"We are a group of artisans who live in the Ixil region in Quiché. We began working together in July of 2004 and, at the beginning, our group was formed by 25 women from...
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Women Artisans from the Ixil Region
"We are a group of artisans who live in the Ixil region in Quiché. We began working together in July of 2004 and, at the beginning, our group was formed by 25 women from different communities in Ixil. We'd set up stands in each community to sell our work to the volunteer groups visiting from the U.S. We sold huipil blouses, rebozos and belts in our traditional styles, and we also wove fabrics with Maya figures, which we transformed into a variety of items. Our bags and cushions have always been popular.
"We felt happy each time a tourist bought one of our designs. But then we started thinking of how we could make our group grow so we could sell more and offer work opportunities to more women. So we asked the Agros Foundation for help. They guided us as we formed the Ixil Concept, which is the name for our designs.
"Our group is named Grupo de Mujeres Artesanas de la Región Ixil. Today it is made up of women with few economic resources – we live in one of the poorest parts of Guatemala. The area of the Ixil triangle includes the villages of Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and Chajul, and was greatly affected by the civil war that lasted 36 years. But even so, we are hardworking and creative people, and we've learned the backstrap weaving technique because it is the legacy of our ancestors. Each icon represents the history of our people.
"The weaving tradition has been handed down from generation to generation, and now we are teaching it to our daughters so this tradition won't be lost. During the time we've been working together, our group has grown a lot and we now have our own workshop. Women from the region have the opportunity to learn or to improve their textile techniques, and they also learn to be businesswomen and improve their quality of life.
"Our dream is to continue working together to make our group grow, to continue designing and to be able to reflect our culture and customs through our weavings. Because weaving is an art, we can think of a design and create it on the loom. We also work with different colors to conceive new designs, and we sometimes combine our textiles with other materials such as maguey and wood.
"When we think of new designs, we take our inspiration from everything that surrounds us – the trees and animals, our people and the teachings of our grandparents. It is also inspiring when we think about how this work is able to change the lives of many women in the region, how families can have a better life and we can be respected.
"As designers, we've chosen several women who are quite skilled and have experience, each one in a different type of textile and design. In addition, they receive training and supervision. Some of the women are good at designing small motifs, others excel at large patterns, and others are best at textiles with highly defined and beautiful details. In this way, we've been able to create a variety of designs and fabric types.
"It hasn't been easy to establish ourselves as an artisan group, because we've had to earn our clients' trust, to show them that our quality is excellent. It's also been a bit tough because some of us live far from here and the roads are difficult. Also, many of the women don't know how to read or write, and only a few speak Spanish well.
"In the beginning, it was a little hard for us to leave our communities to attend the training sessions because we didn't know where we were going and besides, many of us had never ventured outside of our villages. Once, we took 20 women on a tour to see new markets and products. We visited Panajachel, Sololá and, from there, we crossed the lake by boat to meet a group of artisans who were going to tell us their story.
"As soon as we boarded the boat, we felt very nervous. Some women cried, others wanted to get off, and others asked us to take their bodies back home to their husbands if they died on the lake. We were really scared, but then we calmed down and, when we finally arrived at the village, we couldn't stop laughing at ourselves. When it was all over, the experience was a lot of fun.
"Thanks to our work, several women from our group have been able to attend large events to promote our art and take training courses. And we feel so happy to see our weavings bought by people who like them!
"Our tools are handlooms and backstrap looms. We make our own backstrap looms – we obtain the wood and put them together. But we have an expert build our handlooms because they are more complicated and, apart from the wood, they have metal combs and heddles.
"In addition to our textiles, many of us really enjoy farming. Some of us belong to an agricultural association in the region, and spend part of our time growing peas to export."