O ženách tkalkyních

About women weavers

A simple wooden spindle is hand-spinning threads from balls of natural cotton, the experienced hands holding it still bear faded splashes of blue and pink from dyeing yarns the previous day. A few meters aside, another weaver is kneeling, with one end of backstrap loom attached to her waist. She is starting to work on a cushion cover. In the next days, every thread of the weft will be passed through her fingers and drawn through the warp to create a colourful pattern inspired by the surrounding Guatemalan mountains. By the end of the week, in five days, the cushion cover should be finished.

I find observing the weavers during their work absolutely fascinating and feel deep respect for the skills of our artisans every day. Both men and women. However, today being the International Women’s Day, I’d like to talk more about the importance of weaving for our female artisan partners.

If you ask if weaving in Central America has traditionally been performed by men or women, the answer will vary depending on the area. Where weavers work on big, pedal looms, you’ll probably learn that it is a men’s craft. On the other hand, in regions famous for production of textiles mostly on portable backstrap looms, people associate weaving basically only with women.

Casa Akbal cooperates both with women who carry on the skills of their mothers and grandmothers and continue weaving on backstrap looms and with “rebels” who decided that weaving on pedal looms should no longer be reserved to their male counterparts only and produce beautiful wool rugs. In both cases, we are mostly talking about women working within cooperatives, that become much more than just professional associations.

The women cooperatives were often born in places where their members faced serious obstacles and adversities. Take an example of Guatemalan mountains, populated mostly by indigenous people, where the civil war left many widows with multiple children and no sources of income. For these women, with zero to very little formal education, it was very challenging to find a paying job, so organizing into artisanal cooperatives turned out to be one of the options of achieving economic independence for themselves and their families. And since two heads are better the one, the weavers are stronger within the cooperative. They learn from each other, develop new techniques, talk finances, bargain collectively and come up with reasonable pricing. 

The flexibility of a job within a cooperative is another great benefit for female artisans. They know and understand each other and thus realize that indigenous women face the tough task of balancing their “paying jobs” with household chores and taking care of their families. Working from home and weaving on portable backstrap looms allows them to do just that. The artisans are under no pressure to work at strictly determined hours, they weave whenever they want to and whenever they can.

Furthermore, the female cooperatives somehow become community hubs impacting many more people than just their direct members. It is very common to see initiatives developed to support children of the artisans in attaining higher education. Talks are organized by the artisan groups, about financial literacy or female rights and health, that anyone can attend. The ambitious goal of the cooperatives is not only to strengthen the artisans themselves, but also to become a safe space for development, both professional and personal, for all women somehow connected to it. And I am extremely proud to be able to cooperate with such projects. Both today, on International Women’s Day, and any other day.

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