Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More Colors of Guatemala


On the bus ride we saw a hospital on the right and directly across the street was a funeral home and behind it in the distance was this colorful cemetery! That would be disturbing to see from the hospital room I thought and I wonder what the hospital survival rate is!  Here is where zoning matters!

Besides weaving another important craft in Guatemala is woodworking. We bought small trays in a little town called Panajachel and also some bird candlesticks. Just loved the primitive style and the bright colors.  All of this was $60 U.S.!


These boats were wood and very simple also. We watched them take seaweed out of the lake to use for fertilizer, we were told.


There were many masks and other carved and painted wood items at the markets. All very colorful!


But the best example of their woodworking skills were the doors in the city of Antigua! I wish we could have one of them. Some were like the gates in Europe…they are large and the entire thing can open so your car can drive into the courtyard or just a door can open for a pedestrian to enter as in the photo below.




And my favorite door was in Santiago de Atitlan:


It’s a bit too elaborate for a house in Ohio though!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guatemalan crafts

Textiles in Guatemala are probably the most important craft for their economy and their cultural heritage. The weavings are basically two types. One is ikat or just weaving that is done by machine and is a medium-weight cotton, such as the back of these pillows that I bought.


They use this for many souvenir items.


The other type of weaving is the traditional back strap loom as shown in the last blog. Women tie the loom to a tree, or some anchor, and then the other end is tied around their waist. They move back until there is tension on the warp and then weave with a shuttle and a wooden tamper. What I find most amazing is that I didn’t see any paper patterns near by any of the weavers so I think they are doing all this from memory or just by what is pleasing to their eye.( It cost me $1.25 to take this photo of her.)DSC03054


If you are a weaver you can notice that the sticks on the right are the treadles to create the pattern. Primitive but effective. These weavings are much thicker and when they change colors, sometimes they don’t carry the thread across on the back but instead, cut it and leave a thready mess on the back as shown below.  Sometimes it is lined but I think that most of them are not lined to show the tourists that they are HAND made and not machine. Many cannot tell the difference.


Here are the two pillows that I bought made of this backstrap weaving:


This bottom one was originally woven to be a shirt/huipile as you can see by the circle and slit for the neck opening. Or perhaps it was a worn shirt that they made into a pillow cover?

I saw lots of machine embroidery on weavings and souvenir items. It looked more crude than the embroidery we do with our home machines. It seemed to have longer stitches, maybe to give the appearance of hand embroidery.



I told myself that I wouldn’t buy machine embroidery because, theoretically, I could do it myself on my machine at home!! So here is what I bought:


It is a Quetzal bird in the center, which is the national bird and the name of the currency.  It is very rough crewel which is what they sell there but still, you know it took hours of work and probably cost me around $25!

Prices are very inexpensive in Guatemala for all that hand labor. Weavers know that an 8 foot table runner like the ones I bought above would take days or weeks…I don’t weave but I know it is a long time and they don’t charge enough. I think we paid $23 for each of those and if I were weaving it, you’d never get it for less than a few hundred dollars!  Bartering is expected everywhere but we had a hard time doing that when an embroidered blouse I wanted started at $11.

More on the country sights and treasures in the next installment. This is making me want to go back soon!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Colorful Guatemala


My husband and I spent ten days in February touring Guatemala.  We were all over, starting in Guatemala City, then Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan and surrounding areas. This is a land of color. Color in the fruit, the flowers, the garments, the crafts, the busses and even the buildings!





Of course I was most interested in the textiles and native crafts there and it was paradise! The first photo is folded blouses called huipiles which are woven fabric with embroidery around the neckline by hand or machine. I really loved that most of the Mayan women were wearing their native dress and tried to take photos of many of them. We learned at the Ixchel costume museum that the patterns, colors and styles are native to their areas. 

They were shy so many are of their backs but here is a variety…



Many of you know that I am a great fan of the fashion of NYC designer Koos van den Akker, who mixes colors and patterns in a sophisticated and rich manner and the Mayan dress reminded me of this so much. They have a patterned shirt with embroidery around the neck, a patterned belt and a different patterned skirt, then with a striped apron over all with embroidery on that…and a piece of folded fabric on their heads!   And they look so pretty and fashionable!

But let’s not forget my main objective was to shop and shop I did. The marketplaces were so full of color and crafts and so many different appealing items that I was on overload!  There are ‘markets’ all over every town and vendors that approach all the tourists constantly so when we came to a quiet courtyard in Antigua with quality wares just sitting in the center, I signaled my husband that this is where I was shopping. On some of the walls were the only patchwork quilts that I saw the entire trip.


Here I bought some yardage that perhaps will one day be a jacket or a skirt or a suit when the inspiration hits. DSC03405

I was bargaining with one woman for this black table runner when my husband saw the woman next to her taking this yellow weaving off her loom and just about to tie off the fringe ends.


He literally bought it HOT off the Loom!  He is a good shopper too! Guess who finished knotting the fringe?!  I really wanted a blouse that was not too ethnic so I could wear it here but never could decide on one.

The other thing that I wanted here were ‘belts’? It was yards of narrow embroidered pieces that I think they tied on as belts but looked like trim to me…widths varied to about 4” maximum and some were machine embroidered so I didn’t buy them.

I only saw a few women actually using a backstrap loom which is what I wanted to see. I wish that I spoke Spanish so I could ask more detailed questions. Virtually nobody spoke English that wasn’t in the travel industry.



We stayed at the most beautiful hotel ever called Hotel Atitlan on Lake Atitlan with 3 volcanoes in the distant view. They own a twin hull boat and we took a 25 minute cruise across one morning to the town of Santiago de Atitlan to tour and I found two exciting things…


This is a tiny store stocked with DMC threads that they use for embroidery. None of the others in the group were as excited to see this store as I was. I think that this means that the weavings and things that I bought are colorfast if they use these quality threads, unlike the weavings we got from Chile where the dye crocked profusely!

Then next door was this tiny shop with a treadle sewing machine and MEN working. If I spoke Spanish, I would have asked what he was making. My table runners have serged seams and machine binding etc.


I took 1100 photos and could write about the hotels, TIkal ruins, more on cities, more on shopping markets…what would you like to hear about? comment below.