Weaving, Culture, and Tradition

The Goddess Ixchel’s Gift

Myth has it that Grandmother the Moon, the goddess Ixchel, taught the first woman how to weave at the beginning of time. Since then, Maya weaving traditions have been handed down from mothers to daughters—evolving over 3,000 years into a rich array of techniques and designs.

A Tradition of Resistance and Survival

For centuries, Maya women’s weaving has been a form of resistance. Spanish priests and authorities colonizing the land that is now Guatemala burned Maya books and destroyed cultural artefacts. Using a hidden language of symbols and colors, Maya women documented and preserved stories and culture in their textiles. Weavers were essential for the survival of Maya culture.

Today, wearing indumentaria maya(traditional handwoven Maya clothing) can still be an act of resistance. Maya women may face discrimination when they wear indumentaria, especially in professional spaces, but their choice is an expression of pride in Maya identity.

The Humble Backstrap Loom (telar de cintura)

The backstrap loom is a remarkable technology: an affordable, portable, deceptively simple bundle of sticks. In the hands of a master weaver, this tool can make magic.

To weave, the top rod of the loom is tied to a tree or post while the bottom rod is attached to a strap that wraps around the weaver’s lower back. The weaver leans into the strap to create tension and hold the loom in place while she weaves, passing the weft thread back and forth between warp threads.

Textile Techniques

Mayan Hands products are made with numerous weaving techniques—some unique to a specific village in Guatemala!

Santiago brocade

In Santiago Atitlán, weavers use multiple heddles to create tiny, dense brocade patterns resulting in a beautiful textured cloth.

San Rafael brocade

These designs may look like embroidery, but in fact they are woven into the fabric using a backstrap loom. Weavers in San Rafael use a library of stylized geometric designs representing natural elements.

Close-up image of a purple handwoven textile from San Rafael, Rabinal, Guatemala with bright multicolored geometric brocade designs


Jaspe (also known as ikat) patterns are made by meticulously tie-dying the thread before it is woven, so that one thread displays multiple colors.

Tapestry weave

Weavers in Santiago Atitlán use a special tapestry loom that produces a dense textile. Tapestry weave can be used as a canvas to make detailed figures and designs.


Cintas, traditionally used as hair ornaments, are woven on a special loom in Chirijquiac. These very narrow textiles showcase intricate patterns, often use many colors of thread, and can even include words.

Foot loom (telar de pie)

Weavers in Chuaperol have mastered the use of large foot looms, allowing them to work more quickly and make wider designs, like tablecloths.