The wonderful hands of the Maya made stitches inspired by their ancestral cosmovisions. Their beautiful huipiles of fabrics or woven cuts are still adorned with colorful designs that show the richness of the Mayan identity.
The word huipil comes from the Nahuatl word “Huipilli” meaning “my cap”, in other Mayan languages it is known as “po’t”.
“The huipil distinguishes the identity of the ethnic group, the socioeconomic position and the civil status; the ceremonial huipil is used in the hand order, marriages, baptisms and guilds”.
The huipil is handmade and takes from two to three months to be made on a waist, sticks or mecapal loom. Alfonso Villa out that the huipil evolved, from approximately 1560; because the Spaniards and how they brought the loom with pedals, the one of shells and the brocade technique.
The Mayas used cotton and henequen to make the huipiles, and during the colonial period, they also used wool and silk. Synthetic fibers such as rayon, lustrin and sedaline are also used nowadays.
From the pre-Hispanic era these were weaved on waist looms and needles were used to join the woven canvases. These fabrics were decorated using the brocade technique, where colored threads are added in the weave of the fabric to create a design.
Later, embroidery was incorporated in the Mayan Guatemalan textile tradition. The fabric and the embroidery are not interchangeable terms, because the fabric is a technique where the structure is elaborated and constructed, the fabric is formed or a canvas between weft and warp, and the embroidery is a decorative technique that is done with needle on a woven fabric or on industrial fabric.
In Guatemala, the Ixchel Museum of the Indigenous Costumes (a private non-profit organization) has the mission of collecting, preserving, documenting, rescuing, exhibiting and educating others around the indigenous Guatemalan textile tradition, highlighting its cultural, technical and artistic value. Its vision is to maintain leadership in the field in which it is developed and contribute to the knowledge and dissemination of the country’s cultural wealth.
The Museum has exhibition halls, textile and pictorial collections, as well as publications of interesting books on the Mayan textile theme. One of these rooms is an interactive room where “The story of a thread” is presented, where it proposes that parents and children interact with it, to learn the different processes of making a textile. This room implements a methodology that includes three conducting threads: Sensory Exploration, Thinking with the Hands and Forming Identities.
Hellen Ascoli – Director of Education at the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena – tells us that Artemis Libros and the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena perform on the first Saturday of each month – from 1 to 5 PM – an activity called “The stitch of the month”, in the cultural space of Artemis AVIA. The activity is free, and has been carried out since last year with the purpose of creating a space for shared learning, where you can get to know stitches inspired by the wealth of the Mayan textile.
An ideal complement to this activity, are the classes about the use and management of the waist loom that are taught in the school of weaving, which runs periodically in the Museum.
1.Villa Rojas, Alfonso (1995) Estudios etnológicos, Los Mayas. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
2. Hellen Ascoli. Directora de Educación del Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena. Ciudad de Guatemala.
2331-8081 / 82 | Educacion@museoixchel.org | Museixchel.org | Ixchel Museum of the Indigenous Costumes |6th Final Street, Zone 10, Francisco Marroquín University Cultural Center (UFM).
Written by: Vera Bolaños
Translated by: Melissa Schroden