Weaving decolonising metaphors: Backstrap loom as design research methodology

  • Diana Albarrán González Auckland University
  • Marcos Mortensen Steagall  (Translator)
Keywords: Backstrap loom, Decolonization, Design Research, Metaphor, Methodology


Decolonising approaches have challenged conventional Western research creating spaces for Indigenous, culturally-appropriate, and context-based research alternatives. Decolonising design movements have also challenged dominant Anglo-Eurocentric approaches giving visibility to other ways of thinking and doing design(s). Indigenous peoples have considered metaphors as important sense-making tools for knowledge transmission and research across different communities. In these contexts, Indigenous craft-design-arts have been used as metaphorical research methodologies and are valuable sources of knowledge generation, bringing concepts from the unseen to the physical realm manifested through our hands and bodies. In particular, Indigenous women have used the embodied practices of weaving and textile making as research methodology metaphors connecting the mind, body, heart and spirit. Situated in the highlands of Chiapas, this research proposes backstrap loom weaving as a decolonial design research methodology aligned with ancestral knowledge from Mesoamerica. For Mayan Tsotsil and Tseltal peoples, jolobil or backstrap loom weaving is a biocultural knowledge linked to the weaver’s well-being as part of a community and is a medium to reconnect with Indigenous ancestry and heritage. Resisting colonisation, this living textile knowledge and practice involve collective memory, adapting and evolving through changes in time. Mayan textiles reflect culture, identity and worldview captured in the intricate patterns, colours, symbols, and techniques. Jolobil as a novel methodological proposal, interweaves decolonial theory, visual-digital-sensorial ethnography, co-design, textiles as resistance, Mayan cosmovision and collective well-being. Nevertheless, it requires the integration of onto-epistemologies from Abya Yala as fundamental approaches like sentipensar and corazonar. Jolobil embodies the interweaving of ancestral knowledge with creative practice where the symbolism of the components is combined with new research interpretations. In this sense, the threads of the warp (urdimbre) representing patrones sentipensantes findings are woven with the weft (trama) as the embodied reflexivity of sentipensar-corazonando. As the weaver supports the loom around her waist, the cyclical back and forth motion of weaving jolobil functions as analysis and creative exploration through sentirpensar and corazonar creating advanced reflexive textile narratives. The interweaving of embodied metaphors and textiles with sentipensar, corazonar, mind, body, heart and spirit, contribute to the creation of decolonising alternatives to design research towards pluriversality, aligned with ways of being and doing research as Mesoamerican and Indigenous women.

Author Biography

Diana Albarrán González, Auckland University

Dr Diana Albarrán González is a Native Latin American design researcher and craftivist from Mexico. She is a Lecturer in the Design programmes at the Creative Arts and Industry faculty at the University of Auckland. With more than 18 years of international experience, she seeks to address challenges in a variety of contexts through a meaningful sense of culture, diversity awareness and sensitivity, and the exploration of connections between Moana-nui-a-Kiwa and Abya Yala.