CREATING THE COTTON THREAD
Trama's weavers use 100% cotton thread in our products. Guatemala is not well known for its cotton exportation, but it does grow in parts of the country. Cotton is a very demanding plant, needing a large amount of water and consistently warm temperatures.
The next step is harvest, which the workers can perform manually or with the use of machines. While the machines are quicker and less labor intensive, they are also very expensive and often damage the fiber.
This is another feature of the conscientious collection of raw materials: machines generate lots of waste and consume large quantities of water. This is because machines extract both cotton and branches, making it harder to separate the fiber from the dirt and then requiring more water to clean it.
Once picked, the natural cotton balls (which are white, khaki or coffee in color) are pulled apart so that the seeds can be removed. The cotton is then stretched and pounded into a rectangle in preparation for spinning it into thread.
After this, the cotton is hand-spun on a spool. The women use one hand to spin the spool while the other holds the cotton high until long strands begin to form. It's necessary to spin the cotton several times to achieve a very fine cotton thread.
The last step of thread production is the dyeing process. The dye used on our yarns will vary between products: from being colored using natural materials sourced locally in Guatemala, to non-toxic synthetic dyes in order to achieve bright colors.
When using natural dye, a natural fixator made to ensure the finished yarn does not bleed. The cotton is first bathed in the fixant and then moved into the pot containing the boiling water and desired dye. The yarn is boiled for hours, depending on the hue desired.
Many dye colors can be achieved depending on the boiling time and the plants the dye is derived from. A vivid reded can be made using cochineal insects. Maya women also use the cochineal to make their own red lipstick. The chilca plant is also used to make green, and the copal tree is used for grey.
Other objects used to dye the thread include beetroot, avocado, guava, carrots, insects, basil and cinnamon. Interestingly, the plant or insect can sometimes produce an unexpected color. Who would have thought that avocado dye equals pink yarn?
Once the color is ready, the weaver may spend hours forming balls of yarn through a process called debanadera. On which two skeins of yarn spin on two rotating gears to create a single braided thread. This double threading allows Trama Textile's products to be thicker and more durable than single threaded fabrics.
Next, they measure and design the warp of the weaving on a wooden plank called an urdidor using the bolas. It is only after all of these processes that the women can begin to weave using the ancestral backstrap loom technique. Depending on the complexity of a design, it can take weeks or months to create just one piece.
The backstrap loom, or Telar de Cintura, consists of a strap which wraps around the weaver's back (giving the loom its name), a series of planks hold the yarn in place, and a rope attached to a tree or post to create tension. The loom is portable and can be moved before the weaving is finished, allowing our weavers to weave wherever they wish. Most women choose to sit on the ground on specially woven cushions and they may choose to weave as part of a collective or family activity.
The backstrap loom is an essential element of many Maya households. This is because it not only produces cloth, but because it connects it is an ancestral activity that is often passed from mother to daughter. This activity of teaching and learning is an essential bonding of kinship and provides many women with vital knowledge that can lend to providing for themselves and others.
Backstrap loom weaving is also often related to fertility and childbirth. The back-and-forth motion of the hips during weaving are compared to similar movements during childbirth, and in many Maya communities, expectant mothers are encouraged to finish their weavings before the baby is born to ensure that a baby is born without problems.