Materials & Techniques

Chichicastenango: Highland Guatemalan Textiles

Chichicastenango, in Guatemala's highlands, is famous for for its handwoven textiles. They are famously showcased at the church of Santo Tomás, a regional market held on Thursdays and Sundays. At their best, the textiles exemplify the balance of technical skill and aesthetic merit that distinguishes Guatemala's finest weaving styles. In Chichicastenango, tradition guides both design and composition for the woman's "huipil" and the ceremonial headcloth ("su't " or "tzute").

Square cloths (su'ts) of various sizes are indispensable to the Maya women of Chichicastenango, who use them as carrying cloths for anything from children to purchases in the market, as shawls for warmth, or, folded and placed atop the head, as protection from the sun. Although several different words have been used by the women themselves to designate these textiles--su't (tzute), servilleta, perraje—_the literature on Guatemalan weaving generally applies the word _su't to the larger, basically red, striped textiles su'ts and servilleta to the smaller squares, which are generally white with contrasting stripe units.

During the 20th century, these textiles have consistently featured densely patterned rectangular blocks in a symmetrical composition, while the favored designs have changed gradually from double-headed birds to horizontal zigzags to, most recently, floral fantasies. The pattern areas of Chichicastenango textiles usually follow strict rules of size and placement, but the square cloths (su'ts) show greater freedom in the choice and placement of motifs and overall composition. Chichicastenango textiles of this type are invariably charming. Figures are whimsically treated; feet, for example, are depicted similarly, regardless of whether the bodies that develop above them are human or animal. Motifs often show unexpected juxtapositions and abrupt yet compatible changes in scale. Individuality is apparent in the rendering of the motifs, the asymmetry of the composition, and in the attention to negative space.

Adapted from

  • Carol Robbins, "Huipil, probably for a figure of the Virgin of the Rosary (1982.145)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 202.

  • Carol Robbins, Label Text, "Textile Traditions of Guatemala: Chichicastenango," 1984 (recorded in TMS, Notes / Label Text)