Mayas 5

FabMayas civilizationrics for huipili, and some other garments are not tailored from finished cloth, they are woven to size. 

Here a weaver stretches starched thread of black onto a warp board where she can group warp threads of several colors --she is also using white -- for striped cloth, or use plain white warp for a huipil, or plain black for some men's religious garments. 

Starch helps to hold the threads of the warp into the "up and down" groups (called sheds) that are separated for each passage of the single cross-wise woof thread and the placement of the many colored yarn threads which make up the brocade woven above the cotton fabric base. 

The weaver cannot weave outdoors when it is rainy, and her starched threads mean she cannot weave when it is too humid either. 

Black sheep are especially prized, because their wool can be dyed (with mud and herbs) to a glossy, waterproof black.

San Andrés Grand Design

The grand design of the largest part of the hupil (the bodiLos indios mayasce, neck-border, and sleeves have different traditional designs) represents time.  The sun pausing at zenith is symbolically represented as a grand diamond, with the four sacred directions smaller ones. 

East (dawn) is above, West (evening) below.  Pattern repetitions across the row means the sun passing across the sky, under the earth (which is metaphysical not just underground), and re-emerging at dawn the next day.  Smaller butterfly-wing diamond-spirals and dots symbolize the sun's flight, which is not the same, day to day. 

Eastern and western sea-horizons are symbolized by indigo blue threads Bright dots, alternating side to side; symbolize summer and winter solstices (longest and shortest days).  A thin line between rows marks the "over world - underworld" or day and night passage. 

Some weavers change color on 18th, 20th, 19th, and 5th rows, marking the 18 months of 20 days and the 19th month of five ceremonial New Fire days that comprises the ancient Mayan Calendar.

San Andrés Earthlord Design

The Earthlord is a powerful spiritual being who controls the realm of the dead who have lived good lives and complete certain tasks after death. 

Though ceremonial offerings are made to him at sacred caves, his realm is metaphysical. 

He also controls weather, rain, wind, vegetation, and his daughters spin cotton into clouds--the reason plain white cotton always edges the cross-shaped brocade patterns of huipili is to represent the clouds.  All women who weave huipili are daughters of the Earthlord.
Mayas of Honduras

Chenalhó Toad Design

Toad is the Earthloard's shaman.  When he sings, Earth lord’s daughters fluff and spin cotton for rainclouds, which are released in the daily thunderclouds that pile up and rain around the peaks where his sacred caves are located. 

Toads and flowers are closely associated in the ancient myths.  It is said that brocade weaving was discovered by a woman who examined red spots on a cave toad's back.

Different villages use different colors and variations on the traditional patterns (the myths differ somewhat too). 

Each weaver has her personal brocade signature, which she weaves around the bottom edge, or sleeve band, or neck of her huipili.  However, experienced weavers can tell what village a huipil comes from just by looking at the patterns.


The brocade is built up slowly with third threads of several colors that dangle below long warp thread groups and crosswise weft thread. 

The colored yarn is pulled across certain warp thread groups on each row.  The threads for the row are then pounded tight with the wooden batten. 

A good weaver may complete an inch (or less) of brocade cloth in a day, although she begins weaving only when her early morning cooking and cleaning are done, and quits when it begins to rain in late afternoon. 

It would take as long to embroider a huipil as to brocade-weave it, but embroidery can be done at many times when weaving cannot. 

In addition, busy women such as those in the potters' villages use a long "lazy vertical" stitch which is later tacked down by sewing machine; these patterns are colorful but most of the intricate symbolism cannot be represented that way.

Chalchihuitan Huipil

This huipil is done in the old style, which preserved techniques and patterns for 1,000 years. 

After the conquest, priest wanted statues of the saints dressed in cloth as was then the European custom.

(Ancient Mayan temple sculptures had been similarly dressed in elaborate brocades). 

Women wove brocade huipili and men's tunics, sometimes using a fine silk brocade as clothing for statues of saints (some life-sized) which are taken around at festival processions. 

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Layers of these saints' garments have been continually available for the weavers to study for 500 years, and preserved patterns, techniques and meanings for 500 years of survival under cultural attack.

Man's Cotton Shirt

Cloth for everyday garments is of course not so elaborate, but is still made beautiful, sometimes by embroidery, sometimes by woven bands less complex and time-consuming that the brocaded weaving done mainly for huipili.