One of the top things on our to do list in Guatemala was to learn traditional Guatemalan backstrap weaving. My 8 year old son loves to weave. Having used a cardboard loom for years and a few varieties of floor looms on our recent trip to Wisconsin, he was excited to learn how to use beautiful Guatemalan fabric in a traditional way.
Conducting my diligent research I found many places that offered weaving demonstrations all over the country, however not a ton of classes, even less for children. There were two options that looked promising, however one was in Xela, a town not on our itinerary and a private lesson in Antigua that was geared more towards longer term classes and was very expensive. However, a visit to San Juan la Laguna on Lake Atitlan provided just the opportunities we were searching for in order to try our hand at weaving in Guatemala.
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Where to Learn Guatemalan Backstrap Weaving
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is a mecca for tourists looking for a variety of things to do from learning Spanish to hiking volcanoes and chilling out in hammocks, with each area offering their own slice of heaven.
San Juan la Laguna on one side of Lake Atitlan is known as the textile village. San Juan has embraced its heritage by opening up showrooms to educate visitors on ancient ways of doing things from weaving to medicinal plants. Specifically, the Mayan community here has banded together to keep out the mass commercialization and tourist bubbles that have occurred to other lakeside villages. Instead, they have created cooperatives of women weavers as one of the main industries here. These cooperatives collect woven products from each of the women to sell in a shop. Most of these cooperatives also hold weaving demonstrations and sometimes classes.
If you want to learn traditional Guatemalan backstrap weaving with beautiful Guatemalan fabric, this is the place to come. There are several options for weaving classes as well as demonstrations throughout the small village. We visited several and they all seemed to offer about the same type of programs.
Guatemalan Backstrap Weaving & Dye Workshop
What brought us to San Juan la Laguna and specifically to TinteMaya was a Dye Workshop in addition to a traditional Guatemalan Weaving Workshop.
This small store/workshop space is run by a collective of 25 women, but mostly by Amalia who is the face of the organization. They offer workshops on dyeing using only natural materials as well as backstrap weaving classes in addition to the shop they run.
We opted to book a 3 hour dye class to see how it went and would then decide if we should also do the weaving class the following day. If you only have one day, you can do the dye workshop in the morning, break for lunch and weave in the afternoon.
All I can say is these ladies are amazing! I loved their energy, happiness and excitement to share their craft with us. Even with very little language overlap between us, we all had a lovely afternoon and couldn’t wait to get back the following day for our second workshop.
Dye Workshop at TinteMaya
On our first day we started our session off deciding which colors we would make. My son decided on a light blue and an orange. TinteMaya have a range of colors from light green, dark blue, yellow, pink, orange, and light blue. If you are interested in using the cochineal bug to make red, let the ladies know in advance so they can procure it prior to your visit. This is not one they grow on their own as it is a bug that lives on cactus.
You can see more of the process in our video here.
Depending on the colors you choose, the process will be different. For some, there is a lot of manual labor involved like chipping the wood into small pieces or grinding and sorting. For some it is just a matter of cutting up leaves and plants. Regardless of what color you choose, it’s fascinating to see the transformation.
Once you have prepared your materials it is typically boiled for 20-30 minutes.
Following this, you will add in your cloth. If you have something you want to dye of your own, you can bring it with you, otherwise you can dye Guatemalan fabric or white yarn to later use in your weaving or take home for other projects.
And like magic you have dyed something using natural ingredients! My son found this to be an amazing experience and one he now wants to try on his own at home.
Backstrap Weaving Workshop
For our second afternoon visit, we opted to do the backstrap weaving workshop. For this you can choose between creating a scarf or an ‘Inspiration’ piece. My son chose the latter and was very happy with his decision.
The Inspiration piece is a good choice for children in that it is smaller and they can be more creative with it. It also allows mess ups to look like they were intended!
The first step will be to choose your colors in advance so that Amalia or another lady at the co-op can prepare the loom. This takes time, so consider your colors in advance.
We opted for just white so that my son’s dyed colors could be more visible, but any color can be used and multiple colors can even be used.
The weavers will start the piece for you, showing you how to do it. I personally found it quite complicated, but my son seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Kids (and adults) will need to have some level of strength and patience to do the weaving workshop as it is tedious and requires you keep the loom tight against your back.
You can weave as much as you want and when you need to take a break Amalia or the other weavers will take over to continue on for you if you want. My son didn’t like for them to continue his work as he wanted it to be all his own doing, which is also an option.
If you choose to make the Inspiration piece you can bring materials from home, from your travels or use scraps of beautiful Guatemalan fabric to weave into the work. My son choose some raw cotton that he had dyed the previous day as well as other bits of fabric he found on site.
In addition to learning to weave, Amalia also showed my son how to thread string from raw cotton straight from the tree! He thought this was so cool.
We were in love with the abundance of materials in this small space. A small cotton tree as well as several other plants were growing in the small yard. Definitely inspiring to create our own dye workshop at home!
Details of the Dye and Weaving Workshops
In order to book your session, the best way to communicate is via email (email@example.com). Danielle, an American living in Europe volunteers to be the go between for TinteMaya and English speakers. She is very quick on email and can answer most of your questions.
In general there are two times for workshops – 10 am and 2 pm. However I am sure if you needed to adjust a bit Amalia would be able to accommodate.
During the high season, I would make sure to book well in advance if your time in San Juan is limited.
Once you are at the workshop, know that Amalia the main face of the group speaks only some English. She speaks fluent Spanish and Mayan, with most of the other ladies speaking only Mayan.
We speak very basic Spanish but managed to get by with what little we all spoke of each other’s languages! For the most part, it’s all a demonstration process so not a lot of words are needed.
Also note, there is a small outdoor toilet area, but bring your own toilet paper as there is none provided here.
Cost to Learn Guatemalan Backstrap Weaving
In general the classes to learn traditional backstrap weaving and dying is quite economical. The dye workshop cost 125Q per person for one color with each additional color 100Q.
The weaving workshop was also 125Q for a 3 hour class.
The class can accommodate several people at once, however they are always booked as private lessons so that your party has dedicated attention during the workshop. During our first visit the ladies had a weaving workshop happening at the same time as our dye workshop, but we were not interfering in each other space at all. Plus, it was nice to have other people to chat to occasionally!
If you aren’t sold by us, check out their reviews on TripAdvisor.
How to Get to TinteMaya
If you are staying in San Pedro, you can easily hop into a tuk tuk for 10 Quetzal per person. If you are staying in any of the other villages you can take a boat over and walk up the hill from the dock and turn right at the market. Follow this road just a bit and you will see TinteMaya on the right.
If you need to commute by boat, make sure to choose the morning workshop as the last boat for the day often leaves by 5pm, leaving you little time to run over your workshop time.
Visiting TinteMaya and participating in their workshops were absolute highlights of our visit to Guatemala. I would highly recommend booking a session during your trip.
Have you ever taken a backstrap weaving class? Would you like to learn weaving in Guatemala? Are there other local crafts you enjoy learning when you travel?
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