THE WOVEN WAY
A GROUP OF SINGLE MOTHERS ARE WEAVING THEIR WAY TO HELP PROVIDE A FUTURE FOR THEIR FAMILIES AND COMMUNITY. VICTORIA MENDOZA, WITH HER DAUGHTERS INGRID AND BETTY AJU, SHARE ADMIRABLE INSIGHTS INTO THEIR COLOURFUL CULTURE AND CRAFT.
WHEN, WHERE AND WHY DID YOU START YOUR CO-OP?
Our Madres Solteras Association was created over four years ago because our initial members were subject to discrimination within other local cooperatives due to being single mothers. Today we have 27 members, all single mothers who work together to provide for our children doing something that we love doing.
WHAT DOES YOUR CO-OP SPECIALISES IN?
We specialise in creating textiles with raw materials that we obtain from our natural environment. We work with organic cotton, bamboo fibre and silk that we get from butterfly cocoons. We work the entire process: gathering of materials, dyeing with natural colours, preparing the threads and working the back-strap loom.
IS YOUR CRAFT TYPICAL OF GUATEMALA?
It is our cultural heritage and pride, all our work is made by hand and inspired by the natural and vibrant colours of our land and our home, San Juan La Laguna.
WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOUR WORK TRADITIONAL TO YOUR COUNTRY?
Everything! The designs, the colours and the techniques. Each colour and pattern represents our identity, our history and our pride.
IS IT TRADITIONAL FOR WOMEN TO LEARN THIS CRAFT AT AN EARLY AGE?
Yes, it is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I began to learn when I was six years old.
WHO TAUGHT YOU HOW TO WEAVE, LOOM AND SEW?
I was taught by my mother and I have taught my children.
YOUR WORK IS BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED. DO YOU MAKE IT ALL BY HAND?
Yes, most of our work is done entirely by hand. Only a small portion requires sewing on a machine.
YOUR REGION IS FAMOUS FOR VIBRANT COLOUR. WHERE DOES ALL OF THIS WONDERFUL COLOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM?
It all comes from our parents, our ancestors and how our culture was represented in the spiritual meaning of our flora and fauna. There is so much inspiration within our environment, we can draw from our lakes, our mountains, our trees and our birds, anything and everything.
WHAT MATERIALS AND TOOLS DO YOU WORK WITH?
Our raw materials are organic cotton, bamboo and silk. For our natural dyes we use avocado pits, cochineal insects, carrots, coffee, achiote seeds and jiquilite plants amongst many others. Tools we use are the tools to prepare the cotton, bamboo and silk and the back strap loom.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A TYPICAL WORK DAY?
A typical day would have an early start with 2-3 hours of house work followed by six hours of textile work and finished with two hours of more household duties: preparing dinner and cleaning afterwards.
DO YOU THINK YOUR CHILDREN WILL CONTINUE THE TRADITION IN THE FUTURE?
Of course! It is a tradition inherited from our ancestors which we do not want to lose. It’s the reason why we, as mothers, start teaching our children at a young age.
DO YOU HOLD WORKSHOPS FOR TOURISTS? IF SO, HOW OFTEN?
We don’t have a set workshop program in place but we can easily arrange something if the opportunity arises.
“IT IS A TRADITION INHERITED FROM OUR ANCESTORS WHICH WE DO NOT WANT TO LOSE. IT’S THE REASON WHY WE, AS MOTHERS, START TEACHING OUR CHILDREN AGE.”VICTORIA AT A YOUNG MENDOZA
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY A TOURIST CAN HELP SUPPORT YOUR CO-OP?
By purchasing our products and using them with the same pride and respect that we create them with. And by spreading the word about our association and our story.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR TOWN AND COUNTRY?
What I love most about my country is the natural landscapes, our people, our traditions and our customs.
DO YOU HAVE A LOCAL TIP FOR TRAVELLERS VISITING YOUR REGION?
If you are in Lake Atitlan, be sure to come to our market stall to visit. Enjoy your travels, take time to learn as much about our local culture and traditions as possible and have a lot of fun!
HOW DOES A TRAVELLER FIND YOU? WHAT IS YOUR LOCATION ADDRESS?
We are in San Juan La Laguna, as you get off the boat follow the main street into town, we are halfway up the hill on the left.
SHIBUI & Co. would like to thank the women of this wonderful co-operative initiative for their valuable work and insight. We would also like to thank our roamers Maocir and Skye from Cielo Collective for connecting us and also providing the translation for this story. cielocollective.com.au
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE Betty on the loom; naturally dyed yarn ready to weave; SHIBUI roamers Moacir Zeledon and Skye Braby from Cielo Collective, on a recent visit to the Co-op; Betty weaving her magic; woven fabric ready to purchase at the Association’s market stall held in San Juan La Laguna.