Master Weaver María Carmen Pérez Mendoza

Master Backstrap Loom Weaver María Carmen Pérez Mendoza from Guatemala headshot
The elusive María Carmen at her home

 

Cristina and I arrived at the home of María Carmen Pérez Mendoza around 11 in the morning. This was our fourth attempt at trying to connect and though she was actually there, she said she couldn't talk because it was time to start making lunch. After a few minutes of rapid conversation in Tz'utujil Cristina must have convinced her that it wouldn't take long so we began the interview and she showed me the weaving she was just about to begin. It was the first part of a bedspread comprised of 6 identical backstrap loom woven panels which will then be sewn together. She did mention that by the time the 6th one was completed she was a bit bored staring at the same design.

 

Master Weaver María Carmen Pérez from Guatemala adjusting the backstrap loom to begin a new bedspread
Adjusting the warp on the backstrap loom before beginning a new weaving

 

I noted that her backstrap was made out of leather and she said she uses a lot of pressure when she's making rebozos and the straps made from fabric or plastic have a tendency to break.

Like many of the other weavers Carmen never went to school - her father wouldn't allow it. There were four children at home and she and her older sister María Florinda took the brunt of her father's alcoholic anger. She and her older sister are still close. They live on the same land and both possess a shrewd head for business dealings.

Once we started talking about the weaving process and dyeing in particular, her whole face came alive. As soon as she saw the photos of her scarves that are on this website, she began to describe the collection of plant materials for each of the natural dyes and the mordants she used.  Campeche (logwood) branches, gathered at the half moon for the Sapphire Slate; campeche gathered at the full moon for the Great Big Purple. The Cacao scarf is from the leaves and stems of the guava plant; the Deep Indigo is from indigo brought in from Petén, the largest and most northern state in Guatemala; and the brilliant reddish-orange of the  24 Karat Carrot she achieved from the achiote (annatto) plant. Her mordant is the inner trunk of the banana plant or if that's not available, she uses salt.  Unlike some of the other weavers, when Carmen requests jaspe panels from the Mendozas, once they are wrapped she does the dyeing herself preferring to use the natural plant dyes.

Master Backstrap Loom Weaver María Carmen Pérez pausing to discuss the natural dye plants she uses
María Carmen pausing to reflect on the different plant dyes and the colors they create 

 

Carmen has a 10 year old son who often helps with the dyeing of the threads or the laying of the warp but being male, he will not learn to weave.  She explained that as a single mother there are times when she needs money immediately and if the Quetzalli Cooperative cannot buy her weavings outright, she will sell to other vendors. She noted that she always speaks with Cristina first and she will not use the same designs that she weaves for Quetzalli.

María Carmen's keen sense of design and eye for color are showcased in her wonderful rayon and cotton scarves. I look forward to bringing more of María Carmen's work to Maya Weavings.

Click to view the weaving collection of Master Mayan Weaver María Carmen Pérez Mendoza