Journal

Rug Hooking in Guatemala

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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 ā€“ā€“ 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.

Getting started

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Cate and her rug buddy work on her design.

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?)

Lucia, adding a border to my rug design

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???

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Strips cut from recycled 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.)

(Slow) progress

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Hard at work in the garden

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!

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A chance to see everyone’s work

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.

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A rug by one of our teachers

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!

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Four of our Rug “buddies”

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.

Happy endings

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The new Multicolores office & gallery

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. 

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Rug by Irma Churunel Aju

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.)

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Me and my rug buddy Lucia

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.

On the web: http://multicolores.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/multicoloresguatemala/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/multicoloresguatemala/

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.

10 Comments

  1. Carole Anderson on March 19, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    Amazing. Patience, patience and more patience Beautiful. What great talent.



    • ShellyStokes on March 19, 2020 at 8:54 pm

      Yes, lots of patience — and lots of practice required to make those beautiful rugs. It was humbling to work on something as a true beginner again. Take good care up there in MN. I hope spring comes early and you are able to get out into your beautiful gardens. Take care!



  2. Aquagirl on March 19, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Oh my, such beautiful works of art! I am so jealous of this wonderful experience you are enjoying, lolšŸ˜Š



    • ShellyStokes on March 20, 2020 at 12:32 pm

      I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to take the tour — and I’m thrilled that the timing allowed us to complete the trip before all the travel restrictions kicked in. Guatemala has cancelled all flights in and out of the country for a time. I hope the ladies and their families remain safe!



  3. Deb Tilton on March 19, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    Being a beginner at any new craft, does put one in a different frame of mind. I remember taking a class with my new sewing machine(a long time ago)and felt lost most of the time. 20 years later, I’m an old pro. LOL
    I loved reading about your adventure.Your colors are so bright and beautiful!
    It’s wonderful to see blue sky and greenery. We are experiencing gray and rainy days here. Maybe sunshine by the weekend. I haven’t gotten my act together yet so I haven’t started any new or old projects, but tomorrow is a new day. šŸ™‚
    Have a blessed week and keep hooking!



    • ShellyStokes on March 20, 2020 at 12:34 pm

      Ah yes, being a complete beginner once again is good for perspective. It certainly makes me appreciate what I can do with Paintstiks after 20 years of practice!

      And don’t worry about choosing a project right away. There’s plenty of time ahead of us… šŸ˜‰



  4. Ellen Finan on March 20, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for sharing your trip and your explorations of hooking rugs. The colors were wonderful and your explanation of your experience exuded your enthusiasm for the craft.
    I also just returned from a month of surface design and tapestry weaving at Tasara Center for Creative Weaving in Calicut India. Like you experienced, it was an engaging, renewing, learning time that will keep me going throughout our shelter in place. Thank you, Shelly!



    • ShellyStokes on March 20, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Wow! That must have been an amazing adventure, Ellen. I’m so glad you were able to enjoy your trip — and bring home lots of inspiration for the months ahead.



  5. Barbara Lukas on March 22, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Shelly, what a wonderful synopsis of our rug hooking adventure. Who knew that you had writing talent? I loved meeting you and all the times you helped this senior citizen climb out of boats, clamber over rocks, etc. etc.
    One of the aspects of the Rug Hooking Tour which gave balance to the concentrated rug hooking times were the day trips to authentic Guatemalan Villages : basket weaving with long pine needles, back strap weaving, dyeing cotton and weaving the all natural way, and visits to the homes of two of the rug hooking artists.
    Everything about this trip was authentic: the art cooperatives, the food, the search for “paca”, our assigned buddy artists showing us the way they hooked rugs, the way we were guided by the Multicolores staff, the way Multicolores is spreading its wings into the community by finding local suppliers, and the life changing experiences of the Guatemalan women engaged in the Multicolores program.

    So, thank you Shelley for sharing this experience and for being such a good sport.



    • ShellyStokes on March 24, 2020 at 11:47 am

      Thank you, Barbara. It was lovely to meet you on the trip. In fact, I thought the entire group was great fun. Do post photos of your progress to the tour group. The rug you designed will be nothing short of spectacular when you finish!