How It’s Made

Materials, Motif & Stitching

All of the materials featured in the collection are gathered, sourced, collected in the Darien Rainforest. Masks and Baskets are both created using similar techniques of weaving with prepared and dyed palm fronds, and intricate carvings are created out of the wood found around the artists villages.

Palm fronds from the top of this spiny chunga palm are the basic sources of weaving materials

Natural & Vegetal Materials

The Darién rainforest is known for its impossible pathways and nearly impenetrable paths; due, in part, to the dangerous “Chunga” palm—containing vicious spines up to six inches in length. Despite its prickly exterior, the Chunga palm has many valuable uses. While the hard black wood is used primarily for house posts, these trees have spiritual connotations, as well. In fact, many elders believe that ancient ancestors once used strong rope braided from chunga palms to tie demons to the exposed roots of the trees along the river; consequently drowning them when the water level rose.

Chunga is so closely linked to Wounaan tradition and daily life that, when it comes to the creation of  Hösig Di, each basket is believed to begin with an inherent spiritual quality. Further to this point, the women who weave them are often called “spirit weavers.” In the past, to make these baskets, members of the Wounaan and Emberá tribes would often cut Chunga palms down in order to collect the young, tender leaves needed for stitching—usually found just emerging from the top of the tree. However, as weavers and village leaders began to recognize the economic hardships they could face if the palms were destroyed, they started using tall ladders, at a safe distance from the spines, and replanting the trees to keep them alive.

Today, discriminating collectors believe that Wounaan Hösig Di baskets rival the finest hand-woven artwork in the world. With their creative design and careful use of nature, these artists create beautiful work that is not only rare, but represents a lifetime of history and meaning.

Motif & Design

Unlike the beautiful baskets we see today, up until the late 1900s, Wounaan Hösig Di were very plain—due partially to the fact that they were used primarily for practical purposes, like the storage and transportation of large quantities of water, precious objects or spiritual treasures. However, during the 1980s, all of that changed; and today, weavers of Wounaan Hösig Di can choose from two artistic “motifs” at the start of construction: geometric or pictorial.

Geometric Designs

Geometric motifs draw their inspiration from multiple sources, including pre-Colombian textiles, ceramics and rock art. Baskets woven with these designs are often referred to as “cultural,” due to the fact that a large part of their inspiration stems from body paintings and patterns on spiritual paraphernalia used by village shamans. These tattoos are applied frequently and last only a few weeks, fading quickly. The color comes from the juices of a locally found root vegetable, and applied using a few thin sticks. Painted designs go on clear and darken overnight into the deep rich color you see in many Wounaan and Embera tattoed subjects. Many believe the vegetable juices used to create these beautiful designs also has the properties of an insect repellent.

Pictorial Designs

Pictorial motifs, on the other hand, are called “natura” due to the fact that they are inspired by their natural surroundings. In fact, these designs often include local flowers, trees, birds, ocelots, jaguars, iguanas and other flora and fauna native to the Darién rainforest. Pictorial designs come in a variety of styles, some perfect renditions of the floral subject matter the weaver is conveying, and some an interpretation of the flora using angular shapes and shaded background.

Regardless of which motif they choose, it is evident that both represent an interesting aspect of the culture of the indigenous people who create them. Hösig Di therefore is more than an acquired skill—it’s a window into life in the depths of the Darién rainforest.

rib-stitched left, silk stitched right

Silk Stitching or Rib-Stitched

Just like weavers of Wounaan Hösig Di can choose from geometric or pictorial motifs, they also can choose from two methods of stitching: rib-stitch or silk.

Used by early Native American basket weavers—whose baskets, today, are worth tens of thousands of dollars—coil construction uses long bundles of natural materials, like stiff grasses and reeds, which bend as the artist weaves one row on top of the other. While fronds from the rainforest’s native naguala palms are used for the base of the baskets, those from chunga palms, which are known for their flexible and supple nature, are used to carefully stitch each basket’s design. Under this process, rib stitching is the most popular technique. By constructing the basket in such a way that the curvature of the round coil is accentuated, the result is a ribbed appearance—making the inside of the basket look a lot like corduroy.

Silk stitch, on the other hand, uses the same materials, but results in a basket that contains a flat, smooth texture. By constructing the stitch in a way that it takes the emphasis away from the curvature of the coil, the artist is able to create a product that has the look and feel of a silk tapestry.

Though silk stitching requires more fiber, and as such, is regarded as a more difficult technique than the coil, rib-stitch process, each has a profound effect when applied to their designated motif. In fact, the overall appearance of the motif depends on more than just the stitching process—it is also affected by the complexity of the design, the width and length of the stitch, and the selected hues. As there are no two-dimensional patterns to follow as an example, pictorial motifs of the rainforest take the longest for even the most talented of weavers to complete.

Vegetal Dye Sources

Lianas Vine

A woody climbing plant that hangs from trees, especially in tropical rainforests. It is used to make both a pink color and a cream color, depending on which part of the vine that is used.

Asafran

Saffron makes many colors, including a rich green. Also used to make green are soliman (a seed-like potatoe) and earth.

Cocobolo Wood

Cocobolo is a prized rosewood, used for decorative carvings, knife handles and more. Many carvers leave behind wood shavings that are used as a chocolate colored dye.

Trumpet Vine

Flowers are used to create brilliant colors depending on the time in bloom. Vibrant red and colorful hues or rich, darker hues depending on the lifecycle of the plant.