Feb 20, 2013

"Wrap Art" — Backstrap Looms of Guatemala

The third exhibition of our Raiding the Crates permanent collection series features a Central American art form: Guatemalan Textiles. There are many unique aspects to this art form, and one is the way it is made. The backstrap loom dates back to ancient civilizations, and is used widely by Mayan cultures.

The backstrap loom is the most widely used loom by Guatemalan weavers, and has always been closely associated with females and birth, children. (image source)

Looms work on the basis premise of weaving the
warp and weft. Weft is the yarn going parallel to the weaver,
and warp is the perpendicular yarn (image source).

The backstrap loom is much smaller and more portable than conventional
upright looms. You can weave pretty much anywhere, it just depends
on where you decide to stick your loom in the ground. The loom may look like
a pile of sticks, but wait until the weaver sets up the warp yarns. Those sticks are
essential parts of the loom, and also represent 13 female deities, called Ixoc Ahaua.
Each component of the loom has its own name. These names correspond to various
body parts, again emphasizing the connection between looms and birth, children.

Image from Martin Prechtel and Robert S. Carlson, "Weaving and Cosmos Amongst
the Tzutukil Maya of Guatemala," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 15, Spring 1988, pp. 125.

The backstrap loom has been used by Mayan weavers for at least 2,000 years! Traditional stories liken the human body to a woven fabric.
(image source).

Traditional communities use hand-made yarn, like hand-spun cotton, which is more fragile than conventionally produced yarn, so it goes through a special strengthening process so that they will not snap during the weaving process. They also primarily use natural dyes.
(image source).

Below is video of traditional Guatemalan weaving using a backstrap loom.

Jan. 19 – May 26

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