About Terra Experience Doll Clothes
For Mayan women from the highlands of Guatemala, the traje (traditional dress) is a statement of her cultural and personal identity. Through her weavings she has an important role in both clothing her family and keeping the threads of the Mayan culture and cosmos together. Each Mayan village has its own style of weaving and dress, so you can often tell which village a woman is from the style of her traje. Traditionally a woman weaves her own huipil (blouse) on a backstrap loom. Making a fine huipil often takes three (or more) months.
I first learned about these traditions and met Mayan weaving families in 1995, while vacationing in Guatemala. The weavers’ skills and huipiles were incredible, but they were having trouble paying for their children’s supplies for the school year that starts in January. I wanted to help.
I was a scout leader and had been amazed by the number of 18" historical dolls the girls had and what their families spent on doll clothes. I wondered if there might also be a market for fine hand-woven ethnic doll clothes that would allow me to provide a fair wage to Guatemalan weavers and give children in North America a chance to experience and support the living Mayan culture.
In 1999 Terra Experience, started with three families producing miniature doll huipiles that fit 18” dolls such as American Girl Doll®. Now we work with many more families and several woman’s groups. We have beautiful handwoven and hand-embroidered doll outfits from over 15 villages and a wide variety of doll accessories.
Because it’s hard to earn a living from the painstaking fine art of back-strap weaving, the weavers and I refined the doll huipil designs and weaving process to take less time while retaining their traditions and inherent beauty. Following fair trade practices, I place an order one year, pay half down, and pick it up the following January paying in full. Neither I or the weavers can sustain our families off the sale of 18” doll clothes. But the regular flow of cash in January, when school starts, has helped the weavers keep their kids in school. and been a fun and educational experience for me, the weavers and those that experienced the Mayan culture through their work. All the weaving families would love to weave more doll clothes.