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Training the Artisans

Training is the best investment we make

6-3_artisans-training_05_threadsWe spent four years training each of our village teams and training has to be repeated every so often to keep top of mind the importance of our detailed approach to quality. While our Maya artisans have always been skilled embroiderers, weavers, and basket makers, quality is all in the details.

Patterns and pencils vs. chalk

When we started, the embroiderers were using pencil or carbon to mark their patterns on cloth. But carbon runs when you wash the fabric and mistaken pencil lines cannot be removed.

MayaBags taught the women two approaches to overcoming these issues. First, we gave them chalk paper and chalk pencils to draw their patterns on the textile background they were going to embroider. Second, while chalk washes out, in the event they reverted to pencil, we taught them to embroider over the pencil pattern lines. This really helped.

Keeping things pristine clean

We gave them the tools and the training to keep the fabrics clean. We taught them how to wash their hoops in soap and water, and gave them fabric bags for storing their embroidery and yarn. We demonstrated for them that certain types of soil like cooking oil or clay would not wash out! This worked beautifully.

Discovering a “finger glove”

In addition, we kept seeing small dark stains on the embroidered cloth. We realized after questioning the women that they were pricking their fingers with needles as they embroidered. The pricks were resulting in tiny bloodstains on the fabric. To help them and save the fabric, we gave each embroiderer a “finger glove” or a thimble to protect the ends of their fingers as they worked. Our Maya artisans appreciated this improvement—to the fabrics and to their hands!

Stitching in the details

6-3_artisans-training_08_sm-embroidery-handWe also taught the women to keep their stitches flowing in an even and beautiful pattern, rather than suddenly switching to “cover a spot.” This might mean that stitches had to get narrower, for example, as the sewer moved from the wide part of a bird’s wing into the narrow tip of the wing. Another helpful tip that worked.

Patience and building trust

Part of our training process also involved patience. For almost four years, we paid for almost everything the women embroidered. But if a fabric came in that had been poorly embroidered, we would not pay them for this. Instead we would give them a new piece of fabric to try again. This approach built trust and confidence in us, as managers, and in the process.

All of these and other steps have made quality control something the artisans have learned and embraced.

Make a good sample; get more work

6-3_artisans-training_09_jaguar-on-blackToday we give each team member the opportunity to embroider one pattern before we distribute all the work among the women. As long as they deliver a top quality sample, they get the additional work. If one or two women do not, they miss this opportunity for additional work. We pay them for the sample, but they don’t get the quantity work.

Then, as long as the embroiderers deliver the same quality they achieved in the sample, we accept and pay for all their work. If they do not meet the quality standards required, the pieces go into a “learning bag” and are not paid for. All the team members can look into the learning bag and remind themselves what to avoid.

Weaving with precision

For weaving and basketry, we follow the same training process. With our weavers, we stress uniform weaving quality with tight stitches that do not “skip” colors, neat edges that are as straight as possible, clean yarn, and uniform sizing for all textiles woven for the same project. The pattern and color layout for textiles for any given project must reflect the pattern and colors we have asked the women to weave.

Basketry standards too

6-3_artisans-training_11_basketWith basketry, we stress that the artisans use tight, same-sized coils for each level of the basket, stitch the layers uniformly and in an attractive stitching pattern, and make baskets that are symmetrical. Like the other artisans who either embroider or weave, they must make the same sized baskets for a given project based on the size parameters that have been set.

Training for excellence, all the time

Today, all of our members have been trained. But we still find a need to repeat the process from time to time. As MayaBags Belize manager Desiree Arnold points out, “It’s just human nature that attention to detail can slip as time goes by. We’ve found that gentle reminders and retraining are critical to keeping the artisans’ quality consistently high. Keeping our product quality high is a key MayaBags goal that requires constant oversight. “But,” she says, “in a way, that’s good…it’s challenging and keeps us on our feet.”

For MayaBags attention to detail and fine execution will always be a priority.