Deborah Chandler and the Traditional Weavers of Guatemala

We asked Lola what her work means to her, and what she would say to the textile artisans reading about her. She told us that to do the work requires concentration, and when she is focused, she lets go of everything else in the world.
— Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordon, Traditional Weavers of Guatemala

I have a lot of textile books, but I have a very few that are my favorites. A relative newcomer to that small pile of favorites is Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives. The book was written by Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordon with photography by Joe Coca. And if those names don't sell the book right there, I don't know what does. Deborah Chandler was already on my favorite books shelf for her first book, Learning to Weave. When I came by an old junky floor loom a few decades ago and finally could learn something about weaving, I taught myself from that book. So of course this new book was going to get some time from me.

Deborah spoke at the Handweavers Guild of Boulder's January meeting last week and I was able to go hear her. She is an engaging speaker and she kept us laughing and following closely her stories of the weavers and explanations of the weave structures and looms. It seems to me that, just like here, there are many types of looms used there. The difference seems to come in flexibility. I was fascinated to hear Deborah describe how each person specializes in one kind of weaving and they rarely do anything else. Their string heddles are tied together in the patterns needed for that shaft for the particular weave they are making and to re-tie them means to get someone who knows how to do it involved, and with most things that become expensive and complicated, it isn't done. So weavers specialize.

This still astounds me. The woven samples Deborah brought to the lecture alone were worth the drive to Boulder. I looked at them before hearing her speak and I thought I had figured out how they were all made, but I was wrong on several counts. The embroidery and the brocade weaving look quite similar and I mistook one for the other a few times.

The two examples below I was pretty sure were embroidered. At least I was right about that.

 The decoration around the neck is embroidered (perhaps by machine), the rest is woven.

The decoration around the neck is embroidered (perhaps by machine), the rest is woven.

 In this huipil, everything except the figures was woven. The figures were embroidered.

In this huipil, everything except the figures was woven. The figures were embroidered.

The book is full of stories. The story of Eugenia Tepaz Lopez is one of an aging weaver (now 59, apparently past retirement age in Guatemala) who's father wanted her to work with ceramics as she was from a family of potters. She taught herself to weave when she was 13 despite her father's insistence that she do ceramics and he forbade her to wear the traditional huipil of their village, Santa Apolonia. To this day she wears the huipil designs of a neighboring village though she is the master huipil maker in Santa Apolonia.

This work of Eugenia's is embroidered. Here was one of my mistakes. I thought it was woven. The traditional Santa Apolonia huipils are white on the front with all of the embroidery on the back. This is sometimes called false brocade.

 An embroidered huipil of Eugenia Tepaz Lopez

An embroidered huipil of Eugenia Tepaz Lopez

 From the book Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, pg 24, photo by Joe Coca. Eugenia is seated and her daughters wear the traditional huipil of their community.

From the book Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, pg 24, photo by Joe Coca. Eugenia is seated and her daughters wear the traditional huipil of their community.

These two examples below were fascinating, and yes, I did figure these out before Deborah talked about them. The example on the top is woven on a draw loom. On the bottom is ikat. Similar colors, similar effects, but we all know which one costs many times more than the other due to the amount of work. These were pieces of cloth, not garments.

I originally wrote that the top example was brocade. Fortunately, Deborah corrected me with the following note. Here you have it, straight from the origin... 

Rebecca, Deborah here. . . . there is one correction to what you wrote. The upper black and white piece, that you identify as brocade, was actually woven on a draw-loom. If we use the definition of brocade as merely supplementary weft, then yes, it is brocade, but since that implies a lot of hand manipulation, it could be misleading. In terms of investment of time, then, jaspe is slowest (in many cases), brocade a little faster (and can be done on a backstrap or foot loom, using a wide variety of techniques), and then the draw-loom, called falseria here, which is like lightning speed in comparison.
— Deborah Chandler
TraditionalWeaversofGuatemala.jpg

One of my favorite subjects in the book is the cinta, the traditional hair ties. Deborah brought a good collection and described them as being tapestry-woven. This was my guess when I saw them, but having been fooled so many times already that day, I hated to be too outspoken about it.

The cintas are woven on band looms. Deborah described with photos the ways they set up these looms for the most variety of patterning. These are largely two-shaft weaves, but there are looms that have weights on the little shafts, and as a counterbalance loom, this allows the shaft to be either up or down creating more options for patterns. They are usually about an inch wide and 3 yards long.

The cinta is woven with a mix of structures, all weft faced. Watching Emilia weave and unable to determine what made her switch from one to the other, I finally asked, “How do you decide when to change?” She answered,” When the cinta asks for it.” Of course.
— Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, p 46-7

I caught up with Deborah again today and was able to ask her a little more about Guatemala and her life there over the last 17 years. It was so special to me to be able to talk to someone who I respect so much for so many reasons. The ultimate take-away for me though was that I have to go there to understand the stories. The book is phenomenal and the stories there are engaging, photography excellent, but the understanding of a culture so different than my American life escapes me. Until I go to Guatemala myself, this book gets me the closest possible through these marvelous stories of fiber artists.

Oh, did I mention this book was published by Linda Ligon? Yes, now I'm just throwing out names to get you to buy it. . . as you should buy any book Linda Ligon has her hands in. Link below!

Reference

Chandler, D. & T. Cordon. (2015) Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, Their Stories, Their Lives. Loveland, CO: Thrums.
http://thrumsbooks.com/book-catalog/traditional-weavers-of-guatemala/