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Endangered Threads Documentaries

Sheer Elegance: Surviving Strands of Ancient Maya Weaving

(Project under development)

Sheer woven cloth (based on finely spun thread and a balanced, spaced weave) with brocaded decorations was only one of many weaving styles practiced by ancient Maya weavers. This documentary will highlight weavers who continue to practice such a style in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, and Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, Mexico, and will discuss the style’s probable roots as found on Classic Maya pottery and murals, and in archeological finds.

Documenting the Maya Textile Tradition: 
Recent Work in Venustiano Carranza & Alta Verapaz

Presentation in Adobe PDF
by Kathleen Mossman Vitale
American Anthropological Association 2010 annual meeting.

Note: This large pdf file can take more than a minute to upload and requires some zooming in Adobe Reader, but it will be well worth your while.

Note: Field research in Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, Mexico, in early 2014, by Kathleen Vitale (ETD CEO) and Liz Frey (Fine Arts Professor, spinner and weaver), indicates that today’s weavers of the so-called “petete” style (a sheer, transparent, spaced weave with rows of brocaded designs) do not in fact use raw cotton to spin the thread they weave with, but rather weave with a divided 30/2 commercial thread to get similar transparent result.  Raw cotton has not been available in the area for several decades, and no hand weaving now produced uses hand-spun cotton, regardless of whether the weaver demonstrates cotton spinning with a bit of raw cotton or calls her weaving “petete.”

Footnote References in Adobe PDF

Pikb’il weaving, a style that may date back more than a thousand years, is still woven by a few Maya weavers in rural areas outside Cob├ín, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.  A version of this clip ran in a loop at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology’s 2009-2010 exhibition Painted Metaphors: Pottery & Politics of the Ancient Maya.

Pikb’il is an ancient Maya style of using fine white cotton thread in a balanced, spaced weave, with supplementary weft brocade designs.

Picb'il design of arches (arcos SP) made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced or gauze weave textile on a backstrap loom.

Pikb'il design of arches (arcos SP) made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced weave textile on a backstrap loom. Photo by Kathleen Mossman Vitale. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Picb'il design of women or female dolls (muñecos SP) made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced or gauze weave textile on a backstrap loom.

Pikb'il design of women or female dolls (muñecos SP) made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced weave textile on a backstrap loom. Photo by Kathleen Mossman Vitale. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Picb'il design of deer made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced or gauze weave textile on a backstrap loom.

Pikb'il design of deer made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced weave textile on a backstrap loom. Photo by Kathleen Mossman Vitale. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Picb'il design rows of dolls (muñecos SP), figure eights, stars & planets, and domestic fowl. The designs are made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced or gauze weave textile on a backstrap loom.

Pikb'il design rows of dolls (muñecos SP), figure eights, stars & planets, and domestic fowl. The designs are made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced weave textile on a backstrap loom. Rachael Gould Mossman Collection. Photo by Kathleen Mossman Vitale. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Picb'il design row of dolls (muñecos SP) on a huipil from the Rachael Gould Mossman Collection. The designs are made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced or gauze weave textile on a backstrap loom.

Pikb'il design row of dolls (muñecos SP) on a huipil from the Rachael Gould Mossman Collection. The designs are made by supplementary weft brocade on a spaced weave textile on a backstrap loom.  Photo by Kathleen Mossman Vitale. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

ETD intern Callie Vandewiele learned picb'il-style weaving on a backstrap loom while living in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, 2008-9

ETD intern Callie Vandewiele learned Pikb'il-style weaving on a backstrap loom while living in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, 2008-9. Photo by Terra Leigh Vandewiele. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

ETD co-founder and videographer Kathleen Mossman Vitale discusses weaving techniques with weavers in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

ETD co-founder and videographer Kathleen Mossman Vitale discusses weaving techniques with weavers in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo by Ned & Marilynn Vilas.

Picb'il huipiles or blouses with added embroidery around the neck are occasionally sold in weaving supply stores in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

Pikb'il huipiles or blouses with added embroidery around the neck are occasionally sold in weaving supply stores in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo by Callie Vandewiele. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Young Q'eqchi'-speaking Maya girls learn picb'il weaving at home in Alta Verapaz.

Young Q'eqchi'-speaking Maya girls learn Pikb'il weaving at home in Alta Verapaz. Photo by Callie Vandewiele. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Fragment of a textile used to teach picb'il weaving to young girls in a Q'eqchi' family in Alta Verapaz.

Fragment of a textile used to teach Pikb'il weaving to young girls in a Q'eqchi' family in Alta Verapaz. Photo by Callie Vandewiele. © 2009 Endangered Threads Documentaries.

Picb'il weaver Concepción Poou Coy de Tharin wears her wedding huipil or blouse and shows off an uncut picb'il huipil from Alta Verapaz.

Pikb'il weaver Concepción Poou Coy de Tharin wears her wedding huipil or blouse and shows off an uncut Pikb'il huipil from Alta Verapaz. Photo by Jonathan Theran