During Guatemala’s civil war, the village of Chontola lost
more than 40 husbands, fathers and brothers to the military’s “scorched earth”
campaign in 1982. Many women became widowed and had few ways to support their
families. These women were overwhelmed with farming, childcare duties and
With nowhere else to turn, two Mayan Quiché women approached
Diego Chicoj Ramos, a Methodist church pastor, and asked him and his wife,
Juana, for help. Though their church had been burned to the ground and they had
little to offer, they managed to secure seven pounds of thread. A small group
of women took this thread and started to weave small items to sell in nearby
markets. Soon, they were bringing income back to the community.
In 1986, with new buyers in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, the
group decided on the name, Ruth and Naomi, in reference to the Bible story of two
widows who were without resources, but worked hard and survived.
Today, Ruth and Naomi is comprised of six workshops,
representing more than 60 makers. These makers weave bright pieces of cloth on
looms in workshops and at home, creating products such as purses and bags. They
use traditional Mayan huipiles, which are handwoven, embroidered blouses from
the Chontola area, to create their beautiful, handcrafted designs.
Ruth and Naomi also provide youth with scholarships, making
it possible for teens to complete high school and go on to university.
This is Celestino. He was living with his wife and young
daughter in Santa Barbara, Peru when political violence forced them to leave.
“They killed my brother-in-law, a cousin and a nephew. Two
other brothers-in-law went missing and another was put in jail. Three of my
sisters are widows.”
Celestino left Santa Barbara with his wife and daughter and
moved to a village outside of Huancavelica, his hometown. There, he bought a
rustic loom and taught himself how to weave.
In 2001, he started working with Allpa, a fair trade
organization that aims to improve the living standards of handicraft producers by
providing technical help, product development advice, skills training, tools
and equipment. His work involved developing products and fulfilling export
orders. Today, Celestino runs a sophisticated workshop with Allpa, providing
good jobs to over 70 weavers (using improved looms) in Huancavelica, one of
Peru’s poorest cities.
Makers at Celestino’s workshop create textiles with alpaca
fleece. Alpacas are raised in the foothills of the Andes, near Lake Titicaca in
Peru and Bolivia. Their fleece is sheared by Peruvian herdsman. Alpaca fleece
is hand spun into yarn, dyed by hand and then handwoven by makers using an
ancient technique. Each throw is then washed and ironed. It takes three days
and five people to make an alpaca throw.
Watch this video to see some of the process.
*Video created by Allpa and used with their permission.
Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin,
so it’s naturally hypoallergenic, warmer and softer.
Celestino is proud to say that his textiles travel around
the world and reach homes in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia.
Stay warm and cozy this winter with beautiful, handcrafted alpaca throws.
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