Maya women’s weaving organizations in highland Guatemala

Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico ( began in 1971, the earliest of all the organizations I visited in Guatemala recently. It is self-sufficient through sales of its products, without external funders. Forty Tzutujil Maya women from San Juan La Laguna are members of the association. They focus on spinning local natural cottons (cuyuscate):

Hand spun natural cottons, Lake Atitlan

dyeing with local natural dyes:

Selection of natural dyes, San Juan La Laguna

and weaving cloth with community designs:

Traditional jaspe shawl

The manager of the association has been a gold medal winner for the quality of her natural cotton ceremonial over-huipil, which you can see below hanging next to the framed certificates on the showroom wall.

Award won for natural brown cotton huipil

Resist-dyed shawls, traditionally woven in San Juan La Laguna, are hung around the area where visitors can watch spinning and natural dyeing demonstrations. We arrived just after a large group of French visitors, so we were able to participate in a complete demonstration.

The director and our guide

I was invited to try my hand at spinning cotton with a gourd bowl and a spindle stick to twist inside it. The experience just served to show how difficult it is to do what the local women succeed in making seem easy!

Spinning natural cotton with a spindle

One of the association members gave a natural dye demonstration with the leaves and stems of a local plant that the dyer called indigo, and a skein of undyed silk. The natural dyes are fixed in the dye bath with slices from the trunk of banana plants, an alternative to vinegar or salt, which are not so readily available.

An undyed skein of silk

Dyeing silk with natural dye

Dyeing silk in a pot of indigo plant leaves

I was told later that the plant in the photos below is what the dyer called indigo, and which was used to achieve the blue colour, shown above.

Indigo plant on shed roof, Lake Atitlan

 Indigo plant, Lake Atitlan

Many thanks to my friends Vanessa and Santiago who took me on the most interesting fabric arts adventures in the highlands of Guatemala. I shall be telling stories about Guatemalan weavers, and the fabrics that they make, over the next while. Vanessa runs a travel agency called Paradise Travel Guatemala ( and Santiago runs a driving and shuttle bus service (