Travel Feed

Weaving and embroidery

My visit to Guatemala was a bit like stepping out of the Tardis into another time zone. 

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The skills of people there is  from a time long past in our Western Culture.   I wondered why it was the women who mainly carried on these skills and kept their traditions?   Our guide explained that the country had gone through a 36 year civil war, fueled by a number of different powers.  The CIA from the USA, Castro from Cuba and local people who saw it as an opportunity to increase their power.  The result of this was that a lot of the Mayan men were killed.  You could be killed for wearing Mayan native dress, so the men stopped wearing it.  That their culture has survived at all is remarkable considering the ethnic cleansing and killing that went on during that time.

But it does continue on and says a lot about the people, especially the women.  Some of the blouses, or hupils, they wear look embroidered but they are actually a hand woven brocade.  This piece that I purchased from a second hand market is an example of a brocade. The joins at the centre is embroidered, the rest of the design is woven.  And, they memorise these patterns.  The counting involved must drive them crazy.  This is how brocade was made before machines.  No wonder it was so expensive and prized and the weavers praised for their skills. 

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These skills were highly prized in Western Culture, starting about Byzantine times (it's use in Mayan culture predates this by thousands of years), and because the textiles were so expensive their distribution and access to the skill was controlled by those in power right up to the 1700,s.  In 1804 Joseph Jacquard invented a machine that could be attached to a power loom and since then hand woven brocade has virtually disappeared from our culture.  I saw one of these machines on display in Lyon, France years ago.

This hupil that I also purchased second hand, is embroidered.  That is, the fabric is woven and then the design added with needle and thread.

 

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It must have been stitched some time after 1950 because there is quite a bit of lurex thread being used.   Mayan women 'love' glitter.

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Outside one of the churches in Chichicastinango

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I found a woman drawing the designs, free hand, onto fabric for embroiderers to add their threads.

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This video from You Tube details the making of a hupil over 90 days.  It has been filmed in the very places I  have just visited and shows in detail the whole process.  The shop where Manuela buys her threads is the same shop where I bought mine and the Textile Museum is the same one where I watched this young woman warp up her loom.

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If you want to see a more in-depth explanation of weaving and embroidery in Mayan culture there is an excellent documentary called "Century of Color: Maya Weaving & Textiles (English)"  It is nearly an hour in length and is very comprehensive in it's coverage of the topic.                                                                                                                                                                                                         Now it is time to step back into my imaginary time machine.  I need to return to today's world and pick up the threads of my life again.  I wonder if Dr Who and his time travellers felt like I do now?  A bit of regret at leaving, excitement at my return, nostalga about what was.  But now the future calls.

 

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I got it bit carried away with the threads

I bought a lot of threads while I was away.  Starting in the USA where I was seduced by the Wonderfil stand at the Houston show.  I like this thread for use on the sewing machine.  My Bernina dealer has a limited range and I normally wait for the quilt shows in Brisbane to stock up.  This stall had the lot including some lovely colour in Perle 8.  After I bought it I realised that it is Sue Sprago's thread.  There is 5 grams on each ball and I don't see it on her web page so it must be new.  I also bought some of the Eleganza thread.

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Then I really got carried away in Guatemala.  Starting with the cotton threads.  It is the colours that did it.

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This thread is just a little thicker than 1 strand of stranded cotton and it has a slightly higher twist. (The white thread is the stranded cotton.)  I have no idea how it will work in an embroidery but if it doesn't suit I can make tons of tassels.

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Then there was the silk threads.  (I did test it to see if it was rayon but no, it was silk.)   Again, wonderful colours, but no twist to the thread.

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I'm not sure how I will use this.

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Then there were a couple of boxes of Perle 8, 5 grams in each spool at about $1 per spool..  And I love these colours.

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My Turkish thread has 8 grams on each spool ($3.50) and DMC  ($8.99) and Anchor ($10)  have 10gs on theirs so the Guatemalan thread was a lot cheaper.

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The other thread I bought is used for weaving Ikats.  It is dyed then ove-rdyed after the pattern is selected.  They place the thread on a frame and then tie one of the about 10 different squences that are used.

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When the ties are removed from the black the pink colour will show through in bands.

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The woven piece will look something like this,

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I have no idea what the result will be if I use it for embroidery.  Lots of adventures ahead here.

 

 

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Sleeping, writting and getting my feet back on planet earth

I think I am back on planet earth again.  After arriving home the proverbial hit the fan and I was flat out just getting through each day.

The grandchildren were so eager to get their gifts, so they were first on the list.  Then I had to visit all the family and distribute their gifts.  Next came my quilting buddies and my daughter had to fly away to another job and I had to get the dog and fix the apartment for while she was away.  Then I had an assignment to write.  It was on a subject I know far too much about so I had to cut and cut my word count.  Then I just fell asleep and slept for 24 hours.  I hope the body clock is now back in sync.  OH. I forgot the washing.  I haven't got to the housework as yet.

For my quilting buddies I bought fabric in the USA that I was going to make into 'mug rugs' for them.  That was until I made one. 

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Then I decided they would 'much prefer' to make their own.  So I packed up some kits for them and 'showed' them the sample I had made. 

 

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I hope they have fun making these.  I have another lot of kits I have to put together for my friends up at Toowoomba but that is not for a week or so. 

I also got the painting I bought in Guatemala back on a wooden frame and up on the wall.  I carried this rolled in a piece of plumbing tubing all the way back home, cursing it all the way. but I am so pleased with it now.

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But first I have to organise my work room.  What a mess!  I have a list of projects that have to be finished before everything breaks up for Xmas.  OMG, Xmas.  I had forgotten about that.


Jet lagged

Well I'm home again after my month on the road.  I'm tired and a bit jet-lagged and my mind is full of all the sights, sounds and experiences of the last 4 weeks.  I have to sort through all my notes, organise my photos and get all the information into some sort of order so that I can move on.

So what was the one most outstanding event of the trip?  Well there were so many that it is hard to pick but I personally liked meeting the Embroideress in the markets at Solola, Guatamala.  I saw lots of women who spun and wove but she was one of the few I found who stitched. I saw lots of embroidered garments and there were lots of women buying threads and patterns but she was the only one actually stitching.  Her long hair was wrapped with ribbons and lace and she was beautiful.

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There she was in the market and as an embroiderer I appreciated the skill with which she plied her needle.  All of the hand woven fabrics are produced from back-strap looms.  This means that there really isn't enough width to the fabric to construct a garment.  So traditionally this was overcome by embroidering lengths together.  (The same as you see with faggoting.)

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They use a frame which is about 1" in depth and the tension is balanced by a spring, rather than tightened with a screw in the European way.  The needle is huge by our standard but the fabric they embroiderer on is a lot thicker than what we are used to.  In the past the best garments were embroidered with silk but commercial rayon thread is used a lot today.

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The stitching that she was engaged in was for the traditional skirt.  I bought a second hand fabric length stitched in this same manner.

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Although this piece had been stitched with cotton thread.  The different patterns used today have become somewhat of a fashion statement with the women and all the different groups use different patterns.  When you see the finished pieces on display, like those in the image below, it is easy to forget that a woman, like my embroideress, actually sat and stitched them.

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I found that the quality of the embroidery was far better in the older pieces of work and I fear that as technology and the Western world influences the Mayan culture hand embroidery will be replaced by the machine and people like my embroideress will fade away and no longer be part of this rich culture.

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Moving on

This is my last night in Antigua.  Tomorrow I am moving inland to the lakes in the highlands.  It has been an interesting few days filled with new sights, sounds, tastes and emotions.

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One old love I have revisited is horse riding.  And boy have I found lots of lost muscles.  The knees have had a work out as well.  We went up to visit a volcano and getting up the mountain involved either walking or riding a horse.  I took the horse.

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The getting onto the horse was a bit of a challenge but once on I was able to get on and off without too much trouble.  I just made sure that I was near a rock or a wall.  The other challenge was the saddle, which was wooden.  Actually, the horses name was Carmello and he had a great temperament.  He knew the way and only tried to get away on the way up not the way down.  That was because he got fed at the top and was looking forward to that.  Coming down the mountain the track was narrow and very close to the edge of the precipice.  I just looked ahead and prayed.

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The ash field around the volcano was just like the description of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings.  The dust and smell of sulphur stung the throat but the views were fantastic.

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I have not been neglecting my textile study either.  The following images are a selection of the embroidered hupils or blouses that I have been photographing.  They are all hand stitched and the amount of work that goes into each one is amazing.  Like most of South America Guatemala has a strong tradition of backstrap weaving and everywhere you go women are working at the loom.

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The above image is really interesting because it depicts the same scenes that are seen in Mayan sculptures.
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I think one of my favourite images is of the flower seller.  She has taken flowers from the jungle and is selling them on the streets.

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I may not be able to post for a while as I don’t think there is much internet where I am heading but there will be lots of adventures.


I have to admit, this ipad just isn’t as good as my computer but it is a lot lighter.  I suppose that a lot of my discomfort with it is caused by unfamiliarity.   We will see how our relationship develops as time goes by.

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 My stomach and I are still not agreeing but not enough to stop me getting out and about.  Today we had breakfast in a small cafe, which served the best coffee, and then headed out on a walking tour of the historic sites of the city.   This is an old city  that was founded, and abandoned, then rebuilt.  The big problem is the earthquakes.  Guatemala sits on the junction of 3 tectonic plates so it is shaking all the time.  They spent a lot of time building only to have it fall down.  But some of those fallen down ruins are quite spectacular as you can see from the above photos.

The following photos are a mixture of what I want to use as backgrounds for some of my work,I think the will be great starting points for collages, and some of the flowers.

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Again, lots of familiar flowers but brighter in colour.

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There was one great shot of chicken cooking outside a small shop.   They had used  and old tyre rim and made a BBQ stand.  Very inventive.

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Note to self

“Just because you are hungry it doesn’t mean you can eat anything.  The same rules apply.”

As I have found out today.  I must not eat red meat and delicious desserts I don’t have a gall bladder any more and they make me ill.

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So, I had a slow start to the day.  Everyone else went off for breakfast whilst I kept close to the loo.  They then went off to photograph some of the highlights whilst I was still languishing in bed.  By the time I had surfaced I wasn’t sure where they were so I got a map and took myself off to the textile Museum.

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This is a very old city, like something out of a movie and the main industry is tourism.  Every second doorway is a hotel, the ones in between are either a travel agency or a shop.  Even family homes use their front door as a shop to sell home made sweets or food.  All the roads are cobbled so I am glad of my sandels with the tyre track soles.

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In the central square Indians come down from the hills to sell their wares.  Corn, other vegetables they have grown and especially woven cloth.  The other thing I noticed is that most children do not go to school, they work. There are some places I would not walk alone.  One of these was the handicraft market, so I will return to that with the others.  I then returned to the hotel, following my trusty map, and still not feeling the best, to have a short nap and wait for the others to return.

One thing that has surprised me is how small off frame the local Indians are.  I feel like a giant.  The other thing is that all the flowers and plants are the same ones that I grow in my garden.  I thought that I would find more exotics.  Seems I already have them growing.  I took lots of photos.  Here are just a few.

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All the embroidery on the clothing is hand stitched, even those birds.  I thought at first they were  machined but no not a machine stitch in any piece.  The designs vary between different groups and are specific to each of these groups.  The women’s clothing is very colourful but I found that the men also have their own ethnic dress, depending on the group or village they come from.

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We have arrived

I am now in a beautiful hotel suite here in Antigua.  Far more upmarket than my usual backpacker accommodation.  But it took quite a bit of time getting here.  We waited half the day at Houston airport before our plane finally left.

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So now I am looking forward to going down to dinner, in my jeans and t shirt, I didn’t pack any thing that is suitable for this setting.  And I am so looking forward to exploring tomorrow.  The sights from the bus have whet my appetite.

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End of the first week

Only a week?  It feels like years I have been so busy, so on the go and so just into living again.

I don’t know where to begin, so much has happened so I think I will keep most of it for when I get home and in fact I don’t have time to sit and write.  There are things to do!   So here are some images just to give you a taste.  

Oh dear, they have gone in every which way.  Oh well.   At least you can tell I am having a great time.

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Houston

Oh boy.  I have been running around.  Got on the flight from Brisbane, changed flights at Auckland, flew to SAN Francisco and got stuck in immigration and missed my connecting flight.     Only thing to do was get another flight via Seattle and ended arriving 2 nights and 3 days later in Houston.  Then the hotel gave me someone else’s room and I had to start again.

When I went to bed that night at 7pm I slept though to 8:30am and was 5 mins late for class.  But it was a great class on creative embroidery with Judith Baker Monsanto.   Then we went to the Iron Quilters Challenge to support Pammy and she won.  I don’t have a clue how to put up images as yet.  Hopefully I will work that out soon.