|Mexican Indian textiles are known to most Americans by their beauty and colorful presentation; they are often sold in handicrafts markets to tourist without any context or description to help the customer understand their origins. The textile collection and this web site are intended to show the real people behind these textiles and costumes. In the shops and markets it is rare to find complete costumes more likely you can find commercialized versions of embroidered blouses or huipils. In some higher end stores there are wonderful examples of hand woven huipils from the south of Mexico. There are also modern dresses that have nothing to do with indigenous costume other than use the skill of the indigenous peoples to embroider them or to make clothing from textiles woven by them. There is an infinite number of presentation and styles that have been developed over time. The necessity to earn income for their families and the inherent creativity of the Mexican artisan has created a rainbow of garments for sale all over Mexico.
The line between a meztiso and indigenous person can often be very thin, so being skilled at embroidery is not limited to the indigenous communities. Artisans work at creating commercially viable garments for the tourist and national markets all the time. This collection respects and honors these crafts, but they are not included in the presentation. Such things as lamp shades made from indigenous textiles or curtains etc which are not part of the day to day lives of the indigenous peoples are also not included. The collection tries to remain strictly focused on actual indigenous dress; however there are some exceptions, such as the embroidery from the Otomi region surrounding Tenango, Hidalgo.
This collection of Mexican Indian / Indigenous Textiles has been accumulated over thirty years. There are more than 300 pieces in the collection, some are single pieces such as a blouse or belts and others are complete costumes. I am not a textile expert or an anthropologist but I have learned a lot about Mexican textiles and about Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The collection is my way to honor these indigenous peoples, rather than to analize the details of each piece, they are presented here for your viewing. Each piece or costume represents a different village within each ethnic group, even when the pieces seem to be the same there are subtle details that distinguishes one villages textile from another. At the time of the conquest, cotton, istle and other fibers were used in abundance and women of all classes were weavers extraordinaire, today as I travel through the back country of Mexico’s indigenous villages, this custom is fading. On a recent trip to Xochistlahuaca , a Amusgo village in the state of Guererro, many people told me that 20 years ago 90% of the women in 2002 less than 50%. This is really a high percentage of weavers and the Amusgo are some of the best in Mexico. But this is the exception, now in places were embroidery replaced weaving some time ago, even embroidery is going by the way side. I can see the decline in overall quality of the pieces I encounter today as opposed to 20 years ago. The textiles are not the whole picture by any means language, customs and culture all add up to being an indigenous person inside of Mexico.
Today, I continue to document textiles from far flung villages as a project of the Hygeia Foundation and I hope that these textiles will peak your interest. In addition to the textiles there is video (pending) and images that can assist the viewer to have a better understanding of these ethnic groups. Since these images were taken over a 30 year period, some are dated, however most are from the last 10 years. There is also reference to other handicrafts, festivals, and other customs of interest. In my travels, it is inescapable the speed that all of indigenous Mexico is changing. New roads, television, radio and a new awareness has all combined to create an inexorable pressure pushing them into the modern world. Thirty years ago while exporting my monthly lot of handicrafts I commented to my driver about his Gayabera shirt. The Gayabera shirt, at that time was a commonly worn by all Mexican men and it was produced in Yucatan, Mexico. I exported them also; they cost 12 dollars in Mexico City. He looked up at me and told me he had bought it is Laredo Texas for $7.99 and it was made in Taiwan. I knew then that it was just a matter of time before the world economy would close in on indigenous Mexican textiles. More recently in a former Otomi village very near Mexico City called San Miguel Ameyalco. I was looking for weavers, after a short period of time I met Maria de Jesus, she proudly showed me her wonderful weavings and of course I bought some. She went on to explain that she knew over 750 woven designs, but since her daughter was not interested in learning how to weave that they would be forgotten. This town was famous for its embroidered ayates, an ayate is a woven and embroidered cloth used to carry agricultural products. They no longer exist; somewhere in someone’s closet these treasures are hidden away. There are probably some examples in the Banco Serifin Textile collection in Mexico City or the Arts Popular collection.
The basic traditional garments are the huipil , quechquemitl , belts, blouses ( camisias) skirts, wrap skirts, slips, hair and braid ties, shawls, ponchos , hats and for men muslin pants and shirts, hats and jorongos.