Spirits in the Loom

From the desert to the mountains, seas to volcanoes, and camels to toucans, our woven textiles span a variety of different landscapes, have deep cultural roots and are as unique as the artisans creating them… It’s time to tell the story of the handloom weaving process!

Morning view on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, en-route to visit the artisans.

Morning view on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, en-route to visit the artisans.

The small mountain town of Paxtoca (pronounced pash toca) just outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, is a hotbed for woven Mayan textiles. Agriculture is still the primary source of income for locals (mostly corn and apples), but textile creation is very much the life blood and identity. The local women and some of the men from older generations continue to wear their traditional Mayan clothing, known as tipica.

Freshly dyed warp yarn hanging to dry.

The process begins by spinning cotton yarn into carefully measured sections called “cordeles”, which is then compiled into a larger batch of yarn called the “labores”. The cordeles are stretched over a wooden frame and separated into several individual bundles and then, in a pattern known only to the artisan, tied into small knots. These small knots define the motif and resist dye during the dyeing process.

Agripina, separating cordeles and tying sections to define the motif before dyeing.

 

This tying and dying process is known as “jaspe” in Latin America and “ikat” in other parts of the world.

After dying the cordeles, they are spun onto a wheel that creates multiple bobbins which are then loaded into the shuttle that is used during loom weaving to define the weft (the horizontal direction of the textile). The “warp” is the long vertical direction of yarn that makes up the bulk of the base fabric.

Cordeles after dying.

Cordeles on the spool ready to be spun into bobbins.

Bobbins loaded inside shuttles and ready for weaving.

The type of loom used in Guatemala is called a “treadle loom”, which is a large wooden framed loom. The beam at the front of the loom feeds the warp yarn into the head of the loom, where the artisan sits to create the motif and warp. A wheel just underneath the artisan is wound tightly to spool together the finished textile after weaving.

Treadle loom - Paxtoca, Guatemala.

One of the most important steps in the weaving process is a series of up & down motions that separate layers of the fabric to allow the shuttle to pass through. This motion defines the motif and is operated by foot pedal by the artisan underneath the loom. The process is very rhythmic and almost seems to create its own drumbeat as the artisan weaves.

Treadle loom foot pedals.

In the end, the motif and colors are magically revealed! Though we understand the process well, it’s always mind blowing how it results in this kind of detail. Starting from just yarn and a picture in the artisan’s mind, patterns of Mayan people, animals, spirits and plants emerge on the finished textiles.

Guatemala 1 Premji Pack with #etktribe member, Alex, in Vietnam.

Now we journey to the Great Rann of Kutch! The word Kutch (pronounced “katchh”) comes from Kachwa, meaning “a turtle that has come out of the sea”. This vast crescent-shaped region belongs to India’s second largest district, Gujarat, and is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and Pakistan to the north. Archeological records suggest that pre-historic man appeared in Kutch 30,000 years ago. Present-day Kutch is home to twenty-five different ethnic groups spread across more than a hundred villages. Two of those ethnic groups, the Vankars and Rabaris, are closely stitched into the Ethnotek story.

Rabari women in the Great Rann of Kutch, India.

Pit loom weaving is the main form of weaving adopted by Kutchi artisans. Pit looms consist of a concrete pit dug into the ground where the weaver sits so that he is level with the loom. The pit also houses the weft paddles that the artisan operates with his feet. Pit looms are easier to set up inside the home because they don’t consume as much space as a frame loom and are also a way to beat the desert heat while working.

Pit loom weaving in the Kandherai village, India.

The pit looms of Kutch use a manual throw shuttle and hand warping, which in essence is embroidery on a loom that requires great skill, attention to detail and patience. The result is stunning works of art with dancing geometric patterns whose authentic look and feel are nearly impossible to recreate on a machine.

Setting warp yarn in Gujarat, India.

While it is mostly the men who do the weaving in Kutch, the process is a collective effort involving the whole family. The mother, the wife and the sisters prepare the yarn for dyeing and make bobbins from yarn hanks, which they then set up into the loom’s warp in preparation for the weaving process to begin.

Vishram Valji (left) transformed the weaving industry in Kutch and his son, Shamji (right) is the head of weaving programs for Ethnotek in India.

Pankaj and Mina are Ethnotek-India's facilitators and main source of communication with Shamji and the artisans.

Ethnotek founder, Jake meeting with Pankaj, Shamji and Mina in Bhujodi, India.

We’d now like to introduce you to the next generation of weavers and Premji himself...

Sanjay and Suresh with their father Arjan Ramji.

Meet Sanjay and Suresh, 20-year-old twin brothers who have actively chosen to stay in the village of Kandherai to continue their family weaving business. On our sourcing trips, it is commonly seen that younger generations are becoming increasingly demotivated to carry on traditional handicraft, so it’s refreshing and inspiring to see these two champions taking matters into their own hands! The artisans in India put a high-priority on preserving their culture and see global commerce as a great vehicle for that cause. We’re proud and honored to get behind them and support that mission.

Meet Premji! This lovely man is one of Ethnotek's longest standing and most loyal weavers in India. He's been with us from the beginning and we're proud to name this new design after him.

Premji has been friends with our head artisan, Shamji, for many years and was the first artisan commissioned to weave textiles for Ethnotek. With the weaving experience that Premji had under his belt, he needed no training to get started on fabric orders for our bags and has been with the Ethnotek-India team since the beginning. Premji is so important to us that we even feature him on the hangtags for our bags!

India 8 Setia Pack

It’s thanks to our Tribe of customers that we’re able to continue sending fabric orders to these incredible humans. If you are as proud of this partnership as we are, be sure to tell family and friends on social media. We’re still a small business and the best way to grow this thing is through word of mouth. Together we can make it happen!

- Ethnotek Team
September 13, 2016 by Tribe Scribe
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