Guest Author - Valerie Aguilar
In Guatemala there are traditions and customs which still survive as examples of the Mayan culture. The colorful and vibrant clothing of Mayan women emphasizes their identity and reflects the history of their people over the course of three thousand years. The enduring art of weaving with ingenuity and creativity combines the threads of the past and the present to make a powerful cultural statement.
A huipil is a loose brocaded tunic worn by Mayan women in Mexico and Central America. They vary in length from below the waist to the ankles. The traditional huipil is a fabric square or rectangle with a hole in the center for the head. The seams are sewn up each side leaving opening for the arms. The huipil is worn over a corte or skirt, with a sash around the waist to complete the costume.
Each huipil reflects the skills and tastes of the weaver that produced it. The design of each huipil is a manifestation of cultural identity and artistic expression as each weaver weaves her own history, values and philosophy into the cloth. The weaver often weaves in a unique design that identifies her village and even her own personal mark. The weavers combine elements of materials, techniques, patterns and rich designs of geometric figures, animals, flora, fauna and people. The designs are unique and intricate and it may take several months to complete.
The technology used to create the fabric remains the same since pre-history using the backstrap loom. According to Mayan mythology, Ixchel, the earth and moon goddess was the patron of weavers. She is most often portrayed in profile with one end of her loom tied to a tree and the other end strapped around her waist. Today Mayan women weave their rich textiles in the same way.
The backstrap loom is a cleverly simple tool that can accommodate any weaver from a child learning to weave to a master weaver. The backstrap loom is made of sticks, rope and a strap that is worn around the weaver's waist. This uncomplicated technology makes the loom readily available and inexpensive. The backstrap loom allows the weaver the flexibility to work just about anywhere such as in the marketplace, while watching over the children or the sheep in the field.
In recent decades the beauty and value of huipiles came to the attention of museum curators and one can now see Guatemalan huipiles displayed in museums all over the world. Master weavers from Guatemala often travel the world to museums and universities to demonstrate the artistic technique.
I highly recommend watching the demonstrations and seeing the beauty and artistry live. There are many demonstrations of the use of the backstrap loom and of huipiles on YouTube. If you are feeling artistic and creative you can purchase a backstrap loom or go to YouTube and learn how to make one. There are many sites offering instructions and patterns.