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House Of Birds: Embroidery Artists of Santiago, Guatemala

House Of Birds: Embroidery Artists of Santiago, Guatemala

Posted by Mary Anne Wise on 6th May 2022

These women who learned embroidery as girls are known for their realistic and colorful birds.                                               

Since ancient history, as the story goes, Santiago Atitlan, home to the Tz’utujil Maya on Lake Atitlán, was referred to as 'the house of birds" because the regional habitat fostered many birds. The birds brightly colored feathers caught the attention of the Spanish who, in turn, named the area “the house of birds.”One story tells of Tz'utujil ancestors who embroidered two-headed birds in their huipils (blouses), signifying the duality of male and female. Over time, artisans preferred to embroider more realistic birds using a dazzling rainbow palette.Today, visitors to Santiago may observe masterfully embroidered huipils, the traditional garment, worn by most women and girls. The majority of men today do not wear their traditional embroidered pantalones for every-day wear, preferring to wear them for ceremonies or holidays only.


Meet Three Embroidery Artists:

Maria Mendoza did not have an opportunity to attend school, instead, growing up she was tasked with helping her family with domestic chores, embroidery and growing crops. She learned to embroider when she was ten years old and has worked at her craft ever since. She is keen to interpret any design challenge we present to her and she is adept at combining color and employs a variety of stitches to bring her designs to life. Maria is a dedicated mother who works hard to provide for her family to ensure her children receive an education.

Rosa Sicay 

is the daughter of Jose Sicay, who machine embroideres Cultural Cloth’s satchels, fabric-by-the-yard and more. Although Rosa grew up surrounded by embroidery, for her mother also embroiders by hand, she learned to embroider in school when she was fourteen years old. She soon grew adept at the practice and, over time, embroidery work helped pay her way through college. Rosa enjoys embroidering birds but is also appreciates the he challenge of interpretive embroidery, too, as in the pillow sample below.


Rosa Consigua Tzina  learned to embroider at age eleven by watching a neighbor work at her craft. At age fourteen, she taught herself how to weave on a backstrap loom by watching the same neighbor. Recalling those experiences, Rosa says “I was born an observer. Always watching and learning.” Rosa is a busy mother, grandmother and community leader. In spite of health issues, she continues to enjoy her embroidery work and when not working on her commissions, she applies her talents to creating embroidered embellishments for her home such as curtains and more.