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Multicolores Maya Women’s Rug Hooking Cooperative

A new Maya textile tradition

Multicolores, or many-colored, is about as fitting of a name as possible for this artist cooperative from central Guatemala. Ecstatically hued embroidery adorns pillows, footstools, and other home goods, lending a punch of happy color to any room. Some of the rugs depict animals—butterflies and birds in flight are popular embellishments—while others rely on abstracted elements, all brightly colored.

The centuries-old designs of the Maya people provide the inspiration and innovation for more than 50 women rug makers from the highlands of Guatemala. Their handmade hooked rugs, made by recycling the cast-off clothing of their North American neighbors, are preserving their ancestral artistry and building economic stability. Rather than investing in expensive wool and cotton, the women resource bales of used T-shirts, sweatshirts, and other apparel sent from the United States and sold by local vendors. These cotton fabrics are the foundation for a contemporary textile art form of imaginative and affordable hooked rugs with colorful patterns that maintain the integrity of traditional Maya motifs.

Symbolism abounds in many of the artists’ creations. What looks like a simple triangle, for example, might actually represent a volcano. Certain color schemes or combinations might be inspired by a favorite blouse. A ripple effect is achieved when one woman learns the skills to rug-hook, for then she can share them with family and friends, who can have the chance to benefit financially too.