In the shade of a breezy courtyard, Filomena threads her loom with rich tropical-blue threads. She spends the afternoon weaving on her back-strap loom. The skills and patterns she learned from her grandmother transform her bundles of thread into luxurious jaspe kimonos. The women of Filomena’s quaint lakeside village still practice the ancient dyeing and weaving methods of their Mayan ancestors. Surrounded by the beauty of a lush volcanic valley, mothers and daughters gather together to pass down centuries of artisan traditions.
Centuries of Artisan Traditions
In festive skirts and blouses, they fill an assortment of pots and jars with water and fresh-cut native plants from the Guatemalan countryside. Just inside the stucco archway, the artisans carry bundles of banana tree trunks into the kitchen. They chop and peel away the outer layers and prepare the inner pulp to be boiled into mordant.
On the same stove where she cooks her family meals, Filomena boils kettles filled with bright flowers, green leaves, and earthy barks to create her own unique shades of organic plant dyes. Each pot contains a treasured family recipe that has been passed down for generations. Among her most prized family recipes is Guatemalan Indigo.
She rinses each new bundle of thread with cold water before soaking them in the strained hot mordant. Her home-cooked mordant will help her other natural plant dyes “fix” to her threads. Filomena learned this technique from her mother, who like countless generations before her, was a farmer.
The jaspe dyeing and weaving techniques she learned from her mother and grandmother have become more than a hobby to Filomena. She is the first member of her family to have the opportunity to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional weaver.
“Knowing the craft of weaving has changed my life. Instead of farming which is sometimes very hard physically, I can focus on creating. My favorite part is the magic of the natural dyes. I like to experiment with the plants and create new colors. I can be creative and have fun while working.” – Filomena
The Magic of Natural Plant Dyes
Inspired by her rich heritage and tropical landscape, Filomena spends two entire days preparing her hand-dyed threads. She soaks and rinses handfuls of cotton and silk threads in kettles of hot dyes and cold water, until she is satisfied with each color. On tall wooden racks, she hangs the finished threads to dry in the tropical sun.
“My favorite part is the magic of the natural dyes.
I like to experiment with the plants and create new colors.”
A Beautiful Life
Silky rainbows of thread wave in the breeze, as mothers and daughters gather in the courtyard to begin weaving the traditional kimonos of their ancestors. This is more than a celebration of art and heritage. In a culture where families face overwhelming poverty and lack of job opportunities, many of these artisans, like Filomena, are the main income earners for their families.
Without this income, most of these women would be forced to farm for a living in rugged terrain – without the conveniences of modern farming equipment. As Trades of Hope artisans, they are able to explore their own creativity, enjoy community, and work in safe environments where they can be close to their families.
“Before this, I always worked at home taking care of my kids and farming land. My entire family have always been and still are farmers except for me. Now I’m a professional weaver. That makes me happy.”
“Instead of farming which is sometimes very hard physically, I can focus on creating.”
A Heritage of Hope
As a mother and grandmother, Filomena invests the income she earns as an artisan into her family’s hopes for a better future. She saves part of her income, hoping to one day own her own shop where she can sell her designs.
Filomena also continues to invest in the next generation by funding her grandchildren’s education – a luxury in Guatemala. In remote villages like Filomena’s, many children must spend their days peddling in the streets to buy food for their families, instead of attending school. She hopes to provide her grandchildren with better opportunities to pursue their own dreams.
The women of Filomena’s village are preserving centuries of tradition while investing in the next generation. They are teaching their children more than artisan skills. They are teaching their children to hope for a better future, to work for a better future, and to invest in a better future.
Each time Filomena ties her final tassel, she has invested a week of her life, skill, and passion into creating a single Laguna Silk Kimono. She has also invested a week of her life, skill, and passion into creating a brighter future for the next generation. She weaves each timeless kimono with pride in her heritage and hope for her family’s future.