The sales tag on my colorful woven strip says that it is from Sumpango, Guatemala, that it is a “hair ribbon — old,” and that it is 100% handwoven cotton. It is symmetrically woven, but aside from the mirror images, the motifs don’t repeat. I don’t know whether the motifs are symbolic or not.
The dazzling color, design, and craftsmanship didn’t surprise me because I knew a little about traditional Guatemalan weaving, but I was surprised to learn that what I thought was a belt was actually a hair ribbon. The hair ribbon is barely 1-1/2″ wide, but it is 90″ long, so I did some research to see how the ribbons (called cintas) are worn, and came up with this striking photograph, taken by Judy Sidonie Tillinger, and shown here with her consent.
Visit this online gallery to see more of Judy Sidonie Tillinger’s brilliant images of Guatemala and its textiles.
According to my research, cintas are woven on backstrap looms, that I know very little about, but a longtime friend, weaving artist Bhakti Ziek, once lived in Guatemala, so I e-mailed her and got this reply:
Yes, my mother, Nona Ziek, and I (Judith Ziek de Rodriguez at that time), wrote “Weaving on a Backstrap Loom,” published in 1978 by Hawthorne Books. It is sometimes available online by used book sellers. It was a how-to and had to have projects — but we tried to keep everything as true to the different villages — whose weaving we depicted– as possible. [The book is available online, starting at $25.00 — Fern]
I am laughing these days about how I wanted to learn backstrap because I thought that when everything collapsed, I would still be able to make cloth using sticks from trees if necessary. Fortunately the electrical grid is still going strong even if the economy is in trouble.
The “belt” is really a woman’s headpiece — woven in slit tapestry on small floor looms with two shafts — usually attributed to Totonicapan but I saw them being woven in other towns too. I have a silk one for special occasions. Often the cintas have big pompoms at the end and after the woman wrapped the length in her braids on top of her head, the pompoms could hang over her shoulders.
They became a popular tourist item too and were woven specifically to sell — usually cruder than the ones the Mayan women would use themselves. Sometimes they took older ones which had tapestry at the ends only (the center being weft-faced plain weave), cut off the flashy ends and sold them to tourists.
I lived in Guatemala for approximately five years — 1971 to 1976 — and was even an offical “resident” of the country. I haven’t been back but it still informs my days.
You can quote me.
So I did and there it is.
My deep thanks to Bhakti Ziek and Judy Sidonie Tillinger for generously collaborating on this article.