Heirlooms in the Making: The Backstrap Textiles of Rosa

Rosa and her daughter at the market in Chiapas.

Rosa and her daughter at the market in Chiapas.

Rosa learned how to weave from her mother, who learned from her mother before that. For generations, the women in her family have been creating handwoven wool textiles using natural undyed wool, which they card, spin and weave with incredible skill on backstrap looms in Chiapas, Mexico.

There is an abundance of sheep in this region. Given this, along with the cooler climates of this area in Chiapas, wool garments are essential to traditional dress and textiles used in the home. Raw and spun wool flood the local marketplace, and serve as a base for the handmade goods of scores of local artisans.

When creating her textile pieces, Rosa and her daughter first sort and card bags of raw wool. This process consists of tufts of material being passed through the fine metal teeth of two wooden paddles until the wool is clean and fluffy. 

Next comes the spinning process, which Rosa accomplishes not with machinery, but with a supported spindle – a tool that is composed of a carved double-pointed stick with a heavy shellacked ball on one end. The fibers are guided by hand onto the spindle as the stick spins evenly in a special wooden bowl on the floor. Tension is applied during the spinning process, which results in varying weights of yarn.

After all of the wool has been spun, Rosa prepares her backstrap loom, which have been used in the region since pre-Hispanic times. These portable, horizontal looms are constructed of two wooden beams that hold the warp yarn. The loom is attached to the maker with a belt (often made of leather) around the back. Men often stand while they work, while women traditionally kneel on a woven mat on the floor. One end of the loom is secured to a static location, such as a tree, and tension is adjusted by leaning back or forward into the piece, as needed. The patterns that emerge from backstrap work range from minimalistic solid textiles, to highly detailed patterns that sometimes take months to produce. While the pieces in the markets in Chiapas typically feature an incredible array of vibrant colors, often mixing two or three hues at a time, our featured custom pieces exist as the intersection of cotemporary design with traditional processes. Every piece is woven, assembled and sewn by hand and is completely one-of-a-kind. 

Our collaboration with Rosa is based in ethical sourcing, and helps to provide a source of income for Rosa and her family. Clients who purchase these deluxe textile pieces are not only assured of fair pay and ethical production practices, but also that these quality works are fit to become heirlooms for future generations.