“T” for Traditional Mexican Woman Dress called: Huipil. Lena Bjerregaard, Conservator, Guest Researcher, Centre for Textile Research/SAXO Institute, University of Copenhagen

The lady on this Casta painting is wearing a huipil (from Aztec: huipilli) – the pre-Columbian and contemporary native women costume in Mexico and Mesoamerica.

De chino cambujo e india, Ioba, Casta Painting, Miguel Cabrera, Mexico, 1763, oil on canvas, 134 x 101 cm, Madrid, Museo de América, inv. 00011
De chino cambujo e india, Ioba, Casta Painting, Miguel Cabrera, Mexico, 1763, oil on canvas, 134 x 101 cm, Madrid, Museo de América, inv. 00011

The huipil is woven on the back-strap loom, and consists of two or three panels sewn together. The warp direction is vertical when worn. It is a loose fitting garment, and has a neck hole in the middle and two arm holes at the top of the side seams.

The huipil differs from village to village – but within the village – or region – it is standardized, so the geographic identity of the wearer is shown. In some places it is a short garment, and in some places it is long. Most villages have a huipil for everyday use and one for ceremonial occasions. In some places the ceremonial huipil is simpler than the everyday one, but in most places it is more elaborate.

Huipil (Nahuatl) from Guatemala, Paris, musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 71.1997.24.112
Huipil (Nahuatl) from Guatemala, Paris, musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 71.1997.24.112

The huipil in the Casta painting is very elaborated. It is woven in three panels in supplementary weft (brocade) technique with geometric designs and images of birds. In the very detailed painting the pattern stripes are painted horizontal on the lower part of the huipil and vertical on the top part, as if they change direction on the centre of the huipil. Strange but possible!

The huipil has elaborate embroidery of red cherries and leaves around the neck and where the panels are sewn together. It looks like the foundation material is the brown cuyascate cotton, which was (and still is) very valuable. Huipiles in this style are still woven and worn in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The child is sitting on a printed cotton fabric with European flower designs. The man and the child are dressed in European clothes and the woman in traditional Mexican clothing culture: a custom, which is still very prominent in native Mexico/Mesoamerica.

Loom for Huipil’s garments, Guatemala, 20th century, Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 70.2011.21.403.1-6
Loom for Huipil’s garments, Guatemala, 20th century, Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 70.2011.21.403.1-6
Loom for Huipil’s garments, Guatemala, 20th century, Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 70.2011.21.403.1-6
Loom for Huipil’s garments, Guatemala, 20th century, Paris, Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, inv. 70.2011.21.403.1-6

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