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Lessons in the Loom


A few weeks ago, the language school my fellow missioner, Amanda, and I attend invited students to go on a tour of a nearby weaving co-op. Guatemala is an incredibly colorful country, and the city of Xela is filled with women going about their daily routines while wearing traditional huipils (blouses) and faldas (skirts). These indigenous clothes are created by countless women living throughout Guatemala.

Trama Textiles  was founded in 1988 to serve and empower the women of Guatemala who were effected by the horrific civil war that shook the country. Trama Textiles (or, Trama, as the locals call it) represents over 400 women from five regions in Guatemala. The beautiful weavings that these women make for Trama allows them to financially provide for their families and helps to end the cycle of poverty.

Trama Textile storefront.

Trama Textile storefront

After the initial tour of Trama, Amanda and I decided to sign up for a scarf weaving class that several local women teach. The scarves are woven on the same types of looms that Guatemalan women have been using for over 1,000 years. I consider myself a fairly crafty person, so I went into my first class expecting weaving to come pretty easily.

As is the case in most situations where I think I have some control, God chose to take the opportunity to show me just how wrong I can be. The first class went smoothly because it mostly involved twisting thread into balls and then wrapping that thread around the loom form. It was when I attempted to weave that everything (literally and figuratively) fell apart.

After what felt like the thousandth time of my teacher correcting my weaving pattern, I was ready to throw my loom in the garbage. Then, a realization came to me as the woman’s fingers swiftly moved through the threads of my scarf: everything is fixable.

Like most Americans, I have spent a significant portion of my life in high stress, high achievement situations. In some ways, I thrive in intense atmospheres, but I’ve found that it’s unhealthy when I live in one for too long. It’s in times like those that I often lose patience with myself and others the fastest. I’ll mentally berate myself for being unable to finish the task at hand.

I don’t know if this kind of reaction is normal or neurotic, but it’s how I think. It always takes a minute for me to slow down and re-evaluate.

My teacher at Trama embodied patience. Every time I pulled a thread too tight or forgot a step, she would unravel my mistake with her capable and nimble fingers as I looked on in awe. I never ruined my scarf, but I’m confident that if I had, then the lovely women at Trama could have fixed it.

Textile instructor.

Textile instructor

St. Francis de Sales wrote in a letter, “Be patient with everyone but especially with yourself; I mean that you should not be troubled about your imperfections and that you should always have courage to pick yourself up afterwards.”

I left Trama with a deep appreciation for the women who make their livelihoods by weaving. I also left with the knowledge that any situation can turn around, but it takes patience and persistence.

Finally, after nine hours at the loom, I left with a beautiful scarf that I’m proud of, imperfections and all.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.