Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Maya Textiles in Quetzaltenango

The textiles woven by  Maya descendants have long been appreciated for their beauty and sophistication. Using just a simple back-strap loom, women in Guatemalan Highlands create intricately brocaded blouses for themselves and clothing for their families. The textiles they produce are both, attractive and utilitarian.
But while these textiles can be appreciated solely for their aesthetic value, this is an inherently limited interpretation. Mayan textiles are much more than pretty pieces of fabric. The clothing worn on a daily basis communicates a lot of information about the wearer, including his or her social status in the community, his or her ethnic group, and the area in which he or she lives.
Hundreds of symbols have been identified in Mayan textiles. The weaver selects a combination of symbols, like those shown below, to portray a mythological drama, and that is why there are no two identical weavings.  From the left, symbol 1: diamonds represent the universe and the path of the sun (the largest diamond in the center) in its daily movement, from east (small diamond at the top) to the west (small diamond at the bottom); symbol 2: scorpion tails representing the lightnings; symbol 3: the Earthlord, God of the underworld; 4: a toad representing the singings; 5: the vulture, representing the legend of the renaissance after the great flood that destroyed the previous world.
When interpreted in that order, the drama unfolds: while the toad sings at the mouth of the Earthlord's mountain cave, the Earthlord's daughters fluff cotton that will be transformed into rain clouds by a bolt of lightning. The scorpion's spiny tail stings the lightning that attracts the rain and produces the flowering fields. 
The outfit to the left is typical of the clothing worn by women of Quetzaltenango, where some women continue to wear traditional clothing.
The huipil or blouse, is constructed of three panels of cloth. Where these panels are sewn together, the weaver embroidered multicolored flowers. This design is also continued around the neck.
The perraje or shawl, is woven of cotton and wool and serves multiple purposes. It can be worn around the shoulders on a chilly day in the highlands or folded and carried on top of the head until needed. In some areas, it may be used to cushion a load carried on the head, or it may be used as a carrying cloth to transport an infant or produce from the fields.
The corte or skirt, is made of cotton, and the fabric is typically woven on treadle looms using the ikat technique. This skirt is made of two lengths of cloth. The randa, or the area where the two pieces are sewn together, is embroidered with pink, purple, yellow, and burgundy embroidery. The darker area above the randa indicates that this skirt was taken in to accommodate a shorter person and later let out, perhaps as its owner grew taller.


  1. Really interesting, and informative. There are info that I did not no.

  2. i like it too wear might you get clothing to make these pretty mayan cloths?????it is amazing how much there stuff is different from our stuf!!there is alot of stuff i didnt know on this website now i know were too look if i have any more questins!!!I love it!!!:) :)


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