Guatemala – a Study in Color

Guatemala is often referred to as the land of eternal Spring, and it’s textiles’ vibrant colors and nature motifs reflect that.  Guatemalan textiles have alway stood out as uniquely beautiful to me with their bright colors, intricate patterns, and silky textures.  I came home from my last trip inspired to incorporate some of those colors and patterns into my own textile work.  I’ll let you know how that’s going in the upcoming weeks.

I had the good fortune of having the opportunity to visit the Museo Ixchel this past visit.  The Museo Ixchel is the Guatemalan textile museum.  Located on the secure campus of the Universidad Galileo in Guatemala City, and across from the Popol Vuh Museum, the Museo Ixchel is a lovely place to visit.  You do have to watch out for the strange visiting hours since they comply with the University’s schedule; the museums are usually closed Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday.  I made my visit on a Tuesday, checking ahead of time to make sure that they were open, and when I got there the Ixchel Museum was open but the Popol Vuh was not.  Although, just seeing the Museo Ixchel was well worth the trip, I was slightly disappointed about not having the opportunity to visit the Popol Vuh museum.

The museum’s primary exhibition starts out with giving you a run though of the history of Guatemalan textiles and dress beginning with the Maya in pre-columbian times and running up through the industrial age and into the modern day.  It then progresses into an examination of the cultural and social dress traditions of the modern-day Maya, and how these traditions, colors, and motifs vary by region.  The Mayan women traditional wear a combination of a long skirt, a corte, and a decorative blouse, a huipil.  Men also have their own decorative traje which consists of a combination of pants, a shirt or jacket, and a belt or sash.  Most Mayan towns have their own unique patterns of dress.  In Santiago Atitlan, for example, women wear purple and white striped huipils with birds embroidered on them.

Most of the traditional Guatemalan textiles were woven using a back-strap loom, and then sewn together and embellished with embroidery.  This is why most of the older huipils are divided into three different panels broken up by embroidered strips.  The back-strap loom produces long, narrow weaves.  Through industrialization, though, a lot of the textiles are now being massed produced on industrial looms.  I have found that the visual distinction between the two is quite striking.  The vintage hand woven and sewn textiles are reflections of the artist own personal aesthetics and techniques which have a way of shining through the more traditional aspects of the piece.  For example, if a weaver were creating a huipil for a wedding they may incorporate the bride’s favorite flowers onto it instead of using the same floral motif for each bride.  Textile styles can also be reflective of a family’s particular aesthetics.  Patterns and techniques are passed down through generations along with several of the garments themselves.

Guatemalan Inspired Textile Projects:

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