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Friday, 22 August 2014

Watching the master weavers in action

To get prepare us for weaving ourselves next week, we visited a family in Santo Tomas Jalieza who are masters in the art of the backstrap loom. The mother, Crispina, and her three daughters – Mariana, Margarita and Inés. Not to be left out, their brother Gerado is a painter. Crispina has won many national weaving awards and we were lucky enough to be able to watch her at work.

First Inés showed us how she makes these very fine bracelets. The family always works in cotton, and these are the smallest pieces they do. Inés makes three bracelets in a long row and then cuts them apart and plaits the ends.
The cotton they use is from a local supplier and it's synthetic dyed to get the range of bright colours. Crispina told us she prefers working in the brights and when she does designs in browns or naturals she calls them sad colours. A woman after my own heart!
Today Crispina was making a man's belt to wear with the traditional costume. First she has to thread the loom. She knows all the designs off by heart, so she knows how many threads to wind before she starts.

Once she's thread them all she then attaches two wooden rods through the loops that are currently on her arm. The wooden rods are then attached to a tree. The other end also has a rod passed through it (you can see it two photos below) and this is attached to a strap that is belted around Crispina's back – hence backstrap loom.
Crispina doesn't know in advance which motifs she'll weave – it's whatever takes her fancy at the time. The same goes for the border pattern you can see being worked up either side. Crispina is starting a motif design here so her left hand is counting the number of threads she needs to move to get the particular design.
I asked her if she ever makes mistakes, they all laughed and said of course, especially when the chatting gets carried away, but she's showing me here how easy it is for her to see if something has gone wrong and she can just undo it straight away.
We weren't watching Crispina for very long, but in that time she managed to wrap the cotton, thread the loom, and weave this rooster pattern. She said the whole belt will be finished some time tomorrow. The family weaves everyday and have such a reputation that they don't have to sell at markets, but rather people come to them to buy.
As well as the traditional belts, they also do table runners, placements and bags. I think I'll be lucky if I can just manage a bracelet of stripes!


  1. So great you're doing this blog and we can read about everything as you go

    1. And it's going to be a great reference for me I reckon as well.