Through our Signature Collection, we are able to work with artisan-crafted material and companies with incredible missions. Our partners, Mikoleón, are dedicated to creating sustainable fair trade jobs in Guatemala to promote traditional craftsmanship and slow fashion. They are a robust creator of apparel and footwear that is hand-crafted, artisanal, eco-cool, up-cycled, 100% cotton, chemical and dye-free, fair trade, and sustainable.
For our newest design collaboration with Mikoleón, we bring you a vibrant design woven by a single artisan weaver. Read on to learn about traditional Zunil weaving as told by the weaver herself, Francisca.
From Thread to Thread They Weave Their Dreams.
Nestled among the green mountains stands the town of Zunil in the highlands of Guatemala. The diversity of colors among the houses and the polychromy of nature is reflected in the fabrics that the people of Zunil use to make their clothing.
"My foot loom is worth gold because it has been and is my working tool since I was a child. With this loom and its other components, we have lived and grown culturally, spiritually and materially together with my family," says Francisca Xic Ramos. She is a weaver of cortes, güipiles, belts, straps, and other handcrafted garments typical of the Zunil culture.
Zunil is a town in the highlands of Quetzaltenango, with about 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom are of Mayan descent and speak the K'iche' language. The economy of this town is based on agriculture, weaving, textiles, and trade in various products.
The lives of many of Zunil's inhabitants revolve around weaving. "We as artisans weave our dreams and we can go far," says Francisca.
To weave these multicolored rolls of fabric, the artisans use a medium-sized foot loom, about one meter wide. They complement their textile work with other tools such as the winder, the warping machine, the spinning wheel and the shuttle.
Chocoy, A Key Component of the Loom.
The loom used for weaving is made of wood and has a square shape. Among its main parts are the beamer, the pedals, and the comb, but one of the parts that makes possible the separation, division and interlacing of threads is the abiadura (chocoy, in the K'iche' language.) This component of the loom (made of wooden rulers and threads) is essential for weaving the warp weft and shaping the geometric figures using brocading, also known as a grabbing or "Pepenado" process for shading (darkening or coloring) of an illustration or diagram with parallel lines or a block of color. One of the five loom pedals is used for separating and dividing the yarns using the opening.
The artisans use yarn, silk and mercerize thread for their weavings. The antecedents of the current thread, made from cotton, date back to the pre-classic and classic period of the Mayan culture.
The weaving process begins with the preparation or purchase of yarn in skeins, which are then reeled into reels for both warp and weft. The warp is prepared in a wooden warping machine; the next step consists of placing the warp on the warping beam of the loom using a rake. Each thread is stealthily passed through the holes of the opening or chocoy, then through the reed/comb and finally the warp is unfolded and ready to weave.
Ancestral Fashion Designer
"I consider myself an artisan with the ability to make any style of typical garment, especially Zunil cortes. I am an ancestral fashion designer and a designer of current typical clothing since clients request items with new designs and I have to adapt; however, our textile roots are still in force," says Francisca.
Weaving cortes is meticulous work, requiring a lot of patience from the weavers to create geometric figures or flowers from yarn to yarn. The elaboration of a corte, six yards long, takes from 15 to 20 days, but if the designs are complex, the weaving time can be extended up to two months. On the other hand, a güipil can be woven in eight days.
"Our cultural values, design creativity, garment quality, honesty and hard work helps us draw buyers from other countries. Thanks to Industrias Xela we have work and we continue to grow," she says.
Francisca explains she is happy to know that her weavings are appreciated and valued in other countries. She, her sisters, and her parents form a work team, a family craft workshop that began with her great-great-grandparents, and now they want to perpetuate the ancestral textile heritage. "Without the help of my parents and grandparents, we would not have this knowledge and our material things," she adds.
The dream of a weaver is to go far and travel to the places where her products are enjoyed; she wants to meet and greet the people who use her weavings.
History of the Zunil loom
The first foot looms that arrived in Zunil were simple and there they wove cortes with little designs or brocade, but over time, other pieces were added that have been adapted to fit the needs of customers such as the design and size of the garments. In Zunil, belts and straps are also woven.
The mixture of the foot loom (which arrived from Europe during the 16th century) with the backstrap loom has resulted in other looms of various sizes that are used in various regions of Guatemala.
The backstrap loom originates from the Mayan culture, as shown in the codices and vessels, where women weavers are seen, among whom stand out the Mayan deity Ixchel, in relation to weaving and replication.
Francisca gives a message of encouragement to the young people of Zunil and other villages, urging them to weave to maintain the heritage of their ancestors and preserve the Mayan textile heritage and patrimony. However, she especially encourages because there is always a demand for weaving and it can become another source of income for families. "You can start from scratch and go far," Francisca concludes.
The first design from Zunil weaver, Francisca, will be part of our February 24th Signature release but future designs, and other collaborations with Mikoleón will release in the future as well.
In addition to the opportunity to support the Guatemalan weaving community with the Baby Tula x Mikoleón designs, we are delighted to provide additional support through a donation to Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro.
Mikoleón has been donating to Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro for over 6 years which mostly supports babies needing time in the NICU while waiting to return home with their families. We will be donating a portion of the proceeds for every carrier or hip pouch sold within the Baby Tula x Mikoleon collection. You can learn more about this organization here: https://www.hermanopedrofoundationusa.org/