In Antigua de Guatemala, the streets are as vibrant as the culture. As we laced our way through the cobblestone avenues, flashes of color greeted our eyes from all directions, painting a brilliant landscape of azure blue, saffron, indigo, vermillion and avocado green. Around each corner, strings of intricate and inviting wooden doors promise charming courtyards within - alive with lush gardens and effervescent fountains in the shadow of Volcàn de Agua.
The vivacity of this city of color carries over into the traditional artisan handicrafts of Guatemala, and it was exactly this brilliance that we had come here in search of. We had traveled to witness the fabled backstrap weaving process, which centuries of women here have practiced, perfected and passed on to the next generation. Cross-legged on the floor with the loom wrapped cozily around their bodies, each of these artisans use reams of warp and weft to create intricate, breathtakingly beautiful designs - each the product of deft, practiced hands and traditional methods. In our travels, we discovered many cooperatives that maintain each step of this process in the age-old tradition—starting with raw local cotton, that is then hand-spun into yarn and then hand-dyed with plant-based hues. With meticulous dedication, these artisans begin their craft by painstakingly removing each seed from locally grown and harvested cotton, which is then pounded into masses of pure cotton. This raw cotton is then spun by skilled hands for fifteen days to create a ball of the finest cotton yarn.
Local plants, esteemed for centuries for their lasting, colorful qualities, are ground into a fine powder to create the vibrant hues that are so iconic of this city, culture and artisan handicraft. From indigo come the shades of blue and purple, from beets the deep reds and from achiote the brilliant oranges. The powders created from these plants are mixed with water into a deep, staining dye, and, as each color is bound to the cotton fibers using natural banana stalks, the yarn takes on a new vibrant hue.
As we watched each of these artisans work, we were each overwhelmed by the palpable sense of tradition in these workshops, witnessing first-hand knowledge that has been practiced by centuries of women and shared for generations. Here, we discovered that each step of the process is firmly based in natural, local resources and represents a true example of sustainable, heirloom handicraft. We're already planning our return journey to Antigua, the city of heritage, history and color.
Explore our Striped Hand- Towels to see what we brought back from Antigua.