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.”