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.
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.”
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.