Artists of Huipils

So its fall and thoughts are turning to winter arriving soon…NOT! With most of the country experiencing hotter than normal temperatures, my thoughts keep drifting back to the clothes of Mexico. I did actually see more on the Baja peninsula than indigo. Although the indigo tunic attracted my eye, there were other garments which simply amazed me. These huipils are the traditional dress of indigenous women from central Mexico and Central America. The tunics are made of two or three pieces of hand woven fabric which are then stitched together allowing for an opening for the head. The sides if stitched together also leave an opening for arms. The garment can be short (worn more as a blouse) or long for a full length tunic.

Huipil, 1875-1890, Warp-faced plain weave cotton; red cotton is dyed with Alizarin,Patzun, Guatemala (probably) V&A Museum no.T.23-1931

The huipils vary by design, fabric, and symbols. Although I expected the huipils to be made of cotton, I was surprised to learn that the garments can be made of silk or wool too. The wool tunics tend to be found in the mountains areas where it is colder. The silk garments link to an Asian influence.

The designs vary based on the purpose of the garment (ceremonial) or the symbols associated with the different regions. The same huipil made for her wedding is carefully stored and later used for her funeral. In Ojitlan, Oaxaca, the highest class of the huipil is actually “red” a traditional color for the wedding/funeral dress. (My sister will probably want her wedding to take place there, just so she can have her favorite color, red, for her wedding dress.) However, the dye is expensive perhaps cochineal, so a lesser red dye is frequently used. The lowest class is usually undyed (white or natural) and decorated with birds and animals in brilliant vivid colors.


But in another class, are the tunics I saw in Cabo. The weaving was superior, then the artist took the time to create birds and flowers with specific details. Enough details to allow the birds to be identified. The flowers have stamens, leaves, and petals, not simply a bright blob of color.

Many of the earlier huipils were woven with a basic design, in the fabric, the artistry was found in the weaving. Sadly by the end of the nineteenth century the brocade technique in the weaving had been forgotten except by a few skilled artisans. Just as with the quilting world, the future of the art form may be limited. It is being replaced with embroidery on top of the weaving or on top of commercial fabric. I have to hope that the passion for the techniques will continue in some of the artists for centuries to come.

 
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