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Guatemala’s Textile Heritage

Good morning dear friends, it is another lovely day in Antigua Guatemala, and here at Loom Tree we are looking forward to an exciting month. September is always very special in Guatemala as on the 15th we celebrate the nation’s independence. On such a celebration people take pause to look at the state of the country now, 201 years later. So, in this spirit, I wish to take a moment to address a very important issue to me, and one that should matter to anyone who appreciates not only our products, but the entire artform that is Guatemala’s textile tradition. I am sorry to say dear friends that Guatemala’s rich textile heritage is still under threat, and recent events have, if anything, quickened its rate of decline. But fear not, there is still hope to save it!

First, some context. As we all know 2022 has proven to be a “mixed bag”; while the pandemic is still present, for most of us around the world life has finally properly started back up again.. At the same time, unfortunately we have also had to face the difficult consequences of the post-COVID world. Supply-chains that once existed have been interrupted, altered, and in some cases completely extinguished. In our specific case (by this I mean the textile industry) we are facing a staggering shortage of raw materials, specifically cotton. Since my return from my travels my main focus has been to secure new cotton providers as my old ones have been completely bought out by (mainly) Chinese buyers worldwide.

What does this all actually mean? For me it is a hiccup; a difficulty I’ve had to contend with, but that I am confident I will resolve. However, for thousands of independent weavers in Guatemala this could very well be the end of their livelihood. Without access to the materials needed for their craft, these weavers will be forced to abandon it, and likely interrupt the cycle of passing down their knowledge to the younger generation. Traditions that have endured thousands of years may very well come to the end soon. But as I have said, there is still hope.

First and foremost we must all aim to support artisans directly by educating ourselves in distinguishing the differences between truly handmade textiles and mass-produced ones. Pro tip: always flip the textile over and examine the back; handmade textiles will have fewer loose threads and the pattern (sometimes) can still be viewed on the back, while machine-made textiles will have visible stitching and many more loose threads left behind by the machine punching through. Another way you can help is to take time to visit the Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing in Guatemala City; such institutions depend greatly on ticket sales as government funding is often lacking. By making yourself into an informed and responsible consumer you can do your part to support this art form. And don’t worry, there are plenty of things happening behind the scenes that will benefit from your support. For instance there is a female led cooperative in San Juan la Laguna that is working hard to push the use of natural dyes and traditional weaving. In Santo Domingo Xenacoj a group of organized weavers are banding together to make a comprehensive guide to traditional Mayan motifs, and to protect them under copyright law. You can help all of them by becoming responsible and conscious consumers.

So as you can see , the antibodies of Guatemala’s rich textile heritage are hard at work to fight off the disease that is the mass-produced corporate textile market. As mounting adversities, such as supply-chain disruptions, continue to threaten us with extinction, we trudge on to preserve this incredible piece of human heritage. All we ask, and by we I mean the collective textile community of Guatemala, is that you, our dear friends, send a clear message to the corporations that seek to snuff us out by supporting small businesses, independent artisans, and the organizations they belong to. No machine will ever be able to replace a human’s ability to make art, and make no mistake my friends, Guatemala’s textile heritage is a true art form in every way.


- Carmen


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