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How To Make Worry Dolls: Seamlessly Weaving Mayan History and Culture



Guatemala is well-loved by tourists for its breathtaking volcanic landscape. It's also best known for its visually stimulating textiles. If you’ve ever been to one of their markets, you’ll see wool, cotton, and other fabrics in a plethora of striking colors as far as the eye can see.

These fabrics, when made into rugs, bags, and clothes make great souvenirs for visitors to remember Guatemala by. One particular product made from Mayan textiles has been lauded for its outstanding contribution to pediatrics and psychiatry: worry dolls.

A long time ago, a Mayan princess asked the Sun God for a gift that can help her solve any human problem, and that wish was granted. This well-spun tale told across generations inspired the making of Guatemalan worry dolls.



Worry dolls are traditionally given to children to ward off nightmares. Before bedtime, a child must tell their doll their heartaches and troubles, and ask the doll to make them go away. The doll should be placed under the pillow while the child sleeps. By morning, the worries should be gone as the doll has worked its magic.


Today, these tiny dolls are used by people of all ages. After all, worries are present in any stage in life. Worry dolls have also been used in pediatrics and psychiatry for years, to help children cope with trauma, and to help adults relieve stress and get better sleep.

Worry dolls can stay by your side for a lifetime if you know how to take good care of your pocket-sized friends. When you wake up in the morning and the worry doll has completed its task, you need to rub its tummy to comfort it after a night of worrying in your stead. Then, you need to place it back into its box or bag.


You can change your worry dolls as often as you like, but if you need to get rid of a worry doll, you’ll need to give it a proper burial. Otherwise, it’s considered bad luck to give worry dolls to others or to throw them away in locations you frequently travel around.



How To Make Worry Dolls


It's quite easy to make your own trouble doll from scratch. To assemble the frame, you may use pipe cleaners, wooden pegs, pins, or even popsicle sticks. For the torso and limbs, you may choose yarn, which should be wrapped around the frame. Leftover fabrics and beads can go towards making the head. Bind and wind them together with glue, and you’ll have your very own trouble doll.

Making a worry doll can be a fun, peaceful DIY project for all ages. However, if you would rather own an authentic Mayan trouble doll that remains true to its roots, it’s worth finding an ethical supplier selling Guatemalan worry dolls in bulk and straight from the origin.


How Traditional Worry Dolls Are Sourced And Crafted In Guatemala


From the textile used down to the clothing style, there are certain elements that make the crucial difference between a worry doll created at home, and one that is crafted in the hands of a skilled Mayan artisan and sourced from Guatemala.

As with other Mayan handicrafts, the materials used in crafting worry dolls are linked to the ancient history, rich culture, and surviving tradition of the Mayan civilization. Close to nature, the Mayans have been utilizing throughout time what the natural world has given them. They procured red dyes from cochineal insects, purple dyes from marine molluscs called Plicopurpura pansa, and blue dyes from indigo plants. The process can take a lot of time and effort, and the threads undergo many changes when dyed with these animal, vegetable, or mineral ingredients.

Guatemalan worry dolls may sometimes hold small baskets or tools. They are stored in wooden boxes or wool bags in bunches of 6-8 worry people. The wool bags, as well as the clothing of the worry doll, are made using the ancient Mayan technique of weaving. The method involves weaving wool or cotton on a foot pedal loom, or on a light, portable backloom that can be carried anywhere.


The handcrafted nature of worry dolls means no two are exactly alike, with variations that are unique to the weaver. As Guatemalan artisans make handicrafts that are locally and naturally sourced, the whole process is environmentally friendly and plastic-free — a sustainable way to support these artisans, protect their beautiful culture, and improve their economy.



Getting To Know Your Worry Doll Through Clothing


If you examine the traditional clothes worn by a Guatemalan worry doll, there are clues that provide an insight into their culture and tell you more about your doll and its maker.

The geometric patterns may appear only as decorative swatches of cloth to the uninformed viewer, but they actually carry a valuable message far beyond aesthetics. The Mayans are a proud people who literally wear their heart on their sleeves. The vibrant designs in their clothing bear personal information, such as where the wearer is from and what language they speak.

The native costume of the Mayans, called traje, showcases their identity, and varies by location and language. The same can be said for the way a worry doll is dressed. Generally, traditional Mayan clothing is loosely draped on the body and is held up or tied in place by a woven belt or sash called faja. In addition to the traje, Mayans often wear elaborate headpieces and jewelry that signify their status in society, especially during special occasions.

With over 20 ethno-linguistics groups, there are a myriad of tiny details amidst the many colors, emblems, and designs of Guatemalan fabrics and clothes. Although bold, primary colors like red, yellow, and blue exist in all kinds of clothing, specific color combinations speak which village crafted a clothing item.


For example, a woman from San Antonio Aguascalientes will wear a primarily orange and red huipil, with a specific pattern and bits of green and blue added to the combination. A woman from Nebaj, on the other hand, will wear a red skirt, or corte, with yellow stripes and a belt to honor her ancestors. A man from the same region will wear a manta, an item similar to a poncho, on top of their tunic-like shirt when the weather is cooler. A woman wearing a shawl draped over one of her shoulders is likely a mother, for shawl is used to carry a baby around. According to surviving Mayan artifacts, it is believed that cotton threads are associated with the upper echelons of society, while rougher fabrics from tree bark or agave fibers are used among lower classes.


The examples are endless, but the intent of wearing them — whether they’re worn by a person or a worry doll — is the same: to preserve the rich culture of the Mayan people and to ensure the meanings are not lost.


FromtheMayan Sustainability Project


Mayan artistic traditions were almost destroyed during the upheavals of the 16th century. Today, traditional Mayan art survives in the form of weaving and handicrafts. A worry doll carries in itself the fascinating history, beautiful culture, and long-lasting tradition of the Mayans, told through the way they are crafted, clothed, and packed.


Handicraft Products La Selva, S.A. (From the Mayan People to You) was founded in 1986 to bring the world closer to the art and crafts of the wonderful people of Guatemala. As part of the company’s sustainability project, we participate in Guatemalan textiles fair trade and work with Guatemalan artisans in the native Highland villages to export custom wholesale Mayan handicrafts, including worry dolls. If you have a request, tell us what you need and we will do our best to help you out.


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