Another Kind of Loom

On February 27 I got a double treat. First was visiting Emilia Poz again, the cinta weaver in Tere’s and my book Traditional Weavers of Guatemala – Their Stories, Their Lives. Our friendship with Emilia gives me the gift of intimate contact with what might be my favorite textile in Guatemala, the cintas of Zunil. Teeny tiny tapestries, they have 18 warp threads per inch, a bazillion wefts.

DSC05569
Styles change. The grapes on the left was/were my first, in 1992. The two rainbow colored are the more traditional.

The second part of the treat was watching Anita Osterhaug, editor of Handwoven Magazine, making sense of the cinta loom — which takes some doing. The loom is a remarkable hybrid of several other looms, and has remained unchanged for at least 100 years. The warp is a long loop tensioned between a fixed object, like a stair railing or table leg, and the weaver’s body. The shafts: there are four, counterbalanced, but while 1 & 2 are paired and 3 & 4 are paired, there is no connection between the first pair and the second pair. There are other quirky things too, including the reed (fixed), beater (non-existent), the heddle-eyes (grommets set in the twist of plastic rope), the warp sizing (watered down carpenters’ glue)…

How do you get a four-shaft cloth with just two treadles?
How do you get a four-shaft cloth with just two treadles?

But most mysterious of all are the treadles. Two treadles, two lams, yielding a four shaft weave. Huh? See the weight, a heavy metal bar, hanging off the lam? It serves as a substitute treadle. The left treadle is tied to shaft one only, but operates shafts one and two. The right treadle does the equivalent magic for shafts three and four. Until you can crawl down there and see what is happening, understanding it is pretty elusive. It was fun to see the light come on for Anita.

Anita was here with a group of textile-types, mostly from Colorado, half of whom were current or retired Interweave folks. They came to meet some of the artisans in the book, and they got to meet eight of them, as well as other textile makers we know. (You can see more pictures and stories on the facebook pages and blogs of Cloth Roads.)

Zunil visit Feb 2016
Candelaria, Ann, Marilyn, María, Linda, Anita, Emilia, Suzanne, Diane, and Whitney

We visited Emilia at her home-away-from-home since she was a teenager, the Santa Ana Cooperative in Zunil. Afterward we took the astonishing drive up to Guatemala’s most famous hot springs, Fuentes Georginas. All in all it was a pretty good day.

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