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

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(By:  Emma Jackson)

Instalment 3: Indigenous Guatemalan dolls and their traje

Events conspired against me and I wasn’t able to follow up my last blog in a timely fashion!  But here I am, back again and as enthusiastic as ever about indigenous dolls and textiles from Guatemala. In my previous blog I explained a little about traje (the traditional dress that is worn in Guatemala by some Maya women and, more unusually, Maya men).  In the first part of this blog I will focus on a selection of dolls made from pieces of old, worn-out traje.  Aside from worry dolls, these are the dolls most commonly associated with Guatemala.  By contrast, in the second part of the blog I will focus on a very special pair of dolls wearing bespoke miniaturised traje.  At a glance Guatemalan dolls can often look quite similar but I hope that by highlighting their differences it shows that there can be more to them than first meets the eye!

Photo: Emma Jackson.  A selection of dolls wearing fragments of old traje

The selection above are all dolls wearing clothes made from pieces of old traje.  The dolls date from the 1940s (the larger pair at the back) to 2012 (the three small examples at the bottom right).  As I noted in my last blog, different towns are often associated with different textile designs.  However, it is really difficult to identify which town a doll is from because the fragments of traje are so small.  If you are lucky though, you may be able to find one that is labelled with its origin.  These are usually older examples, such as the one below from the Municipality of Chinautla.  This doll represents a Poqomam woman, one of Guatemala’s 21 Maya ethnic groups. 

Photo: Emma Jackson.  A doll from Chinautla

Another type of Guatemalan doll that is also dressed in pieces of old traje is the weaver doll.  These depict Maya women weaving with a backstrap loom – the process I described in my previous blog – such as the one below.
PHOTO: Emma Jackson.  A weaver doll

This example also demonstrates how tricky it can be to identify the origin of Guatemalan dolls’ traje.  I bought it from an artisans’ market called ‘Compañía de Jesús’ in Antigua, Guatemala, in January 2018.  The vendor told me that the doll was made by children in neighbouring San Antonio Aguas Calientes.  However, I was puzzled because I didn’t recognise the textile fragments used for the doll’s clothes as being typical of San Antonio traje.  When I specifically asked the vendor where the textile fragments were from, she explained that the doll’s huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt) were made from corresponding pieces of a second-hand huipil and corte from Santa María de Jesús, a town a little under 10 miles by road from San Antonio.  I was lucky, therefore, to have had the opportunity to ask the vendor about this particular example as, otherwise, I would have found it very difficult to identify the origins of its clothing!

I think that when textile fragments that were once worn are used to clothe dolls it adds to their authenticity.  However, because the clothing is not scaled down, these dolls do not necessarily provide an accurate representation of locally specific traje.  By contrast, the two beautiful examples shown below wear miniaturised bespoke versions of San Antonio traje. 

PHOTO: Emma Jackson.  A pair of Benjamín García dolls wearing San Antonio traje

These dolls were made by Benjamín García in 1984.  Benjamín was interviewed for a 1981 edition of National Doll World and the article provides an interesting insight into his dollmaking activities.  At the time of the interview, Benjamín was in his 50s and was married with three children.  He started to learn how to make dolls in the early 1960s and, in time, came to specialise in those dressed in examples of traje from different towns in Guatemala.  Benjamín also worked at the Tourism Office in Antigua and one of his motivations in making this type of doll was that he wanted to familiarise tourists with the variety of Guatemalan textiles.

As with the dolls made from re-purposed traje, their basis is a wire frame around which is wrapped skin-coloured cloth.  The bodies are bulked out with wood shavings and the faces are made from a piece of dried corn husk.  Finally, the whole body is wrapped in muslin and the facial features are sewn on.  In the article, Benjamín explained that it was very important for him that his dolls were clothed in accurate miniature representations of regional traje and he went to great lengths to ensure this.  For example, he ordered the scaled down traje on a bespoke basis from weavers of the different communities represented.  This sometimes entailed Benjamín chasing up late orders by telegram or going in person to the weaver’s village to discuss the finer details of the outfit.  If his standards were not met, he insisted on the traje being remade.  The outfit could take over a month for the weaver to complete.

Undoubtedly, the female doll’s traje does accurately record that worn in early 1980s San Antonio.  In fact, even the marcador (double-sided cross stitch) work for which San Antonio is so well known is reproduced in miniature on the tzute (multi-purpose cloth) the doll is carrying.  However, while the male doll’s outfit is accurate, it is also a rather idealised depiction of reality because by the early 1980s only a handful of men still wore traje in San Antonio.

PHOTO: Emma Jackson.  A miniature tzute featuring marcador designs

Although there is a difference in the clothing of dolls made from re-purposed clothes as opposed to those with scaled down bespoke clothing, I think that both types have their own charm! 

Next time, I’ll be focusing on a completely different selection of indigenous Guatemalan dolls…

Keller de García, Joanne, ‘Guatemalan Doll Maker, Benjamin García’, National Doll World, 5.5 (1981), 12-15

Much of this information is also included in my draft PhD thesis.

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(By:  Emma Jackson)
As promised, in this blog I want to highlight the skills of the weavers who work with a backstrap loom, and the textiles they produce.

Traditional dress is worn by many indigenous women in the more rural areas of Guatemala, and different textile designs are often associated with a specific town.  The weavers of San Antonio Aguas Calientes – which is a short journey by chicken bus from Antigua – are particularly renowned for their highly skilled, innovative and beautiful garments and other textiles that are handwoven on a backstrap loom.  Although men from San Antonio no longer wear indigenous dress, many of the town’s women continue to wear it on a daily basis.  It consists of several pieces, the key items of which are as follows:

 The corte – a skirt usually made of a length of material sewn at both ends to form a tube.
·         The faja – a sash or belt that not only is used for decorative purposes but is also essential for securing the corte in position.
·         The tzute – a multipurpose carry cloth.
·         The huipil – similar to a blouse.

This ensemble of clothing is called traje, such as the example shown below. 

Photo: Emma Jackson.  
A weaver from San Antonio using a backstrap loom (C.2012).

Since San Antonio is famous for its handwoven huipils, it is worth looking in more detail at how this garment is made.
·         Before starting to weave, the weaver has to set up the backstrap loom.  This is a complicated and tedious process that can take more than two days and entails, for example, winding the skeins of thread into balls and then forming the warp on a warping board (see photo below).

Photo: Emma Jackson.  
My first attempt at setting up a warping board.
        The loom itself comprises various wooden batons, a rope to tie the loom to a tree or a post in the home, and a leather strap that goes around the waist of the weaver.  After assembling the loom, the weaver is ready to start weaving.

Photo: Emma Jackson. 
The loom begins to take shape when the warp threads are transferred onto the wooden batons.

Photo: Emma Jackson.   
My first attempt at weaving a basic design – pepita (zig zags).

San Antonio huipils are made of pre-dyed cotton thread and are brocaded, whereby designs are woven into the cloth, as contrasted with embroidery, whereby designs are sewn onto finished cloth.  In terms of designs, there are two main features associated with San Antonio huipils.  The first of these comprises rows of brocaded, geometric patterns such as tijeras (scissors), jaspe (ikat), arco (arch), mosquito, pie de chucho (foot of the dog), marimba and pepita (zigzags), which are woven from memory and visible on only one side of the textile (The technical name for this technique is “single-faced supplementary weft brocading”). 

Photo Emma Jackson. 
A finished huipil (c. 2012) showing single-faced geometric patterns and double-faced marcador designs of birds and flowers.  (I wish I could say that this was my handiwork!!)

·         The second feature consists of curvilinear marcador representations of flora and fauna.  This term is derived from the marker or sampler associated with European cross-stitch, and it is thought that weavers first copied small motifs from samplers introduced to San Antonio in the early 1900s.  The influence of these European sources is also seen in the idiosyncratic depictions of, for example, sleighs and bicycles, that are sometimes found on San Antonio textiles.  The reason for which San Antonio traje is renowned throughout Guatemala, is that the marcador designs are identical on both sides of the textile. (The technical term for this technique is “double-faced supplementary weft weaving”).  Not only are these designs very complicated and laborious to weave, but they are also expensive since they require more thread.

·         Finally, to form a huipil, two completed textile panels of approximately the same size are whipstitched together, leaving a space in the middle for the head to fit through.  This fabric is then folded in half and sewn up two sides, leaving spaces for armholes.

Photo: Emma Jackson.  
The two textile panels that form the above huipil before being folded in half and stitched together.  

Depending on the specific style, it can take between four and six weeks, working six days each week for eight hours per day, to weave a huipil.  However, San Antonio huipils that are covered entirely in marcador designs can take up to a year to weave! 

Changes in Traje Designs
Far from being a static dress form untouched by modern life, the traje produced and worn in San Antonio has undergone dramatic changes since the beginning of the 1900s.  This earlier manifestation was a plain affair, with a huipil handwoven from handspun, undyed cotton of pale brown with narrow white warp (vertical) stripes and a smattering of small marcador motifs.  By the 1920s, however, huipils were filled with bands of brightly coloured single-sided geometric designs.  Alongside these geometric designs, from around the 1930s or 1940s, marcador curvilinear representations of flora and fauna also became incorporated into huipils; in fact, some contemporary huipils are completely covered by such marcador designs.  At the same time, the background colours of huipils developed from pale brown in the early 1900s to the current royal blue and purple.  Finally, indigo-blue skirts with white pinstripes, known as morgas, have been superseded by brightly coloured cortes with vertical stripes in jaspe (ikat) material woven on a treadle loom.  So, although each town is associated with a different design, in practice there are ever-increasing opportunities for interactions with ideas and people from both within Guatemala and beyond, leading to a more “mix and match” approach to traje.

Photo: Emma Jackson. 
 A contemporary jaspe corte (skirt) and a marcador faja (belt). 

Traje and Indigenous People
With a bit of practice, it’s easy to spot a San Antonio huipil when you are out and about in Antigua.  However, there are subtle variations in the form and design of each female’s traje that are much harder for non-locals to recognise (I’m definitely still learning!).  In fact, traje can provide lots of information about the female who wears it, such as the language they speak, their family group, economic status, religion, social standing and age.  In addition, there are personal touches that show the wearer’s inclination towards either conservative or imaginative forms of self-expression.   

Although many women wear traje in rural areas, sadly, in urban areas many indigenous people have abandoned their traje to avoid being subjected to discrimination.  However, more recently, professionals and students in particular are more likely to assert their Maya identity in defiance of such discrimination.

I think that you will agree that the time and skill involved in the production of these handwoven huipils is pretty breath-taking!!  And of particular interest to me (and all you other doll collectors out there) is that once these huipils are old and worn, they are sometimes recycled and turned into dolls!  But more about that in my next blog…

Until next time!
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(By Emma Jackson). 

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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Sacha said...

The woven sash (faja) reminds me alot of the sash used in South Eastern Europe just in different colours. Wonderful information!


World Costume Dolls said...

Thank you so much for your kind comment, Sacha. (It's lovely to hear from you again).

Unknown said...

Emma and Carole,
Thank you so much for this very informative post. I wish I had seen your information about the Guatemala Dolls before I did my seminar on dolls from South America this last summer (2020)(for the UFDC on line convention). I especially love your information about the textiles and the construction of the dolls. Keep up the excellent work, Emma.
Debbie Troy

World Costume Dolls said...

Thank you very much for your lovely comment, Debbie! (I have forwarded your comment on to Emma). Carole.

Emma said...

Hi Debbie,
Many thanks for your kind words - your feedback is really appreciated. I'm hoping to complete a further blog instalment soon, so watch this space!
Kind regards,