Weaving and embroidery

Spinning and weaving

After viewing an exhibition in Canberra a couple of years ago I was alerted to the range of wonderful weaving from South America.  So, I embarked on this last trip a bit more prepared for what I would be looking at.  What I hadn't prepared for was how all pervasive it is in the lives of some women in the Mayan culture.

By the time a girl from a family who weaves is in her teens she is an accomplished spinner with the hand spindle.  This young girl uses a clay dish to spin the base of the spindle.   The thread she is spinning is fine and even and the process is automatic.  She has done it so often she isn't even thinking about it. 

Traditionally, a baby girl, at about 3 weeks of ago, is taken by the midwife to be bathed in a kind of sweat lodge.  The mother will give the midwife her baby daughter's weaving instruments, all minature in size.  This will include strands of thread,  a tiny loom, scissors, basket and needle.  The mid wife then performs a ceremony in which she opens the infants hands and passes each instrument over them.  She prays that the child will become a very good weaver and maintain the ancient weaving arts that have been passed down her maternal line for thousands of years.  But this work is difficult and time consuming.  It takes 3 months to weave a intricate blouse and many young people do not continue the tradition.  Cheap western clothing from Goodwill shops have flooded the markets and are readily available.

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Two kinds of cotton are grown.  I have never seen this brown variety before.

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However both varieties require a lot of preparation to get them ready for spinning.  All the seeds have to be manually picked out and there are a lot of seeds.  Then the fibre is teased out and spread on the small women mats.  The mats are a bit larger than an A4 piece of paper but not as big as an A 3.  Those mats are beautifully woven. Then the fibre is beaten for about 2 hours to remove any other foreign materials and soften it for spinning.  (I got lost about the removing the seeds stage.  It is so difficult!)

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The next stage is the dying of the yarn.  We spent some time with a women's co-operative and they explained how they dyed their yarn.  They only use natural dyes and the magic ingredient is the chopped up banana leaves which they add to the dye pot to set the dye.   First they boil the leaves for 2 - 3 hours then soak the thread in the liquid to prepare them for dyeing.  The dye doesn't run and even using indigo dyes there is no staining on the hands.  I have my eyes set on my friends banana trees after the next crop is harvested just to see what I can do.

Some of the dyes they obtain are:

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They also used crushed insects to get their purple colour.

Walking around the cop-op I found a whole collection of cushions that had been repurposed from discarded hupils, (blouses.)  Some lovely embroidery ideas here.

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They  call this "Rococco work".   Looks like lots of bullion knots to me!

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And it was every where and there was a hug spread of embroidery skills on display. Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 11.05.46 am
They work their embroidery on a frame.

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There were so many different embroideries and weaving designs that I could never post them all here but I hope to use them as inspiration for some other designs.









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Any work done by hand is hard and time consuming. To keep the tradition there must be meaning and some kind of profit in it. In Japan, craftsmanship is highly valued and we expect to pay for the amounts of labour and love that is put into making, e.g. a kimono. I hope, that in many other countries handiwork and handicraft will be valued so highly that it is really worth keeping up the traditions, while the country can move into the future. Otherwise these women will be kept back and trapped in poverty.

Carolyn Foley

I totally agree. The Spanish looked upon them as “slaves” and even up to recent times, when the government legislated that they had to work on coffee plantation for very low wages, even when they didn’t want to work there. But they have held on through all this adversity to their culture. I just hope they will not be seduced by our western way of life.


What glorious colours - and fascinating work!

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