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Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store is a nonprofit that supports over 100 indigenous Mayan women artisans from Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala. Our artisans are trained in the CECAP Vocational Training Center and earn a fair wage. Our artisans also receive non-economic support such as nutrition classes and women’s empowerment workshops. Meaningful work at a meaningful wage. All proceeds directly benefit artisans and their families.

#2 Backstrap Loom Weaving

Backstrap Loom Weaving,

an Age-Old Tradition

Research shows us that the age-old craft and art of weaving on a backstrap loom has been in practice since at least 2400 BC! It has been used by many different cultures and in many different regions of the world: Asia, Scandinavia, Central America, South America as well as with the Native Americans of North America. It is still used extensively in Guatemala. Telar de cintura, as it is known in Spanish, is traditionally done by women.

The Loom

Though the backstrap loom is a simple device, it is one with which an adept weaver can craft incredibly intricate designs. It is lightweight and thus portable and can be made from inexpensive and easily obtained materials. Portability is essential so that women can weave whenever and wherever it is most convenient in their busy lives.

In its simplest form, there are very few parts to the backstrap loom: (diagram or photo)

  • 2 sticks, one each at the top and bottom on which the warp or vertical threads are set
  • Smaller sticks or heddles to raise and lower various warp threads: this creates the desired design and the weave
  • A shuttle stick around which is wound the weft or horizontal thread
  • A flat, angled beater stick to firm and tamp down the weft threads for a tight weave.
  • A wide strap to tie around the lower back and attach to the loom (thus the name ‘back-strap’!)
  • A rope to tie to the far end of the loom around a tree or pole to provide the necessary tension for a tight, even weave

And let’s not forget the weaver! The weaver becomes one with the loom through their body movements and the backstrap.

The Process and Technique

The pattern of the woven scarf or shawl is determined by many factors: the order of the colors chosen in both the warp and weft threads, how the colors interact with one another, how the heddles and sheds are utilized.

As in many crafts, exacting preparation can take almost as long as the weaving itself but is fundamental to creating a beautifully woven scarf or shawl. The dyed threads are purchased in hanks or small bundles that must first be wound onto a warping board to create the warp or vertical threads. As these bundles tangle easily, some weavers first make a ball by placing the thread hank onto a rotating swift that feeds the thread into a ball winder. The ball of yarn or thread is then attached and wound onto a warping board. Other weavers will forgo making the ball and go directly from the swift to the warping board as illustrated by the woman in the video below. Backstrap loom weaving relies on these vertical warp threads to determine the pattern. Because of this, many of the designs have vertical stripes often in groups of colors. The video below shows one of our weavers preparing the warp threads for weaving.

The weft or horizontal threads are created by sliding a small shuttle or thread-wrapped stick between raised warp threads. More complicated brocades and supplementary weaves can be created through the use of heddles to add detail and embellish woven pieces.

Finally, there are the finishes for the scarf or shawl: twisted fringe, hand-tied fringe, and hemstitch are just a few.

Backstrap loom weaving is a labor-intensive and hands-on process that needs to be nourished as modern cheap textiles have become so readily available. It takes our artisans a total of about 7-1/2 hours to weave a scarf and 9 hours for a shawl. I hope this has brought some appreciation of the skill involved in creating the Manos Cruceñas woven products: scarves, shawls, and ponchos. Check them out in our Online Store.

Scarves and Shawls


The Future

Today, backstrap loom weaving is, unfortunately, falling out of favor in Guatemala. Previously it had been indispensable for making the cloth for any clothing that was worn. Today clothing or foot-loomed cloth is often purchased more cheaply in stores. Previously, young girls would learn weaving from their mothers, but now many do not want to learn this traditional craft. A few young women will weave at home as it is a valued craft in their families, but they do it more as a hobby or leisure pursuit. A positive thing is that the girls are now going to school and continuing their education. At CECAP some young women are learning other crafts and skills that seem more relevant to their contemporary lives. Who knows how long this traditional craft of backstrap loom weaving will endure?

You can learn to weave on the backstrap loom!

If you will be visiting CECAP and the Manos Cruceñas store in Santa Cruz la Laguna, you too can learn to weave on the backstrap loom! We offer a 2-1/2 hour introductory course taught by one of our master Mayan weavers at our CECAP building. If you are interested in learning more about this course, please contact us:

EMAIL: [email protected]


Here's a quick video of what you can expect in one of our classes!

Every item you buy from our Manos Cruceñas Online Store or in person at our retail store in Santa Cruz la Laguna helps these and other mothers provide necessities for their families. We appreciate your support!

Maltiox! (Thanks!)