Guatemala, Concepcion Poou Coy Tharin, Back Strap Weaving & Whitework Brocade
Concepcion Poou Coy Tharin is one of the few remaining practitioners of pikb'il, a woven cloth worked on an individual backstrap loom. Archaeological evidence suggests that similar translucent cloth was woven by indigenous Maya some 2000 years ago and it is their descendants that continue the tradition. A very fine cotton yarn is used, sometimes made from Kekchi, a local variety of Gossypium Hirsutum. The warp thread is soaked in in cornstarch before weaving to strengthen and avoid breakages. It is very slow work. Concepcion says it takes a month to weave a traditional blouse: ‘I build the design with each passing of the weft’.
Most of the designs have traditional significance and stories behind them, ‘the hummingbird on the tobacco plant, the men on horses, pacaya leaves, the arches which represent the mountains and caves, and the stars are some of the most typical and traditional’ says Concepcion. Some 40 women practice pikb'il in her home village, as well as others in neighbouring communities, although some use the threads differently, twisting the yarn and skipping wefts and producing larger motifs. Some designs are taken from old white-on-white pikb'il designs in the textile collection at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in New Mexico. Others Concepcion has developed with her mother and her sister. The result is like a shadow of white on the thinner white ground. The appeal of white on white continues, the skills for making it have survived, thanks yet again to the vision and persistence of dedicated individuals. Sonia Ashmore's full article on white-on-white embroidery is available to read on the Selvedge blog here.