Stitching Together the Past

By Susana Raymundo

Weaving is an important part of cultural heritage with the backstrap loom as an inheritance that comes passed from previous generations. Thanks to the grandmothers, mothers, sisters (and perhaps a few grandfathers, fathers and brothers mixed in there), the ways of weaving endure to this day. This seed of traditional weaving grows in children until they too one day are the grandparents and parents of the next generation of weavers. Further this tradition not only creates textiles but also stitches together families as they share their lives while working together at their craft. And even when working alone, the weaver is serenading the world by humming or whistling to express the joy of their work.

The work of weaving is done upon one’s knees, as if through a long prayer in church. This kneeling is necessary to control the loom, and its wooden arms, as layer upon layer is added to the piece as the strings are loosened, tightened, and loosened again. There is considerable sacrifice and love poured into this activity as kneeling for hours at a time causes discomfort.  This physical sacrifice of this weaving often includes damage to the sciatic nerve as the hours of kneeling cut off this nerve causing damage to the legs and spine.

Such garments are frequently made by family members using the techniques passed down through the generations and it is the sacrifice inherent in this garment that makes the wearer proud to adorn themselves with the fabric of their ancestors. In addition to being made for family members, these garments are also sold as the weavers use their earnings to provide their family with the necessities. With the amount of effort that goes into creating these weavings, they are not inexpensive (often costing hundreds of dollars); nonetheless, the monetary price of these garments does not capture the full investment of time, patience and inspiration that go into its construction.

Little boys and girls love to sit next to their elders as they weave, learning the art form. Their curiosity often overcomes them as they stick arms, legs, and even heads into the loom to understand how everything is working. They lie beneath the loom to see how the multitude of strings move. With the mesmerizing pattern of strings as their guide, they make up games in concert with the weaving. In such a way, this profession and way of life continues as the art of weaving flows from the grown-ups to the children in a replicating pattern, just like that of a woven textile garment. Thus backstrap weaving is the living expression of the history of a people.

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