Hello! My name is Lottie and I am so excited to be a new online volunteer for Trama Textiles. I have just graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in English Literature, and am now doing a masters in Printed Textiles for Fashion and Interiors at the University for the Creative Arts.
What brought me to Trama was a search for more ethical and sustainable clothing purchases, and after reading about the association’s story, how it works to preserve Mayan weaving traditions, whilst bringing livelihood and a sense of community to hundreds of women, I was inspired to get involved and offer any help I could.
During my English Literature degree, I became fascinated by the relationship between text and textile (the words ‘text’ and ‘textile’ both originate from the Latin ‘texere’, to weave). I wrote essays on: the notion of the willow song in Shakespeare’s Othello as a lyrical garment, a fabric of song made, worn, reworn and borrowed by and between women; textiles in Greek myth and Greek tragedy, looking to the Moirai, the three sisters of Greek mythology who were depicted as weaving the destinies of humans; and how poems of Sylvia Plath and Eavan Boland explore the violence inherent in the cosmetic surgery industry’s positioning of woman’s skin as textile, infinitely changeable.
This relationship between text and textile, between writing and weaving, is manifest in the myths that inform and the symbols that make up Mayan weaving. According to Mayan mythology, Ixchel was the goddess of weaving who taught the first Mayan woman how to weave, and since then, weaving has been passed down from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. The most widely known museum of Mayan textile crafts is the Museo Ixchel in Guatemala, named after the goddess herself. Interestingly, the Popol Vuh, a 16th century text recounting ancient Mayan mythology, opens with the line, ‘here we shall design, we shall brocade the Ancient World’, with the use of the words ‘design’ and brocade’ underscoring the relation between writing and weaving. A more contemporary work, Tejiendo los sucesos en el tiempo/ Weaving Events in Time (2002) by Mayan poet Calixta Gabriel Xiquin, also associates writing with weaving, as it condemns the violence done to Mayans during the Guatemalan civil war. In ‘Poem’, Gabriel Xiquin celebrates Mayan weaving, writing: ‘with these colors she weaves the poetry of sorrow,/ of pain, of agony and of hope.’ Both poetry and weaving are presented as ways of threading together and telling the story of the Mayan community.
Bats, butterflies, crosses, corns, cups, diamonds, deers, dolls, and doves, are just some of the many intricate symbols employed in Mayan weaving, and their particular meanings can be read about here: https://tramatextiles.org/pages/mayan-symbolism. As the Guatemalan poet, Miguel Angel Asturias, once wrote of Mayan weaving: ‘so many symbols, spells, sayings, stars and speculations are warped in their cloth.’
From Greek mythology to Mayan mythology, it is no surprise that myths contain numerous references to textiles and weaving: as the work of making cloth takes hours and is typically done in groups, it is especially conducive to storytelling. In a world of fast-fashion and overproduction, where brands continuously exploit garment workers, it is fundamental that we unpick and unravel the socio-economic stories of our clothes. Trama Textile’s ethical ethos is something beautiful to be learnt from. I am thrilled to be a small part of it.