EMMA studying a few of my dolls
during a visit to my home.

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(By Emma Jackson). 

(Instalment one).

Carole has kindly invited me to write a few pieces about my travels in Guatemala and Mexico.  I’ve been to both of these fascinating countries several times before on shorter trips, but last summer I had the pleasure of spending three months there as part of my PhD research.  My research project focuses on how people use objects – in this case, dolls handmade by Maya people – to help construct and express their identities.  It’s a project that I’ve wanted to do for many years because it ties together my interest in textiles, dolls clothed in regional/national dress and travel!  Although I’ve spent the last eighteen months interviewing people who make and also buy these dolls, for these blogs I just want to focus on the dolls themselves – how they are made and, where possible, a little information about the people who make them.

I started my trip in Antigua, which is a beautiful city filled with colonial-era buildings.  Views of the city are dominated by three huge volcanoes: Agua, Acatenango and Fuego.  No doubt you will have heard of Fuego since, tragically, at least 75 people have perished in its recent eruption which destroyed several communities that are located to the south of the volcano.

Agua Volcano, Antigua. 
Antigua is a key tourist destination in Guatemala and has many markets and shops packed with textiles and other crafts, including worry dolls.  These dolls are often made in the villages surrounding Antigua and I was lucky enough to sit with one doll maker whilst she showed me the various stages involved with making one.  Like many women in her village, her grandmother taught her how to make dolls to sell when she was around 10 years old.

The steps involved in making a two-inch female doll are as follows:

The doll body is formed of a piece of dried cibaque that is bent in half.  This plant is used for various crafts in Guatemala, such as basket making, and, if softened in water, it is also used to tie together tamales.  (Tamales are a popular dish in Guatemala and Mexico, and are made of corn dough and other ingredients that are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves.)   
·         The arms are formed of wire covered in a type of beige coloured paper that has many uses in Guatemala; for example, dishes such as tacos and tostados are often served on it.  I thought it was really interesting that although the pieces of cibaque and the brown paper seem mundane, and in any case are hidden from view, they are linked to activities that have important cultural meanings in Guatemala. 
·         The head is made of a piece of sponge covered in a fragment of stocking or tights material. 
·         These components are bound together with thread and tied into position (see photo below).
Photo: Emma Jackson.

·         This “skeleton” is then partly covered with fabric to represent a simple blouse (huipil). 
·         The doll’s skirt (corte) is made from a faja which is cut in half, lengthways. (A faja is the narrow strip of textile that would usually be used as a sash or belt that holds up a female’s actual full-sized skirt).  These particular fajas were produced on a loom in Comalapa – a town around 30 miles by road from Antigua.  The miniature blouse and skirt are tied into position with thread and secured with glue (see photo below).
Photo: Emma Jackson.

·         The facial features are then sewn into the face using red, black and white thread, also from Comalapa.
·         Finally, the headdress (tocoyal) is glued onto the head.

Although the doll maker showed me how to make a doll from beginning to end, she usually works with her sister and together they carry out one stage of the production process on all of the dolls before moving on to the next stage.  For example, when I went to see her, there were dozens of dolls that were finished apart from the addition of the headdress.  Working as a team, the sisters can make approximately 144 of these dolls in eight hours (see photo below).  (Twelve dozen is a standard measurement of sale.)  The dolls are then bought by a vender who sells them at artisan markets, such as those in Antigua.

Photo: Emma Jackson.

The doll maker uses the same process, but with adaptations, to make the other dolls in her repertoire.  For example, for larger dolls of three or four inches, a folded-up strip of newspaper is wrapped around the torso before the blouse is placed in position (see photo below).
Photo: Emma Jackson.

She also makes the tiny one-inch worry dolls (see photo below) that I remember from my childhood and told me that the dolls have increased in size over the years to offer customers more choice.
Photo: Emma Jackson.

It was really interesting to see how much work went into making the dolls, especially as they are so cheap to buy. 
Although these dolls are made from cloth woven with a footloom, in my next blog, I’ll write a little about the beautiful handwoven textiles that are produced in and around Antigua using a backstrap loom. 

Until next time!
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