Assignment 2 Research Point

During the course there are research points which are a series of investigations into different aspects of the textile work. The brief is that the investigations are “quite short”.

The research point for Assignment 1 will actually come later in my course work as it involves a visit to a textile museum that I will be doing next month.

So my first research point is the one from Assignment 2 which is to “Look in depth at a textile piece that you have at home”.

I have chosen to look at a table runner that belongs to my husband, Kit. The table runner was bought in Guatemala in the 1970’s by Kit’s father Tim who was working at the time as a representative for ICI Pharmaceuticals.

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The main feature of the table runner is of two people playing xylophone type instruments with wooden bars for the notes that are hit by a mallet.  Originally an African instrument, the movement of slaves to Latin America in the 16th and 17th centuries transferred the knowledge of the xylophone across seas where changes were made to the resonators to alter the sound and it was called a Marimba (Vienna Symphonic Library).

This is only speculation but the central image of the Marimbas makes me think that this table runner may have been made specifically for purchase by tourists as it is a very archetypal image to represent Guatemala rather than the more symbolic patterns that would have been used for the indigenous populations own housewares.

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I think the animals either side of the head may be a coati or coatimundi.  Coatis are raccoon type creatures native to Latin America with long tails and snouts, image from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/123192/coati

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The table runner feels like it was made from strong cotton, and this was certainly the most used fibre for weaving and was grown along the coast of Guatemala.

Guatemala is an area in Central America with a history steeped in the culture and traditions of the Maya and later conquests by the Spanish.  The original traditional woven textile clothing of both sexes left the upper part of the body bare and these forms of dress “shocked and were considered immoral by the Catholic Spaniards” (Bertrand and Magne 1991).  Hispanic influences on clothing led to the development of the highly decorated huipil, a loose tunic style top made from rectangular pieces which became standard wear for women, along with a corte (skirt) of a wraparound style.  Men wore loose trousers with a brightly patterned shirt. Various other items are traditional such as a tzut which is a woven utility cloth used for a multitude of purposes for example a scarf, a wrap to carry food in, a head covering or a wrap to carry a child in.

There are two types of loom traditionally used, the Backstrap loom and floor treadle looms. A key difference is that with a backstrap loom the warp is stretched at full length from the start, instead of being unwound in stages as with a treadle loom.  The tension on a Backstrap loom is controlled by the weaver through the movement of their body backwards and forwards to release or tighten the warping threads.  Backstrap looms are easily portable as they are light, small and roll up to be carried.  Floor treadle looms are heavy and stationery, have rigid tension warp threads and can be used to work much larger pieces of fabric.

The table runner could have been made by either loom but certainly fits the dimensions of a Backstrap loom which were limited in their width.  If made on a Backstrap loom it would be a plain weave with single faced supplementary weft patterning (Guatemalan Textiles Today).  The image below is of weaving being done on a Backstrap loom available from https://educationandmore.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/back-strap-loom-weaving/

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If made on a backstrap loom, this runner would have been made by a woman, as men only use the floor treadle loom.  This differentiation is explained by Anderson In Guatemalan Textile Today:

“The backstrap loom due to its portability, inexpensiveness and ease of use can be used easily by women and integrated into day to day activities” whereas “the floor treadle loom is large, expensive and harder to use and requires full time commitment, something that women running households are unlikely to manage”.

The tradition of women weaving in Guatemala is very strong, with the following poem (What Weaving Means from Mayan Hands) being spoken to a newborn girl as the traditional implements of weaving are placed in her hands:

Well then, little girl,
This will be your hand
This will be your foot
Here is your work
With this, you’ll look for your food,
Don’t take the evil path,
Don’t steal
When you grow up
Only with these will you work
With your hand
With your foot

For part of my research I contacted Kit’s sister in the UK and she kindly sent me a book, The Textiles of Guatemala (Bertrand and Magne 1991) and some other small items of woven cloth bought back from Guatemala. The following photo is of a small sample of very smooth weaving with two birds, probably peacocks.

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Birds were a popular symbol in Guatemalan weaving.  The following small coasters have bird shapes, common ones were a chicken, peacock or swan although I have to admit to having difficulties working out exactly what these ones are.

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It is interesting to see the fine, densely packed weaving and smaller, neater images in the right two samples as compared to the two on the left which are a bit coarser.

This was an interesting textile to investigate and there was a lot of information on the history on weaving in Guatemala that I found so one of the hardest parts of this research point was actually keeping the investigation short as per the brief and not getting carried off in other directions.

Sources:

Anderson, M 1978, Guatemalan Textiles Today, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York

Bertrand, R and Magne, D 1991, The Textiles of Guatemala, Studio Editions Ltd, London

Vienna Symphonic Library  https://vsl.co.at/en/Marimba/History

What Weaing Means http://www.mayanhands.org/culture/meaning-function-of-mayan-textiles

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