Well, my last post turned out to be a little optimistic! After my bout of flu before Christmas I went down with another respiratory infection (possibly Covid, given how long it took to recover), followed by a urinary tract infection. But finally, after six weeks or so, I feel more like my normal self and ready to tell you about a visit in December a co-operative that makes pine needle baskets in Guatemala.

While spending a few days relaxing on Lake Atitlan, I randomly came across a blog post about a visit to a this co-operative in a small village just above the lake. We were supposed to be taking it easy after visiting various pre-Columbian Mayan cities in Mexico and Guatemala, but the opportunity seemed too good to miss.

I tracked down the group, Los Pinos de Patanatic, on Facebook, and sent a message in my best Spanish asking if I could visit them. To my delight they said yes, though I was a bit confused as they also mentioned a sweat lodge (temascal) – clearly they have been diversifying a bit!

They sent detailed instructions on where to find the collective minibus that would transport us to the village and told us to get off at the Asamblea de Dios. We found the collectivo OK, crowded with locals and shopping, plus a couple of Americans. When we said we needed to get off at Asamblea de Dios, there was a chorus of “Ah, missionaries!”. I protested loudly that we were definitely not missionaries, before one of the Americans behind us piped up: “We are missionaries”.

Co-operative coiling

I was expecting a small workshop, but we were greeted by Rosa, a member of the co-operative, in her own home. She showed me a bundle of pine needles around 40cm long and a few different pine seedlings growing in pots. The needles are harvested in November after they have dried and turned yellow. She didn’t soak the ones she worked with that day, but if they are older and more brittle she does soak them.

She showed me a few finished pieces – most of the co-op’s work is sold online via a company called Mayan Hands. There are six people in the co-op, all women, one of whom (Imelda) joined us a bit later. Usually they all work in their own homes, but sometimes get together to work on new designs.

Rosa normally uses a local grass for stitching, but that day she used cotton thread. She starts by removing the sheaths from a small bundle of pine needles and then wrapping cotton thread around the end of the bundle, coiling it around to form a circle. She works mainly in spiral stitch and glove stitch.

She  and other members of the group fit making in around other work – Rosa has eight children, some of whom popped up to say hello while we were there. She was surprised to learn that I had no children but nodded understandingly when I said I had nine siblings.

I got to have a go myself. Although I have coiled with pine needles a few times, the ones I was able to find in the UK were much shorter, so it was much easier working with longer needles. By the end of the session I managed to produce a round coaster in spiral stitch.

My rudimentary Spanish didn’t allow me to discover which type of pine the needles come from. My language skills were certainly stretched to their limits, though I think that most of the other information I have reported is correct. Apologies to Rosa and Imelda if anything I have said is wrong!

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2 Responses

  1. These baskets are beautiful. The stitching just sets them apart from other coiled baskets I’ve seen such as the ones I bought from Botswana many years ago.

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