Centuries ago, Mayan people created the most magnificent culture mastering astronomy, architecture, writting systems and arts. The Mayan civilization collapsed mysteriously but survived in the weaving women. They use centuries-old techniques like the traditional backstrap loom and tell their history, ethnic identity and ancient myths through their designs.
Legend of the weavers: Origin of backstrap-loom weaving
The goddess Itzam came down to Earth as she saw people suffering from the cold because they did not have clothes. She tried to teach a woman how to weave but she did not understand. Itzam saw a spider weaving its web and told the woman to watch how the spider worked. That way, the woman understood the essence of weaving. Now, some of the traditional clothes have a design in the shape of a spider’s web memorizing this myth as the origin of backstrap-loom weaving.
The ancestral weaving has always been an important part of daily life, not only to provide clothes but also as means of exchange, payment, for gifts…
This art is passed on from generation to generation as young girls become weavers by watching their mothers, perpetuing the Mayan culture of their ancestors.
Processes of making a Mayan cloth:
Textiles are mostly made of cotton but wool also appeared with the Spaniards’s arrival.
Some of the communities have their herd of sheep and can collect their own wool. After washing the cotton or wool piece by piece together with the leaves of a plant, they have to spin it into a thread and repeat it to create a double thread. This makes the thread unbreakable in order to be used to weave.
When the thread is ready, they put it into boiling water with plants or seeds which will give the colour to the yarn. The longer the thread stays in the water, the deeper the colour will be.
The most used one is the red colour made with the cochineal of the cactus plant. They dry the cochineal several days to make it into a powder and achieve the red colour by putting it into the water. They can also use the blood of the cochineal to make their own red lipstick!
They also use the chilca plant to make green colour, the copal tree for grey colour and the avocado plant to make different orange & brown colours. With many local plants, they can do a wide range of natural colours.
Before weaving, they need to wrap the thread between each piece of wood of this table called Urdidor (picture below)