Materials & Techniques

Guatemalan Textiles, Male and Female Costume

Woman's Costume

Huipil (Tunic, Blouse)

Huipil, from the Nahuatl uipilli or huipilli, meaning covering, designates the tunic-like, untailored blouse which is perhaps the most representative of all Guatemalan textiles. In form it consists of one, two, or three panels woven to the required length and seamed, with openings left for the arms and an opening, usually cut, for the head. The neckline may be finished with embroidery which gives the effect of a collar (Patzún), with ribbon (Tecpán), or with embroidered appliqué as at Chichicastenango, Sacapulas, and Nebaj. Although the number of panels and the length is consistent for a given community, if custom requires different huipils for daily and ceremonial use, the garments will usually vary both in construction and in patterning. In both Nebaj and Tecpán the three-width huipil, which requires three individually woven panels and represents a far greater expenditure of time and effort, is reserved for ceremonial occasions. At Chichicastenango, where the daily, ceremonial, and cofradía huipils each consist of three panels patterned with quite similar motifs, the cofradía huipil is distinguished by less extensive pattern areas and by its being worn unbelted, outside the skirt. An extra huipil may be used as a wrap or, in Quezaltenango, as a ceremonial veil, the sheer huipil worn with the embroidered neckline framing the face.

Refrajo, *Corte* (Skirt)

The skirt, refrajo or corte, is almost always made of cotton fabric woven on treadle looms and sold in standard lengths called cortes. In the simplest form the cut ends are hemmed and the long rectangle is wrapped tightly about the body, the length determined by the width of the fabric and by the amount the wearer folds over the top. More often the ends are seamed to form a tube, and the fullness is adjusted either by gathering, as at Quezaltenango where the hemmed edge of the child's skirt provides a casing for the gathering cord, or by wrapping, as at Chichicastenango. The gathered or pleated skirt is described as plegado, the wrapped skirt as envuelto. Although the folds or gathers are usually secured by a belt, the skirt of Santiago Atitlán is worn unbelted, held in place only by the way the cloth is tucked in at the waist. A two-piece tubular skirt is formed by joining two widths of cloth along two of the long edges; the seam may be rather indifferently stitched on a sewing machine and strictly functional (Santa María de Jesús) or be carefully embroidered and decorative (Chichicastenango). This decorative band of stitching which joins the edges of garment sections is known as the randa. Skirts are most often blue and white, but patterning varies from simple—white stripes on a dark blue ground (Santa Apolonia) or the blue and white of Tecpán and San Pedro Sacatepéquez (Guatemala), where the closely woven, heavy cloth gives the skirt the specific name morga__—_to complex, illustrated by weft ikat of the Chichicastenango _refrajo or the combination of warp and weft ikat in the skirt from Totonicapán. The use of yellow silk in the San Pedro Sacatepéquez (San Marcos) refrajo and the supplementary weft-patterning of the red skirt from Santa Lucía Utatlán set these ceremonial garments apart from other skirts in the collection.

Fajas (Belt, Sash)

Fajas may be soft, wide and patterned only by warp stripes (San Antonio Aguas Calientes), a type for which the English word sash seems appropriate, or stiff and comparatively narrow, patterned with a variety of representational and geometric motifs (Totonicapán), a type which suggests the English belt. A wool belt with simple black and white warp stripes serves as a base for distinctive embroidery at Chichicastenango and San Pedro Sacatepéquez (Guatemala). While in general the purpose of the faja is to hold the folds or pleats of the skirt in place, a wide sash can be wrapped securely about the waist area so that it provides support.

Hair Bands or Cords

A variety of bands and cords are wound into requisite long hair to form the headdress. Two types are included in the collection: the tocoyal, a woolen cord which consists either of simple lengths of yarn or the yarn braided and tasseled to form a rope, and the cinta, a ribbon or ribbon-like band or a wider strip of cloth. The tocoyal exhibited is from Santa María Chiquimula, where hair and braided black cord are wound about the head in such a way that the tassels hang down beside the face. The cinta is represented by such diverse pieces from Nebaj, which when combined with the hair resembles a turban, and the narrow tapestry-woven bands with pendant tinsel-wrapped loops and silk tassels from Totonicapán. Totonicapán-style hair bands are worn, variously arranged, in numerous communities. At Santiago Atitlán a long cinta is coiled to form a flat disc which rests atop the head like a halo.

Su't, Tzut(e)* *(headcloth or carrying cloth)

The name tzut is given to a variety of cloths, all more or less square in shape but with considerable range in size; depending on the size and use at a particular time, a tzut could be called a shawl, a kerchief, a head covering, or a carrying cloth. The one-width pañuelo (handkerchief) might wrap a small, valuable object and be tucked inside the belt; the larger tzut would have been folded and placed atop the head, providing shade from the sun or serving as a head covering when the woman entered a church. A much larger two-width tzut is used both as a shawl, giving warmth and protection from the rain, and as a container for goods bought in rural markets where packaging is not supplied by the merchants. Tzuts may have either a solid or a striped ground, and some form of supplementary-weft patterning is common. Given the variable size and the versatility of the tzut, the distinction between a tzut and a servilleta or between a tzut and a perraje is not always clear.

Servilleta (utility cloth)

Although servilleta is the Spanish word for napkin, this definition fails to suggest the many ways this textile form is used among the Maya; it is perhaps best described as a utility cloth. Small, one-width servilletas are used to wrap food or candles or to cover a basket. Larger servilletas, such as the two-width cloth from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, can be folded and used as head coverings or as wraps. A servilleta may be white, patterned by small, evenly placed geometric, bird, and animal motifs (the large San Antonio Aguas Calientes servilleta) or red, with warp stripes and bold and fanciful plants, animals, and women, asymmetrically arranged (Chichicastenango).

Perraje (shawl)

The perraje, most often defined as a shawl, is used both as a wrap and a cloth; when not in use it is folded and carried on the shoulder or on the head. Of the eighteen perrajes in the collection of Patsy and Raymond D. Nasher, all are longer than they are wide; all are striped, the Totonicapán and Salcajá examples having weft stripes and the others having warp stripes; all but one (the shawl from Quezaltenango with warp ikat) consist of two widths seamed along the two lateral selvedge; and only three, those from Zacualpa, Chajul, and San Juan Cotzal, have any patterning beyond the stripes and ikat bands of the ground. The crossbanded perrajes from Totonicapán illustrate the rich variety of color and design possible within a rather limited range of motifs and striping.

Man's Costume

Saco,* *Chaqueta (jacket)

The short coat (saco or chaqueta) is represented by a ceremonial jacket from Chichicastenango. Unlike the more typical Guatemalan saco which has lapels and appliquéd braid and which buttons down the front, the Chichicastenango jacket has neither lapels nor braid and is designed as a pullover, being seamed at the center front. The twill-woven black wool fabric provides a striking contrast for the silk embroidery and for the row of tightly twisted silk fringe that hangs from the lower edge of the back. The ceremonial jacket and trousers, both of which were tailored and embroidered by men, resemble garments worn in Andalusia, Spain early in the 19th century.

Pantalón*, *Pantalón Rajado* (trousers)*

Trousers are of basically two types, the straight-legged pantalón and the more tailored pantalón rajado. The straight-legged pantalón from Todos Santos consists of four three-selvedged cotton panels seamed at the edges; a gusset is added at the crotch, but there is neither a waistband nor shape to the waist edge of the pants. Village custom determines the length of the trousers, which varies from the ankle at Todos Santos to the knee in some communities. At Todos Santos the cotton pantalón, patterned with red and white warp stripes and red supplementary-weft bands, is worn under the pantalón rajado, black wool over-trousers which are split almost to the wide, four-buttoned waistband. The term pantalón rajado is also applied to the black wool ceremonial trousers worn at Chichicastenango; while these knee-length pants are split at the side, they are not worn as over-trousers. Their most distinctive feature is the elaborate embroidery on the side flaps, which when done in accordance with local tradition indicates the age and the community standing of the man who wears them.

Camisa (shirt)

Although European influence is evident in the cult of the shirt, in its tailored collar, placket, and cuffs, the traditional camisa is woven on the backstrap loom and remains distinctly Guatemalan. As with the woman's huipil, the number of widths from which the body of the shirt is made varies from one community to another, one width at Almolonga, two at Todos Santos; the sleeves are constructed from an additional width. Both the collar of the Todos Santos shirt, a seamed rectangle simple in concept but elaborately patterned, and the narrow cuffs were woven on the backstrap loom; the collar and cuffs of the Almolonga shirt were made from commercial yardage and European ribbon.

Banda (Belt)

The man's belt, called a banda, resembles the woman's sash, or faja, in both appearance and function, and such details of its wearing as the placement of the knot and whether the fringe hangs loose are similarly determined by local tradition; it is often the only item of traditional dress retained by a man when he changes to European-style clothing. Pattern varies from warp stripes in a standard group of colors and a decorative finish of knotting (Santiago Atitlán) to a solid ground, usually red, enhanced at each end by a block of supplementary-weft patterning (Chichicastenango). The thick knot of the Chichicastenango banda is worn at the center front, and the fringe is tucked into the folds of the belt; the ends of the Santiago Atitlán sash hang loose.

Tzut (scarf or shawl)

Tzuts for men are as variable in size and function as those for women. A small, one-width tzut may serve as a handkerchief, be draped around the crown of a hat, or be tied around the neck like a scarf, as at Nahualá. The large, two-width tzut from San Juan Sacatepéquez would have been worn as a shawl, as a sign of office, by a member of a cofradía. One of the most distinctive tzuts is that of Chichicastenango, and the red ground, the pile-like patterning, the motif of the double-headed bird, and the long tassels are characteristic. As a ceremonial head covering it was worn folded diagonally, the opposite corners tied at the nape of the neck.

Bag and Blanket

Since the man's traditional garments seldom have pockets, the personal belongings which would normally be carried in them are carried in the woven, looped, or knitted bags made by men. The looped white cotton bag in the collection of Patsy and Raymond D. Nasher is from Chichicastenango, where it is called morral (Spanish) or chim (Quiché) and forms an essential part of the ceremonial costume.

Once a common accessory at Chichicastenango, the blanket, poncho or manga in Spanish and q'uul (or kul) in Quiché, was carried on the man's shoulder or folded and hung across the top of his large white bag. The tapestry-woven border of checks, lozenges, and arrows and the long fringe are characteristic. The blanket is used a wrap, as a mat to sit on, as padding for a burden carried on the shoulders, or as a blanket for sleeping.

Excerpt from

Carol Robbins, "Man's Costume and Woman's Costume," in Guatemalan textiles from the collection of Patsy and Raymond D. Nasher (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1980).

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