‘Chinimaya’ Women’s Cooperative, San Juan, Lake Atitlán

On my first day at my homestay in San Pedro, I met Penelope, a woman from California who was travelling here with a friend of hers and creating documentaries about the women’s textile cooperatives throughout Guatemala. She worked for an arts council back home and through the organisation she has become involved with a not for profit called Friendship Bridge that provides micro finance to women in Guatemala.

Penelope invited me to join her on her trip to San Juan, a neighbouring village, where she was due to interview a few women from a local cooperative. I was more than happy to come along and the walk over there was pretty beautiful too. We arrived at the women’s cooperative ‘Chinimaya’ and met Rosario and her daughter Dominga. They had even set up a gas stove and pot to give us a live demonstration of the process of creating the natural dyes for the fabric.

After Penelope set up her cameras (and I offered my services as assistant), Rosario began and explained the entire process in minute detail. The dye was made my chopping logwood, imported from Campeche in Mexico, which is used for producing blues and purple colours on wool, black on cotton and wool and black and violet on silk. Once Rosario had chopped the logwood into small chips, they were then put into a large pot and boiled for 20 minutes to a half hour. It was absolutely amazing to see how the wood changed the colour of the water to this deep blue/purple.

After the wood was drained from the water, a large piece of cotton was soaked in the natural dye for a few minutes and when it was taken out of the water it had turned from off-white to a very deep purple/black colour. This is then left to hang for a number of hours and dry before it can be woven into a beautiful scarf or blanket. Some of the pieces they had at the cooperative were absolutely beautiful.

We spoke to a number of the women while we were there, and it was clear that there was a great sense of community between all of the members. There are 36 women in the cooperative in total and all of them work in order to be able to send their children to school. Dominga, Rosario’s daughter, was 27  years old and had two children, boys, a 5 year old and a 2 year old. She was amazed that I didn’t have any kids! One of the other women we spoke to said she had 9 children but 2 had passed away. They spoke of how it wasn’t really a choice of theirs to have so many children but in the past they ‘didn’t have the method’ to not have so many children. Thankfully it seems that they do now have family planning in place, as Dominga was adamant she didn’t want any more!

As we were leaving, Rosario gave Penelope and I gifts of beautiful scarves made by the Chinimaya Women’s Cooperative. I was so taken aback, I really did not expect that! The warmth and generosity of Rosario and her passion about the cooperative was plain to see and I was so glad to have been able to share the experience, learn about the process of making natural dyes, and meet the wonderful women working there.

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