MOUNT DESERT — From remote villages in Central America to a tiny shop off Main Street in Northeast Harbor come colorful, high-quality textiles hand-woven by indigenous people.
Living Threads, located behind Shaw Jewelry and adjacent to Milk & Honey, opened last month for its first season.
Shop owner Amanda Zehner said her goal is not only to provide a market for the textiles – table runners, placemats, blankets, shawls and scarves – but to share the stories and help preserve the cultures of the women who make them.
She is investing 10 percent of her profits in a micro-credit program to help the weavers expand their home-based businesses.
Originally from Virginia, Zehner joined the Peace Corps in 2005 and spent two years working on health and community development projects in the West African nation of Gambia.
After earning a masters degree in international development from Brandeis University, she became the program director in Guatemala for a non-profit organization working to improve the health, education and food security of families in rural, coffee-growing communities in Latin America.
Most recently, she worked with Sustainable Harvest International, a non-profit based in Ellsworth, whose mission is to provide farm families in Central America with the training and support to preserve tropical forests while lifting themselves out of poverty. Zehner lives in Northeast Harbor.
Living Threads sells textiles made by members of a small weaving cooperative in Nicaragua and a group of weavers in a small village surrounded by volcanoes in Guatemala, which Zehner said is not easy to get to.
“From Guatemala City, you take a bus for a couple of hours out to Lake Atitlan, the deepest lake in Central America, and then go about 45 minutes by boat across the lake,” she said. “Then you take these little tiny taxis up the hill to where the town is. It’s really beautiful, but it’s quite a journey.”
Zehner said the artisans practice a method of weaving that has been “part of Mayan culture and provided a channel for artistic expression for more than 2,000 years.”
In Nicaragua, the weavers use looms that are hand-made from reclaimed wood.
“The textiles made on these looms are of the highest quality you will find in any store world-wide, with unsurpassed craftsmanship, lovely colors and unique designs,” Zehner said.
She said one family is already using money provided by the micro-credit program that she invests in to build a small addition to their house and to accommodate a new loom.
“They will be able to make larger blankets, because now they are really restricted by the size of their loom,” she said.
In both Nicaragua and Guatemala, weaving is often a long-standing family tradition, Zehner said.
“A grandmother teaches her daughter or daughter-in-law, who then teaches her own daughters.”
She said Living Threads will be open through October, and maybe later in the year. She plans to return to Central America in the winter to work with the weavers on textile designs and on the sustainability and growth of their businesses.
Zehner said she hopes people will not only want to buy the textiles she carries in Living Threads, but also will want to learn a little something about the people who make them.
“It’s the people I really care about,” she said.
Living Threads and its neighbor, Milk & Honey, will hold a joint open house on Thursday, June 25, from 4:30-7 p.m.