Style & Stories / The Huipil

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This season we will be selling huipils in our Westbourne Grove shop. They have been sourced by Emma Sanchez, a good friend of TOAST. The sale of these huipils helps to fund Emma’s humanitarian trips to Guatemala.

Huipils are traditional garments worn by the indigenous Mayan women of the Guatemalan highlands. They are striking for their elabourate colours and motifs, which are drawn from nature and mythology. These colours and motifs identify the origin of the wearer, since each village has, over time, developed its own style and techniques.

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The huipil is woven on a backstrap loom which, wonderfully portable, consists of a belt, wrapped around the weaver’s back and tied to a post or tree. The width of the fabric woven is limited by the reach of the weaver, and the shirt will typically be made from two or three panels which have been woven separately. Much of the decoration is carried out during the weaving process, with additional threads being interwoven through the warp and weft. Hand embroidery is then laid over the top. The huipil is worn tucked into full skirts, hence the uneven edges of the hemlines. The skirt is then tied together with a belt or sash.

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Reoccurring motifs include deers, rabbits, jaguars, hummingbirds, the peacock-like Guatemalan turkey and the quetzal (the national bird). Mythical figures also feature heavily, such as the double-headed eagle from the Popol Vuh (Book of the People) and corn plants – not only is corn the mainstay of a Guatemalan diet, but according to Mayan mythology, the gods created man from corn. Each huipil is unique to their owner and will be modified to represent her culture, history and even her status – thus no two are ever alike.

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