Master artisan Daniela Quiniones leads a team of around 80 women, all intent on making the most beautiful and sturdy woven items imaginable, crafted in a range of beguiling colors and time-tested materials. Quiniones primarily relies on the cabuya palm. Though its relatives include agave and other similarly spiny varietals, this plant is only found in northern Ecuador, where Quiniones has lived and worked for her whole life. Quiniones and her team specialize in the creation of shigras, or tightly woven utilitarian bags, which have been historically used in the mountains or jungle to carry food or seeds into the fields.
The crafting process is long and tedious, as cabuya must be gathered with machetes in rural areas, then stripped of its thorny outer skin, beaten against the ground to loosen the fibers, then soaked in water for a period of several days. Next the raw material is washed, shredded, boiled, and colored. Finally, after it’s dry, artisans carefully determine color arrangements and designs, before picking up small needles and beginning to weave. The weaving is the longest part of the process and can take up to 16 weeks.
Many inhabitants of this part of South America live in poverty, with limited access to higher education and economic opportunities. With shigras, Quiniones provides crucial financial support to her fellow villagers, and hopes that in teaching these artistic skills, generations of women can continue to earn a living and pass their skills on to future female generations.