Love for ethnic fibers inspires new businesses
Susan E. Cheever and I are weavers who have travelled to the Highlands of Guatemala together many times, admiring the exquisite handmade textiles of Maya weavers. We understand the time-honored complexity of indigenous weaving and Meso-American jaspe dye processes, and greatly respect the achievement of local artisans who continue to uphold their historic traditions. Both Susan and I have shown our new indigenous-inspired garments, scarves and pillows at New England’s Cultural Survival Bazaars as well as galleries and shops.
Because we share a love for ethnic fabrics, and admire the gentle spirit and
moral strength of Guatemalan Maya women, we decided to blend our textile expertise with new businesses that support the traditions of Guatemalan cloth. We offer fair-wage work to many Highlands Mayas who appreciate our honest support.
The two businesses, Fusion De Maya and Tinamit Textiles provide short-term fair-wage work for indigenous weavers, three expert tailors and two seamstresses. We also help support the following organizations: Creando Mi Futuro, a Saturday art school and nutritional resource for underprivileged indigenous children of San Pedro la Laguna; Mayan Families in Panajachel, supporting Maya children with tuition, school supplies and health care; and Manos de Cruceñas, who provide artisan skills training for village youth, pre-school and economic empowerment for Santa Cruz la Laguna families.
Six years ago I retired from teaching at the University of Massachusetts and put my fiberart career on hold to start my small business concentrating on indigenous Guatemalan scarf production. Fusion De Maya merges my strong color sense with bamboo fibers and historic backstrap (stick-loom) weaving. The scarves and shawls are one-of-a-kind products, hand-dyed and woven at the Asociación Maya de Desarrollo, a textile cooperative in Sololá, Guatemala. The cooperative is directed by a core group of elected Maya artisans. They are dyers, warpers, weavers, a bookkeeper, and as many as 180 part-time backstrap loom weavers who live and work in rural Highland villages. This cooperative is governed by the Maya women, no longer requiring guidance by an out-of-country NGO. They set their prices and fee structure based on area textile standards. Tourism and foreign customers help keep the production quality high, while retaining the integrity of traditional weaving.
Susan E. Cheever studied complex Swedish weaving in Maine and Massachusetts. She now focuses on Tinamit Textiles, concentrating on repurposing used handwoven Maya corte (skirt) fabrics. Susan purchases the yardages directly from vendors in regional Highlands markets and works with indigenous tailors and seamstresses in Atitlán villages who expertly style simple tunics, men’s and women’s classic shirts, unique blouses and kimonos. Susan’s work gives a new purpose to the recycled materials.
As it has been throughout history, ethnic identity in cloth continues to be important especially to Maya women. Each striped corte fabric, often updated with new colors and jaspe patterns by the local dyers and weavers, specifically identifies the wearer’s regional community. Fusion De Maya and Tinamit Textiles partners honor these exceptional traditions.
Identity in Cloth: Continuity and Survival in Guatemalan Textiles. Beverly Gordon, University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
Magic and Mystery of Jaspe (Magia y Misterio del Jaspe). Rosario Miralbes de Polanco, El Museo Ixchel, Guatemala City, 2003