichi for short). This Mayan city is perched among the mountains of the Southwest region of Guatemala. The market of Chichi is a place bursting with exquisite examples of the handicrafts for which Guatemala is known. Works in ceramics, wood, masonry, textiles, basketry, and bead work can easily be found. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will be focusing on one aspect of what makes textiles unique in this region of the world.

The majority of the hand weaving done in Guatemala is performed using what is pictured above: the backstrap loom. For a backstrap loom to function, one end is attached to whatever stable, vertical post may be available, perhaps a tree or wall. Then the other end is attached to the weaver. It is the pull of the weaver’s body that creates the thread tension necessary for weaving. This loom is versatile because it can be easily rolled and packed away when the time comes for traveling. However, a primary limitation is the width of the fabric, which is limited to the width of the weaver.

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Here we have an example of a shirt worn by the women indigenous to various countries within Central America; it is called a huipil (pronounced wipil). You can see a seam leading to an opening–this seam is result of two matching fabrics being woven individually then stitched together to create a larger cloth. A slit is left for the wearer’s head. I was also instructed by the vendor from whom I purchased this beauty to stitch up the sides to create sleeves.

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This kind of seaming is seen in many examples of woven fabrics. In this piece, a colorful seam compliments the striped ground and geometric animal symbols. I assume that this was created simply as a decorative object for a table or wall.

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Lastly, this is one of the more decorative seams I discovered–here, a chain of flowers masks the seam.

Stay tuned for more textile findings and inspiration from my travel diary!

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