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Regina Garay

Behind the Colorful Latin American Textiles

Latin-American-Textiles-Textiles-from-EcuadorTextiles in Otavalo, Ecuador

In markets, underneath shaded trees, on the side of a mountain or at home, women and men gather to weave. Colorful threads are interlaced and woven on looms – all somewhat different, but bearing quite a bit of resemblance to the tools used by the previous generations for hundreds of years. Weavers gather in communities as this is a large part of their domestic routines. Although weaving has been threaded through the fabric of Latin America since 5000 B.C., each area has their own colors, symbols and patterns that hold true to their generational roots.

CREATION OF THE TEXTILES

Travelers to Latin America will often have a chance to see weavers as they work.  Cotton is by far the most common material used followed by wool.  Many weavers still dye their own threads with natural materials, though most now buy them pre-colored. The backstrap loom has been used since the Mayan era and has a strap going across the lower back of the weaver and an opposite strap looping around a hard surface, such as a tree. It creates the right tension for the weaving with a good amount of control. The footloom is also a popular choice for many men who weave. Most of the weavers chatter and gossip as their fingers take on a life of their own and follow the same repeated movements to create a garment. Their beautiful results reflect their traditions as well as their own artistry.

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A weaver using backstrap loom in Antigua, Guatemala via Paint + PatternA weaver using a backstrap looms in Antigua, Guatemala

HOME DECOR

The color and patterns of Latin American textiles grace many homes. The handwoven telas (textiles) find their way to cover tables, floors and chairs as well as end up as pillows and even hung as art. Many of the weavers make their way to market to sell their goods and will even include placemats and other home décor items that appeal to visitors but are not necessarily traditional.

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CLOTHING

Many of the villagers wear the results (the trajes) of their weaving efforts and their families do as well.  A huipil is a blouse made from lightweight cotton and cintas can be used as hair ribbons or belts. Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico typically dominate the textile artistry in Latin America and many have fun generating clothing such as wool caps, capes, backpacks and purses.

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The commercial textile industry has taken over with machine-made creations, but traditional woven textiles can still be bought, found and cherished. Growing up for a while in Guatemala, I have vivid memories of weavers (and other artisans) creating their beautiful textiles. To this day, there is an attraction to these types of colors and patterns and wearing them occasionally and displaying them at home is a nod to family artisanal traditions. Are you inspired to do so yourself?

2 comments

  1. I have never seen the molas of Panama, what a beautiful work! I’m from Mexico and I love looking for beautiful textiles from around the world. There is so much passion and cultural meaning behind them, it’s really inspiring.

  2. Regina

    I agree, Elba! I’m from Guatemala and it’s always to beautiful to see culturally-rich textile patterns and colors. Thank you for your lovely comment! 🙂

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