The Mayan women in the rural area of Guatemala still weave the same way their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers have done for hundreds of years. ( Buy a real backstrap weaving loom in our online store)
Most generally they use a back-strap loom (lienso) and weave cloth that is typically 12” – 24” wide. The backstrap loom, portable and easily moved, is tied to a post or tree at one end and has a strap at the other end that is placed around the woman’s waist as she sits on the ground or small stool and weaves. The 5 sticks or wood pieces that make up the loom are made out of durable wood such as cedar so they will last many years.
Weaving on a back strap loom is tedious work and individual pieces, depending upon complexity, may take several weeks or months with the weaver working a few hours everyday among her other household chores. Young girls start learning to weave from their mothers at about age seven.
Many women still dye the cotton yarns with dye made from natural plants. They may use carrots for an orange color, coconut shells for a beige shade, the chilca plant for green, or cochinia for pinks. Depending on the type of project, women also purchase yarns already dyed in the desired color. This link shows weavings done with natural dyes.
Weaving is done to make a variety of cloths for the household as well as making the Mayan traditional dress (the traje). Their weavings will be used as tablecloths, kitchen cloths or tortilla cloths, shawls, bed covers, table runners, belts, cloths to keep the baby warm or to tie the baby onto their backs among many others.
Probably one of the most intricate weavings and one done with special care is when the woman weaves her huipil – the traditional blouse worn by Mayan women. Women typically still wear the traditional style of clothes worn for generations of Mayans and the huipil (pronounced wee-peel) is a very significant item of clothing for her. The huipil’s overall design not only showcases the talents of the weaver but it also identifies the village of the wearer. Many huipils will last 15-20 years or more and be a source of pride for the weaver. Weaving their special huipil is a way for the Mayan woman to maintain cultural ties thru the generations, to maintain their Mayan identity.
An excellent book on backstrap weaving is Backstrap Weaving by Barbara Taber and Marilyn Anderson. There are detailed instructions on making the parts of a loom and also on learning to weave with this type of loom.