A Gathering of Women

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Embroidery in Progress

I work with incredibly talented and resilient women – like Natalia, one of best embroiderers. She lives in Chuk Muk – a government subsidized town built after many indigenous people were forced to leave their ancestral lands in the neighborhood of Panabaj due to Hurricane Stan and the mudslide in 2005. The neighborhood, Chuk Muk, is quite a distance from our town’s center, and consists of row upon row of concrete block houses, most of them without electricity and scarcely any furniture. Natalia lives in one of these houses with six siblings and her father. Her embroidery work helps to support this large family. She generally works in a small room at the front of house, chatting and laughing with one of her sisters while she embroiders by daylight, sitting in a plastic lawn chair – the only piece of furniture in the room.

Natalia works quickly and with remarkable detail – mastering the most complicated and intricate of designs easily. She has a quick mind, easily grasping the many details that go into producing custom embroidery work – the thread colors for each line of the design, the exact dimensions, how to orient it on the fabric. But she also works well when given a bit of creative freedom – having the opportunity to create her own designs and choose her own colors.

Recently, we had a custom order that was perfect for Natalia – a mixture of intricate detail with creative liberty. Another local here in Santiago Atitlan who has studied Mayan glyphs in depth requested embroidery work for a few scarves. He had drawn the designs, which tell stories of Mayan deities, and selected a color palette. All he needed was a skilled embroiderer who could use her eye for design to select the specific colors for each image and/or glyph, and Natalia is just the person.

This piece is still in progress, but the work already completed here was done by Natalia in just a few days’ time. I can only imagine how stunning the finished item will be!

Juana

Juana is a widow who lives in the impoverished community of San Antonio Chakaya, here in Santiago. She is one of 25 women in the Ropa Justa (Just Apparel) fair-trade cooperative. It takes Juana about one hour to complete each of the pictorial designs on the textile she is working on here. In total, this piece will equate to at least 60 hours, or about two weeks, of work. An item like this can normally be sold locally for 40 Quetzales, which is just $5. When these handmade textiles are able to be sold for fair trade prices in U.S. markets, the profits are much greater, allowing women like Juana to earn more livable wages for their tedious work and long hours. Juana does this work to support her family, which includes two sons and two orphaned children.