The Spot Light

The huipil is a pre-Columbian upper garment used by women of many indigenous groups in Mexico and Guatemala today.  Huipiles are usually composed of two or three sections or webs that are hand woven on the pre-Hispanic backstrap loom.  The huipiles of this grouping come from the Chinantec area of northern Oaxaca, Mexico.  The language of the Chinantec people belongs to the Otomanguean group of languages.

The huipiles of three Chinantec villages are represented here and probably date from the 1960’s and/or 1970’s.  Some of the garments have a design below the neck in the shape of a rhomboid.  This is said to act as a door protecting the soul of the woman wearing the huipil.  When she dies the door opens, and her spirit leaves her body.


San Lucas

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Special Occasion Huipil

Textiles from San Lucas Ojitlán, Oaxaca, Mexico

The everyday huipil of Ojitlán is white, decorated with embroidery of peacocks, “the bird with a twisted neck”, and other designs that have specific meanings.  The huipil with red as its predominant color is usually reserved for special occasions.


San Felipe

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Non-painted Huipil

Textiles from San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca, Mexico

The women of Usila adorn their huipiles with ribbons and lace.  Sometimes after a huipil is woven, a dark purple dye is painted onto several areas of the garment, hiding the original colors.  This is the only place in Mexico where this procedure is practiced.  The huipil that is not painted shows the many colors used in its confection.

View close-up of Huipil painted with dye.

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Huipil painted with dye


Valle Nacional

Textile from Valle Nacional, Oaxaca, Mexico

Bands of plain weave alternate with narrow bands of gauze weave, and the huipil is then lavishly embroidered with designs of flowers and birds.


Guatemalan Textiles

These two textiles came from Guatemala and were a donation to the Castañeda Museum from one of our most generous benefactors, Richard D. Mandell, PhD, linguist, historian, and avid collector of Guatemalan textiles. (1929-2013)


City & State: Santa Catarina Palopó, Department of Sololá
Ethnic Group: Cakchiquel Maya

Everyday huipil (woman’s upper garment) woven on a backstrap loom, consisting of 3 panels/webs.

This huipil was made after 1970, as before that time a different style of huipil was in use. Here in Santa Catarina and in other areas of Guatemala, huipiles are made for the tourist trade, but these are often inferior to and sometimes of a different design than the huipiles the Maya women weave for themselves.

City & State: Panajachel, Department of Sololá
Ethnic Group: Cakchiquel Maya

This woman’s belt/faja, ca. 1980, was woven on a backstrap loom with cotton, acrylic, and metallic threads and features animal and bird designs. The top bird represents the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.