Goodbye, spindle spinning

Last post, I was asking the world at large whether men of the Guatemalan highlands still spin wool on drop spindles, as they did when Olive and Harry Linder visited there in the late 1970s. Having spent several days chasing the answer, I have to say it’s a qualified “no.” Of course you can’t prove a negative, but I couldn’t get anyone to even recall that their father or grandfather spun on a drop spindle, or patet, or pechech (same thing) . The people to whom I showed my own wooden drop spindle, nicely filled with dark brown handspun, gave it befuddled looks. If it’s gone, it’s also forgotten.

On the other hand, there’s still plenty of wool being spun in Guatemala by both men and women.  They use spindle wheels – either heavy wooden ones (photo at left), or high-speed ones crafted from bicycles. The spun wool is still woven into men’s rodilleras (short skirts), often on backstrap looms but also on two-shaft foot-powered looms.

The other thing I found interesting in my quest for wool spinning is the trade route that has developed over the years, decades, centuries, who knows. Most of the wool is grown in the far northern mountains near Todos los Santos or San Marcos (get out your map). It’s then sold to wool washers farther south in Payexu, who clean it up and bring it to Sunday market in Momostenango, farther south still. There, it’s bought by area spinners who spin it (photo at right), brought back to market and sold to weavers who weave it into rodilleras (or blankets), who take it to market even farther south in Comalapa, a distribution point to other markets such as Sololá, where the men wear them over their very attractive handwoven ikat cotton pants. From sheep to skirt, the wool travels at least 12 to 15 hours over rugged, winding mountain roads (never mind weeks and months of processing) to reach its final destination.

Click here to see more photos from my trip:

This is not the whole story, and it may not even all be true, but it’s what I was able to suss out in a few days. Cotton spinning, now that’s something else again. . . .

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