Yamina Mozat Morales & Janette Fecteau

Tejiendo Illusiones (Weaving Illusions)

Tejiendo Illusiones (Weaving Illusions)

Weaving Illusions PDF (120 MB)

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Yamina Tejiendo Illusiones (Yamina Mazat Morales) is a highly skilled and sought-after weaver in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlán. She practices the traditional Mayan art of weaving on a backstrap loom. There are over 20 different Mayan Indigenous groups in Guatemala, in addition to other distinct ethnic groups, each with its own cultural traditions. Maya Kaq’chikel weaving in particular is characterized by its multiple rows of small “figures,” repeated motifs that embellish the basic weaving and refer to many aspects of life: animals, traditional tools, types of food, etc. 

“My aunt taught me when I was 18 years old, and when I understood the process, I could make other figures myself. In 2001, when I was 30 years old, I left my husband, and as a single mom of five young children, I had to make money to feed them and keep them in school. Weaving was work that I could do while staying home with the kids. My love of weaving comes from the joy of creating something that mixes nature and artistry: colours, flowers, the green leaves. I am inspired by the beautiful countryside. Now, I am still able to help the kids, even though they are grown. I also help support my grandkids through my weaving. I make huipiles, scarves, and wall hangings. I don’t wear a huipil myself, because they are too expensive, and I need to keep the money for practical things, to support my family. Maybe some day I will wear one. I am happy to have the ongoing connection between Guatemala and the Maritimes.”

The first process is to put the threads in order. I wrap them on a ‘tramador’ (warping board), forming a cross by passing the thread under and over a stick alternately with each pass. Keeping the thread taut, but not too tight, counting the threads carefully. In the old days, people used sticks stuck into the ground as a warping board. Usually, people would do this on their knees.

Once the warp is ready, we secure it with string so the cross is maintained. We don’t want to lose our work. It’s necessary to pay attention to what we are doing.

To form the traditional backstrap loom several sticks are needed. Some keep the top and bottom layers of the warp separate, forming the space between, or ‘alma’—the spirit or core—of the weaving. The weft threads are passed through the ‘alma’ [the shed.] Another stick serves to roll up the weaving as it is formed by the weft threads that go across: the ‘comida’ or food. A wide stick is used to beat and pack the weft threads. A stick made from a branch of a coffee bush, which is a very hard wood, keeps the width of the weaving consistent as it grows. The whole arrangement is attached to a tree or a wall, and the other end to a leather strap, ‘mecapál,’ that goes around the weaver’s back, creating the necessary tension.

To make the figures, you take up one thread in your fingers, and skip four, all the way along the warp. [This forms a secondary warp which is separated out from the main warp by sticks at the top and bottom of the weaving. The figures are formed by hand, wrapping small snippets of contrasting colours onto this secondary warp.] When making figures, it is necessary to strike and pull the thread with a finger, to prevent the figure from getting too loose.

[The finished weaving is cut from the loom. This weaving will become one of two identical halves of a ‘huipil,’ a traditional woman’s blouse.] After sewing the two parts of the huipil together, making sure the lines of figures match up exactly, we will wash it with soap, and dry it. Then the person who ordered it will take possession of it, take it to have the hole for the neck cut out, and any decorations put on, and the sides sewn.”

San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala

May-June 2018