In this month’s edition, we would like to take you on a fascinating trip to Mexico through the interesting world of the huipil.
Firstly, you are probably wondering what a huipil is and how to pronounce it. Huipil – pronounced “weepil” - is a garment worn by women throughout Mexico and Central America since before the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas in the 15th century. There is evidence of the use of Huipiles (plural in Spanish) as far back as 900 B.C. and they are still widely in use today.
A huipil is a loose-fitting tunic, generally made from two or three rectangular pieces of fabric, which are joined together with an opening for the head and arms. They vary in length and can be long or short. The short ones may be worm as blouses and the long ones as dresses. Huipiles are not designed to be a close-fitting garment and the neckline can be oval, squared, round or slit.
Despite their simple shape, huipiles require months of work because they are traditionally made with fabric woven on a backstrap loom. This ancient loom consist of sticks, rope, and a strap that is worn around the weaver’s waist, hence its name. Unlike other types of looms, backstrap looms allow the weaver to include raised, brocade designs into the fabric as it is woven. The elaborate brocading of hupiles is exquisite and usually includes decoration with embroidery, lace and ribbons.
Huipiles are available in varied designs and fabrics and the style of each one generally indicates the community and ethnicity of the wearer; the different fabrics, embroidery designs and weaving techniques showing the region from which it comes. As stated by Marta Turok, a Mexican anthropologist who works to raise the prestige of Mexican handcrafts and folk art and to help artisans improve their economic status: “huipiles are part of a living legacy with profound cultural meaning. Most of the woven-in designs are sacred symbols and they represent the vast diversity of over 60 ethnic groups in Mexico”. Most traditional huipiles are made with handwoven cloth, but nowadays, not many women make the fabric themselves, instead assembling a simpler version of the garment made with commercial fabrics.
Women generally have an everyday huipil and those worn on special occasions. The most common textile used is cotton, however, wool and silk are also utilised. Cotton hupiles are often worn in the warm seasons across different states of Mexico and wool huipiles are made to combat the cold in mountainous regions.
According to Leigh Thelmadatter, who arrived in Mexico 17 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture, “there are some garments that may not be true huipiles but are related to or derived from them. One of these is the Tehuana woman’s headdress, made famous by Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait wearing one. In the Yucatan Peninsula, the traditional dress is called hipil (a variation of the word huipil)” and includes colourful floral embroidery in tiered layers. It is still widely used in the rural communities.
Today, an extremely elaborate, handmade huipil can be a highly-prized fashion garment or alternatively, a pretty and comfortable dress suitable for relaxing in warm weather. Huipiles are loose-fitting and incredibly comfortable and fresh, the perfect garment for a summer holiday. We offer a beautiful selection at MIM, don’t miss out on the opportunity to buy handmade pieces like the ones below!