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Makers | The Art of Backstrap Weaving

In many parts of the world, including Guatemala, backstrap weaving has been practiced for thousands of years and has been passed down through generations, as an important part of the local Mayan culture. The weaved textiles go beyond functional garments and cover a world of spiritual and social significance.

In Mayan cosmology it was Ix Chel, the Goddess of Moon, Water, Weaving and Childbirth who taught the first woman to weave thousands of years ago. The whirling of her drop spindle used to spin thread from cotton fibre and is said to be the centre of the turning universe.

In modern history, the backstrap loom has been used to weave textiles filled with patterns and symbols as a way to tell stories and legends. In many Mayan communities backstrap weaving and textile production is reserved for women and the art form is passed from mothers to daughters.

The first step to backstrap weaving is the thread, which is selected with patterns and colours of the final cloth in mind and the artisan will with great care and thoroughness layer the thread on the warp board according to the design. The warped thread is then carefully transferred to the backstrap loom.

The next step is to separate every other thread and form the heddles. Instead of lifting one thread at a time every time, the artisan makes the heddles so that they can lift every other thread in one go, creating a tunnel to easily pass the weft threads through. The weft threads are the horizontal threads that are shuttled through the warp of the loom.

The loom itself is simple in design but very resourceful; a set of craved wooden sticks, a sash, and some rope. One end of the loom is tied to a tree or a post and the other end of the loom is wrapped around the artisans back, making her an integral part of the loom and allowing her to increase or decrease tension by moving forward or backward.

The warp threads must be under tension in order to be able to neatly lift and separate them. If the textile includes brocade, the artisan will create the pattern in this stage, counting and pulling the threads needed to create the design using ancient vigesimal number system.

The loom set up can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day, depending on the size and complexity of the weaving. Once set up, the weaving can begin.

The decorative cushions from Collective-Stories that are handmade in Guatemala have all been crafted using the backstrap technique. Made from 100% cotton and filled with duck feather, these high quality cushions will add comfort and style to your home.

Explore our range of handmade cushions by artisans from Guatemala to find unique pieces for your home and know that every purchase positively impacts the life of its maker.


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