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!


  1. Beautiful textiles and patterns and I know I couldn't walk away without buying some of the beautiful pieces. I love the loom they use and how they can make those intricate patterns.


  2. Fantastic, I just taught weaving to a grade 6 class and am going to send this link to them.