Textile Art -uniqueness of hand-woven textiles

Many market places for artisans (such as Etsy) boast as one of their biggest strengths, the uniqeness of their products. In this age of jadedness and of start-ups budding everywhere you look, how true can this really be? And does unique translate to good quality necessarily?

In my line of work I see many products that are handmade by artisans around the world. Most are unique due to the fact that they don’t follow a specific pattern. The product is designed sometimes at the very moment it is being made, much like a painter that knows what he wants to paint but tweeks his masterpiece as he goes along.

In the case of textiles, specifically textiles woven in the Guatemalan villages, there are many curiosities that not only make them unique, but also make them high quality, durable textiles.

Here are some examples.

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Both of the sobre huipiles (literally: over blouse) are from Sololá. Notice the similarities in the neckline with a zig-zag enhancement, two multi-colored strips one inch from each other and the circle between them at the center of the neckline. Also notice the similarities in the vertical lines and the continuation of the multicolored strips throught the shoulder in a horizontal fashion, and vertically, perpendicular to the arm. While both sobrehuipiles are from the same region and share many similarities, it is very obvios that they are unique.

All three of the above huipiles are from Chichicastenango and are used by the cofrades (spiritual community leaders). The similarities between them are limited to the neckline and the position of the woven blocks on the shoulders and torso of the blouse.

In Chuarrancho, these two ladies are wearing huipiles that are similar in symbolism and color patterns. Both sobrehuipiles have the fierce lion symbol as well as the tree of life symbol. Uniting both panels of hand-woven cloth that make up the blouse are strips of down-pointing arrows. This is an example of how hand-woven materials of the same region and with the same purpose are distinguishable from those of other regions while still maintaining their uniqueness.

Huipiles from Totonicapán such as the above may seem identical, but upon closer inspection it is evident that they are unique. The huipil worn in the picture to the left has less horizontal lines and the ones that are there are thicker strips. The huipil worn in the picture to the right has more horizontal lines than the other and they are thinner strips. However, both huipiles are easily identifiable as from the same region for the colors used and the geometric figures.

Young Mam girls from Comitancillo wear identical huipiles from the region….or are they? Notice the pattern on the colorful strips.

The daily huipiles from San Sebastián, Huehuetenango also tend to look identical. There are two differences that can be seen quickly upon closer inspection. Can you find them?

Notice the neck and arm finishings. Also notice the strips of blue and green.

Cofradía women “wearing over-huipils, stiff bands around their heads, and ceremonial veils.” Notice the difference in the location of the different symbols.

Ladies from Rabinal, Baja Verapaz wear their unique huipiles for local festivities.

Although they are very similar in patterns and choice of color, again, they are unique.

Can you spot the differences by now?

Sobrehuipiles from San Martín, Jilotepeque. Although they look identical, they are unique.

  • Bibliography:
  • de Marroquín, Anne Girard (2017); Ethnographic view of Maya dress in Guatemala; Editorial Serviprensa, Guatemala city, Guatemala
  • de Castellanos, Guisela Mayén (1986); Tzute y Jerarquía en Sololá; Ediciones del Museo Ixchel, Guatemala city, Guatemala
  • Deuss, Krystyna (2018); Cofradías, Customs and Costumes among the Guatemalan Maya; The Guatemalan Maya Centre, London, England

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