Rug Hooking in Guatemala
As I get older, I’m less interested in travel for the sake of travel. Instead, I’m looking for trips that feed my creative nature, allow me to connect to others in a meaningful way, and support a good cause if possible. I’m happy to report that my Rug Hooking in Guatemala adventure fit the bill in every possible way!
In early February, my friend Sue and I joined the annual Rug Hooking tour in Guatemala sponsored by Multicolores. I had never hooked a rug in my life, but I was intrigued by the format of the tour –– and the opportunity to learn a new craft from the Maya women in the rug hooking collective.
The thing I enjoyed most about the trip was the structure. We weren’t just “going and looking.” Instead, we were able to slow down and really connect with the other women on the tour, with the Maya women who taught us, and with the staff at Multicolores. Here’s a peek at our time in Guatemala.
The beginning of the process is, of course, choosing a design in collaboration with our rug buddies. I had a design in mind based on some of my embroideries. My rug buddy and one of the staff members took one look and said “nope!” — much too complicated for a beginner. (Now why am I not surprised?)
Instead, we pulled out some of the templates that Lucia uses for her designs, and came up with a reasonably simple set of flowers and leaves for a pillow cover.
Shopping for T-shirts???
Rug hooking in much of the world is done with strips of wool. That’s great where wool is abundant and affordable. Let’s just say that rug hooking in Guatemala is a “whole different ball game.” These amazing artists skip the wool and go straight for used t-shirts, which are plentiful and cheap.
While some of us worked on our designs, others went off in pairs to shop for used t-shirts. Finding shirts and garments in related colors was a bit of a challenge, but we did quite well. After returning to our hotel, we cut the shirts into strips and sat down to do some serious hooking.
I really should have been taking photos at the “paca” shops where we purchased the t-shirts and knit garments, but I was too busy digging though piles with Lucia to find good colors before other teams of shoppers came in behind us! (Paca is the Guatemalan word for used clothing.)
Given that I had never done any rug hooking, it took me a long time to get comfortable pulling loops of the knit fabric up through the groundcloth. With Lucia’s patience and many refrains of “practica, practica, practica” echoing through our classroom, I slowly got a feel for the process.
Even so, it’s not like we were suffering. As you can see, the garden was a perfect place to work when the classroom got a bit warm!
I learned that rug hookers have a different way of doing “show and tell” than the quilters and fiber artists I hang out with. Several times during our class time, one of the staff members would call for a “Throwdown.”
Everyone promptly picked up their rugs, took them to the designated place, and put them on the ground side by side. It’s a great way to see everyone’s work without trying to navigate around a crowded classroom.
It quickly became clear which rugs belonged to the students and which were made by our Maya teachers. We can only aspire to (someday) make a rug that looks as good as these!
And speaking of our teachers, aren’t they beautiful! The women we worked with were from five different communities. Taking part in our tour meant that they were away from their homes and families for at least four days. That’s no small sacrifice on the part of their families. We were truly blessed with nearly a week of their patience, teaching, and almost constant smiles.
At the end of our time in Panajachel, we got to visit the new of the Multicolores organization. And did I mention shopping? Oh my goodness — it was sooooo much fun to look through the rugs and embroideries made by the two artisan groups.
I didn’t purchase a rug on this trip, but this beauty by Irma graces the coffee table in my living room, and will one day be the top of a grand ottoman. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised that I chose this rug. The colors absolutely scream “Shelly!”
(For the record, this is my second tour of Guatemala with Multicolores. The first was a general Textiles Tour co-sponsored by the Textiles Center in Minneapolis.)
It was hard to say goodbye to our rug buddies at the end of our time in Panajachel. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Lucia and the others. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to join this tour. The warm memories will be with me forever.
Learn more about Multicolores
Multicolores is an incredible organization based in Panajachel, Guatemala. They work with groups of Maya women from different communities, providing training in the craft of rug hooking (and now embroidery), sell the products made by the crafters, and provide medical and social services to the crafters and their families.
You can also learn the story behind the organization by purchasing a copy of Rug Money: How a group of Maya women changed their lives through Art and Innovation. Here is a link to the book at Cultural Cloth, who also carry some rugs by the women.