Several types of weaving are more specialized than backstrap loom or treadle loom weaving. For example, hair ribbons, some fajas or belts, and shoulder bags are produced with unique methods. Sometimes these unique methods are required by the type of fiber used or by the size and function of the item. The production of shoulder bags (known as bolsas or morrals) made of maguey fiber is one example of a special type of weaving.
First, the fiber of the maguey plant must be harvested and prepared for spinning. This is not an easy process, as indicated by the very appearance of the maguey cactus shown behind the young man in this photograph. The long and extremely durable fibers of this cactus must by pounded and dried before they can be spun into thread or rope.
This Tojolabal boy uses a hand-made rope twisting instrument to produce cordage.
Once prepared, maguey fibers are spun much like other fibers. Prehistorically, maguey fibers were used to weave clothing. These days, it is most commonly used to produce shoulder bags.
This photograph shows a large pile of white maguey fiber ready to be spun by this father and daughter team. Though young girls may help out in the production of maguey fiber items, the more active tasks are left to the men in the family.
Brightly dyed maguey thread can be used to weave or crochet shoulder bags. These bags are indispensable to the men who carry them everyday.
This young Tojolabal man from Jotana, Chiapas, Mexico, is weaving such a bag on a small loom. Over his shoulder, he carries a bag similar to what the finished product will look like.
These three photographs of Tojolabal Maya were taken by Celia M. Douglas of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in 1946. These Maya are residents of the town of Jotana, Chiapas, Mexico. The photographs are part of the Sam Noble Museum’s growing photography collection.
To see shoulder bags currently in the museum’s Maya textile collection and discover what these bags can tell us about the division of labor, click here. Though the bags in the museum’s collection were produced more recently then those in the above photographs, the basic techniques of production are virtually the same.