The Trama Weaving School – An opportunity to slow down and learn about the Mayan culture

By Ninni Azalie Jensen & Evelien Verroen

Besides learning about the crafty art of backstrap weaving, the weaving program at Trama Textiles is also a good opportunity to slow down and gain more patience in a relaxed and meditative atmosphere. That’s the experience of students Laura Berger and Maeve Gallagher who spent four afternoons at the school.

The weaving school is part of the Trama Textiles cooperative, where we sell high-quality textiles for which our weavers receive a fair wage. The school is located at the same place as the store and office, a colourful home with a sunny courtyard just one block north of the central park. This is the place where our women teach their secrets to those who are interested in learning more about the tradition that continues to be such an integral part of the Mayan culture. You can start classes every day of the week, every time of the day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday. The teachers will welcome you smiling warmly and help you wherever necessary. They are very proud of their culture and eager to share it with the students. There is water and coffee available and there are always several people present, making the classes not only informative, but also sociable.

Trama Textiles Weaving School

Student Laura Berger working on her scarf.

When you enter the courtyard during classes, there are threads in all different colours stretched from the yellow pillars holding up the roof at Trama. Today, there are four students participating in the weaving school. They are using the traditional backstrap loom technique which is used by the women of Trama, whereby the colorful threads arebound to a pillar and attached to each of the students´ hip, as such creating the only necessary tool for weaving. The students are concentrated, focusing on not getting the many threads entangled, while two colorfully dressed teachers move around between them to help loosen up knots that somehow keep appearing on the looms. Nevertheless, the students never give up and the teachers never lose their patience. The atmosphere at the school is very positive and relaxed. At the back, one of the walls is decorated with many cheerful portraits of women who bring their weavings to Trama Textiles. The cooperation was founded in 1988 after the devastating Civil War and now proudly exists of over 400 women from five different regions in Guatemala.

One of the teachers today, Flor Elizabeth Rubio de Leonis is walking around the courtyard helping students whenever necessary. Normally, she is at home weaving textiles for Trama Textiles herself, but today she is substituting for her mother who recently fell and damaged her leg. She finds teaching very inspiring: “The best thing about teaching at the school is to see that the Guatemalan culture interests other people”. At the moment, Flor Elizabeth is helping one of the students, Laura Berger from Canada, to refine her weaving technique. Laura enjoys her classes very much, happily chatting with the other students and teachers. She decided to take weaving classes because she wanted to learn more about this colourful tradition: “I’ve been totally blown away by the incredible textiles that you see the women wearing in the markets so it seemed like a good way to see the process and to learn a little bit more about this tradition which I think is very unique.” Indeed, participating in the weaving program at Trama Textiles has really been an eye-opener for the students present today. As Laura explains: “It’s a new appreciation when you see a woman walking down the street wearing a skirt – you don’t just think, ‘oh she’s wearing a pretty skirt’ – you think ‘somebody spent a lot of time working on that.”

Student Maeve Gallagher is being helped by teacher Fabiana.

Student Maeve Gallagher is being helped by teacher Fabiana.

Maeve Gallagher from the United States agrees with Laura. In addition to the new respect for the Guatemalan weavers, Maeve emphasizes that attending the weaving classes also has helped her gain more patience: “One of the things I like most about Central America is that everything seems to move at a slower pace and this kind of fits in with me – a transition from my really busy American lifestyle to maybe a little slower pace an
d lifestyle.” And she is right. The peaceful atmosphere at Trama Textile`s weaving school really makes you slow down.This afternoon, the girls succeeded in weaving about fifteen to twenty centimeters of their scarves. The sun has already left the courtyard when the students wrap up for the day. After they leave and the office closes for the day, the photos of Trama Textile’s weavers remain as witnesses to this female-owned association of backstrap weavers, which continues to support the Mayan women of Guatemala.

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Weaving at Trama’s ‘Escuela de Tejer’

Escuela de tejido

In 1995 Trama founded its weaving school, ‘Escuela de Tejer,’ to teach backstrap loom weaving. A backstrap loom consists of two small wooden bars, rope, and a strap that the weaver wears around her waist. One bar is attached to a fixed object and the other to the weaver by the strap. When the weaver leans backwards or forwards, she controls the tension of the loom. Strings of fabric are stretched between the two wooden bars, creating the outline of the weave. The loom itself is very simple, and Maya women believe that almost anyone can own one; they are inexpensive, and they can be set up almost anywhere. Since the looms are so mobile, Maya women also care for children and chat as they weave.

Trama’s weaving school brings Maya culture closer to the many tourists that visit Guatemala. Students learn the ancient tradition of backstrap loom weaving, its cultural significance, and Maya patterns and symbology. The weaving school is also an important source of income that supports Trama members’ efforts to empower themselves through business and earn fair wages.

During the peak season of June and July, the school often welcomes three or four students every day. Mayana, a recent student, is originally from Guatemala, but has lived in Belize for 13 years. When she arrived in Xela, she immediately sought out Trama’s weaving classes. Mayana explained, “I wanted to know how much work an indigenous woman has to put into making a table runner.”

At first it was difficult for her to get into the flow of weaving. It took her a lot of patience to get over the difficult first phases. “But once I understood the process, the weaving went on much faster,” she said. She explained that she had to be very attentive, because if she incorrectly wove just one thread, her patterns would be thrown off. Mayana said she appreciated how special Guatemalan woven products really are half way through her table runner; she had already put in so much effort!

Weaving indigenous patterns like butterflies and birds was the most difficult part for her, but it was also the part she loved most. The intricacies of the designs meant that she had to be even more careful with her threading; in complex patterns, each thread is vital. Sometimes she had to weave the same colorful bird over and over again. The process was not easy, but step by step, Mayana produced 16 to 20 centimeters every day. In the end, her patience paid off. After three weeks of hard work she finished her 160 cm long table runner. “It was a great experience,” she told us. “And to be with the Trama weavers and to listen to their stories made this a fabulous time.”

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International Girls’ Day – why girls’ rights make such a difference

Day of the Girl Child-2On Saturday 11th of this month, it’s the 3rd International Girls’ Day and here at Trama, we’re reflecting on why the rights of young women and girls are so important .

As we are a women’s cooperative, focusing on empowering women from marginalised indigenous communities in Guatemala, the rights and opportunities of our young women and girls are central to our work.

Trama Textiles was formed in 1988 as a response to the Guatemalan civil war, and the devastating impact it had on our communities’ women and girls. During the war, many men were disappeared or killed, leaving our women without a means of supporting themselves and their families. In order to find a way to earn a living, the women in our communities came together to form our cooperative, and decided to start to sell our weavings as a way to use our skills to support ourselves and our families.

“My children are young and it’s hard to make ends meet. I lost my father and husband in the war. Now it’s only me who supports my nine children. Without the association, my children would have died of starvation.”

Today, the original women of the cooperative are getting older, and their daughters are growing up and starting to weave for the cooperative as well. The organisation provides training for the young women and girls, providing them with the means to make a living for themselves rather than having to rely on the men in their communities to support them. For many women, it’s also an important part of their culture to teach their daughters to weave, so they can carry on the ancient traditions of their beautiful textiles.

“My mother taught me how to weave and that’s my life now. I am teaching my daughter to weave and one day she will be a part of Trama.”

Because their mothers were able to earn money from the coop, that has meant that many of the girls in our communities were able to go to school. As well as gaining an education, this means that they are able to speak Spanish as well as their indigenous language, giving them better work opportunities and a chance for a better future than their mothers.

We believe that the young women and girls all around the world have the right to an education, and to have equal opportunities in terms of work as the men in their communities. Thanks to our cooperative, we are starting to make changes in the right direction in our communities, but there is still a long way to go.

This International Girls’ Day, we’d like to encourage everyone to reflect on two core questions:

  • How are the rights of young women and girls in your communities?
  • How are you working to help young women and girls achieve their potential and look towards a better future?

Maybe with the answers, we can start to make a difference and change the futures of young women and girls all around the world.

Support us!

You can support us by visiting our Etsy store, to see some of our amazing handwoven fair wage accessories and homeware, made by the women in our 100% worker-owned weaving cooperative.

Stay in touch!

If you’d like to stay in touch, check out our Pinterest, InstagramTwitter and Facebook. We share great photos of our products and the amazing women we work with, as well as all the latest Trama and fair wage news!

Work with us!

As well as our fantastic new paid job, we are always looking for experienced volunteers to come join us here at Trama. We have some great opportunities, and don’t charge any fees for our placements. Check out what’s available now on Idealist.org.

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How to style – our new photo series!

carlos bow tie

Men’s bowtie, styled by painter Carlitos

Wondering how you can make fair trade fashion stylish?

We’ve been working on a new How to Style series, showing a few styling options for our handwoven products made by our women artisans here in Guatemala.

Here’s a little taster. We hope you like them!

jennifer red solola scarf 2

Red lace scarf, styled by volunteer Jennifer

marie pink clutch

Pink clutch, styled by Sales Manager Marie

For more, check out our photos on our Pinterest board:  http://www.pinterest.com/tramatextiles/how-to-style/.

We’d love to hear what you think. Let us know if you have any styling ideas of your own, or if there are any Trama Textiles products you would like to see styled!

Support us!

You can support us by visiting our Etsy store, to see some of our amazing handwoven fair wage accessories and homeware, made by the women in our 100% worker-owned weaving cooperative.

Stay in touch!

If you’d like to stay in touch, check out our Pinterest, InstagramTwitter and Facebook. We share great photos of our products and the amazing women we work with, as well as all the latest Trama and fair wage news!

Work with us!

As well as our fantastic new paid job, we are always looking for experienced volunteers to come join us here at Trama. We have some great opportunities, and don’t charge any fees for our placements. Check out what’s available now on Idealist.org.

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Quetzaltenango – the home of Trama Textiles

Trama Textiles is based in Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela. Xela is Guatemala’s second city, and is located in the Western Highlands, about 4 hours away from Guatemala City and 2.5 hours from Lago Atitlán.  The city is 2400m above sea level (pretty high!) and surrounded by volcanoes.

Xela view Scott James

The view from Xela’s main square, clouds hanging down over the mountains

Xela is famous within Guatemala for its cultural identity. The city has a strong indigenous identity, and you see many women dressed in traditional huipiles and skirts.

woman flags 2

Woman walking under window with Guatemalan flags

The city may not be as beautiful as Antigua, but many travellers prefer the more real-life feel here. There are few tourist attractions and not many people speak English, which means that many foreigners find it easier to integrate into the community and really get to know Guatemalan people and their culture.

Around Xela, there are lots of things to do and see. The hiking is fantastic – you can choose from three volcanoes to hike up, as well as more gentle hikes around Laguna Chicabal and the Siete Cruces ridge.

volcan cemetery

Volcan Santa Maria seen from the cemetery in Xela

Also close to the town is Fuentes Georginas, a lovely place to relax on the weekend, with hot volcanic pools where you can bathe. The highlands region is also full of small market towns, as well as the huge market of Chichicastenango, where locals gather to sell their produce and beautiful artesanías. Xela is also close enough to Lago Atitlán for a weekend trip to get away – one of Guatemala’s top destinations.

indian nose scott james

Sunrise over Indian’s nose, Lago Atitlán

Within the city itself, there is a great range of restaurants, bars and cultural activities. As well as great Guatemalan food, we have a really good Indian restuarant Sabor de la India, great Dim Sum at Sublime Cafe, Thai, Mediterranean and some of the best burgers you will ever taste at Bajo la Luna!

view over Xela

View over the roofs of Xela

There are also a few great bars where you can go out to dance to salsa or cumbia, and a few great spots for all types of live music. For films, Cafe Red shows documentaries a few nights a week, Blue Angel cafe rents DVDs to watch in your own private cinema, and there’s a big blockbuster cinema on the outskirts of town for all your buttery popcorn and Hollywood needs.

Though obviously, no visit to Xela wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Trama Textiles! If you’re in the area, please do pop by and check out our shop and weaving school. We’re the #3 activity on TripAdvisor, so you know you’re in good hands!

weaving at Trama

Making some beautifully intricate fabric during weaving school at Trama Textiles

Work with us!

As well as our fantastic new paid job, we are always looking for experienced volunteers to come join us here at Trama. We have some great opportunities, and don’t charge any fees for our placements. Check out what’s available now on Idealist.org.

Support us!

You can support us by visiting our Etsy store, to see some of our amazing handwoven fair wage accessories and homeware, made by the women in our 100% worker-owned weaving cooperative.

Stay in touch!

If you’d like to stay in touch, check out our Pinterest, InstagramTwitter and Facebook. We share great photos of our products and the amazing women we work with, as well as all the latest Trama and fair wage news!

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