In the early 70’s I discovered weaving and natural dyeing. When the opportunity arose to study the textiles of Guatemala, I eagerly embarked on what was the beginning of a life journey. The weaving in Guatemala is unique and complex. In the mornings we studied with the accomplished weavers from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, and in the afternoons we toured other highland pueblos to witness the different techniques used to create the individual traje (Guatemalan suit/outfit) of each village. Here I was introduced to the magic of the indigo vat, and the rich visual language of symbols and patterns used in indigenous textiles. My personal teacher was an 11-year-old girl, but she knew so much more than I did. She spoke only Kaqchikel and no Spanish. She was an excellent teacher and taught me very well with only the unspoken vocabulary of textiles.
In the past 8 years I have been drawn back to Guatemala as a volunteer 4 times, most recently, 2 years ago with my husband, Don Spence. We had the good fortune to meet Heather and Greg at the end of that trip. We were deeply inspired by the humanity and beauty of Project Somos. One learns as a craftsperson the necessity of sustainability in daily practice, and everything about the philosophy and reality of Project Somos resonated with what I had come to believe.
When Heather mentioned the intention of starting a small flock of sheep to provide the wool for the needle felting enterprise, I thought, would it not also be an excellent opportunity to introduce wet felting as another creative option? Thinking further about sustainability, it made little sense for Somos to be using fleece from New Zealand sheep, shipped to Canada for dyeing and then shipped to Guatemala. ‘What if Somos could use the fleece from local sheep, dyed on site?’ The next step in our thinking was, ‘what if we could also use the historical local natural dyes in the process, rather than chemical dyes?’
Our conversations with Heather and Greg continued over the following year, and we decided to embark on teaching the Mamas wet felting (fieltro mojado) utilizing naturally dyed wool. Although my Spanish is rudimentary, I figured, if an 11 year-old Mayan girl speaking only Kaqchikel could teach me how to backstrap weave, then I, with the help of Heather, Greg and Clara, (one of the mamas) as assistant, should be able to teach the mamas. And Don, a videographer by profession, would document the process and produce an instructional video as a tool for teaching at Somos.
To be Continued… stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3…