backstrap loom

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Way back we spent a lovely week exploring San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico.  Home to both local craftsman as well as foreign artists San Cristobal is a shopper’s dream.  Tom and I definitely did our share of perusing the markets but our best find comes from Bela who showed us the most amazing shawl in modern colours.

Often the Mayan fabric, thought intricate and impressive, has pretty brash colours, at least to my eye, so when I saw a hand-woven scarf with rich purples mixed with bright lime greens and tiny details of teal I was interested to find out who made them.  Leave it to the French to track down a women’s co-operative of weavers, suggest a few modern colour combinations and, as they say, Voila!  Amazing fabrics in great colours.  Bela explained where the co-op was (well sort of) and we decided to track it down before we left.

On a whim, after returning from a visit to San Juan Chamula, I pulled Tom off the bus in the middle of nowhere convinced that the co-op was close at hand.  The soccer field and a white building where the two main landmarks Bela mentioned and after a bit of aimless wandering a group of construction workers pointed us in the right direction.

We arrived to a few small buildings, a play park and a couple of cars.  We poked around and were greeted by friendly gal who took us straight to the stock room.  Shelves from floor to ceiling were jam-packed with thousands of scarves, table linens, bags, tea-towels and shawls. It was pretty overwhelming and even more overwhelming to think every item was woven by hand, thread by thread.  We treated ourselves to a few things.

Scarf
Modern Colours

Jolom Mayaetik, meaning “Mayan Women Weavers”, is a co-operative made up of 250 women from 11 different communities within the Chiapas Highlands.  A group of three women from each community form a General Assembly. The General assembly represents the co-op with different organizations in both Mexico and other parts of the world.  The women in Jolom Mayaetik are trained on the back-strap loom as well as the pedal loom and, for some, the sewing machine.  Many of the women receive training in book-keeping, administration and design.

Backstrap Loom
The products at this collective are by far some of the nicest weavings I have seen thus far.  Expect to pay fair prices, quite a bit more than in the markets.  You can check them out here (though the link seems to be down at the moment) or if you are in San Cristobal take a bus to La Quinta San Martin, get off at San Martin, walk to the right until you come to a big white house.