The Division of Labor and Textile Production

The production of textiles also reflects the sexual division of labor that is found in many Mayan communities. For example, women tend to use traditional backstrap looms to produce fabric, while men use treadle looms, a more sophisticated type of loom introduced by the Spanish. And while some women have learned to use treadle looms, men are very rarely (if ever) seen using a backstrap loom.

This is a detail of fabric woven on a backstrap loom. While this type of weaving may produce thicker fabric, it allows women greater creativity in their designs. As women weave fabric on a backstrap loom, they can add intricate brocaded designs. The detail to the left is from a huipil from the Mam-speaking community of San Martin Chile Verde.

Hold the cursor over the image to see the finished huipil.

Huipils such as this would be worn with an ankle-length skirt and a belt also woven on a backstrap loom (such as the one below).


Treadle looms tend to produce thinner cloth, and the process does not allow for the intricate brocade work common on backstrap loomed cloth. However, men may use tie-dyed thread that produces intricate designs as the fabric is woven. This thread is known as ikat or jaspe.

The example to the left shows a popular pattern known as muñeca, or doll. This detail is taken from a skirt made around 1940 in the town of San Antonio de Atitlan, a Tzutujil community in Guatemala.

Even greater complexity can be added to textiles woven on treadle looms by incorporating tie-dyed thread into both the warp and the weft.

An example of double-ikat fabric is shown at left. Horizontally, the ikat threads form a sort of curlique design, while vertically, they form a V-shaped design.

This sample is from a skirt worn by young girls in Totonicapan, a Quiche-speaking community in Guatemala.