Huipil, the artwork in everyday use

women from Chiampas, Mexico wearing traditional huipil
Women from Chiampas region of Mexico wearing huipils, photo courtesy PWRDF

Some time ago I visited an exibition of Mexican textiles from the Chiapas region of the country and I was striked by the beauty of huipil - the traditional dress of the Mayan women - as well as by their skills in embroidery. To think about it: a rectangle of cotton with an opening for the head...what can be simplier? This design has been popular in different cultures for centuries . But add some love, creativity and skills to this simple practical piece of clothing and it turns into a work of art.

Embroidery on huipil from Cancuc region, Chiapas, Mexico
Huipil from Cancuc region, Chiapas

This woven garment expresses the artistic nature of Mayan women: the patterns, colours and symbols record the history of the wearer, her age, social status and her link with her ancestors. Girls start learning how to weave and embroider from a very early age and they receive their first huipil when they turn 10 to mark their coming of age.

Huipil from Magdalenas region, Chiapas, Mexico

Beautiful embroidery on huipil from Magdalenas region, Chiapas

Beautifully embroidered huipil, Magdalenas region, Chiapas

Another example of huipil from Magdalenas region of Mexico

The huipil is composed of one, two or three panels or widths woven on a backstrap loom. Though the older style of huipil tended to be very wide, using as many as four widths of cloth, three windths are now the most common design. The join between the woven rectangles can be disguised by the pattering of the cloth or it can become a piece of decorative embroidery in its own right.

Huipil from San Juan Chamula region, Chiapas

Beautiful huipil from San Juan Chamula region

A neck opening can be either a simple slit or a square, round of triangular cut-out hole. The side seams end at the armpit to form the armhole. The decorations are usually focused around the neck, shoulders and armholes but a lower border can be ornamented, too. Cross-stitch embroidery is most common and the designs used are geometric (oldest and now rare), floral (most popular) and fruits (modern).

Embroidered huipil from Tenejapa region, Chiapas, Mexico

Huipil from Tenejapa region

Embroidered huipil, Del Bosque region, Chiapas, Mexico
Huipil from Del Bosque region

Huipil, Chenalho region, Chiapas
Chenalho region huipil

The huipil is used for everyday wear and may be tight of loose fitting, short or long, and worn tucked into or over the top of a skirt. Since the huipil is identical on both sides it can be worn either way around. There is a special type of huipil which is fuller and longer and not joined at the sides and is worn as an additional over-layer to protect the wearer from the cold.

Black and white huipil from San Andres Larraizar, Chiapas

Black and white huipil from San Andres Larraizar region

All the photos were taken at the Mexican textiles from Chiapas region exhibition organized in Kathmandu by the Embassy of Mexico.

Encyclopedia of World Dress and  Fashion, Vol.2, Latin America and the Caribbean
Textiles: A World Tour by Catherine Legrand
Peoples of the World by Mirella Ferrera

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  1. WOW! Such intricate work! So creative and artistic!



  2. Beautiful embroidery!!! As you have rightly saus....real works of art! And so much skill goes into making them!!! I like how in the design there is a story woven in about the girls status and life. Great article :) it was nice tgat the embassy of Mexico in Kathmandu organized such an exhibition!!!

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