Quechquemitl – a totally unique Mexican garment

Exhbiti - Museo Textile de Oaxaca

Even thought this exhibit ran four years ago (Spring 2011) at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, it was a splendid opportunity to see MTO’s superb collection of historical, refined, elaborate, colorful, and precious little shoulder and chest covering garments. Please, don’t call them ponchos! The quech-que-mitl (I’ve broken the Nahua word into syllables) is a garment unique only-to-Mexico and has been in production for easily over two thousand years. The story told is that quechquemitles were first observed historically in temple frescoes and ceramics of the ancient Olmec and Oaxacan cultures and later in codices.

Quechques in Codices

Quechques in Codices

In pre-conquest times it was worn as an upper-body covering by the priestesses and high born women who had access to the most sumptuous textiles. After the conquest this garment became widely used in the indigenous communities who adapted it, embellished it with their sacred symbols and made it their own. Although currently it is seen in only a few communities of central Mexico – Nahuas, Mazahuas, Purepeche, Hustecos, it is thought to have been worn in most villages in central Mexico after the conquest and before the European peasant blouse became common. It was encouraged by the Spanish, so that women would be covered to enter the churches and their group identity could be recognized. It is one of the first garments worn exclusively by women along with the enredo (wrap around and tube skirt) which I will blog on later.

Pre-conquest garments were woven on the back-strap looms and the full web was used. A web could be woven in various widths and lengths specific for enredos (wrap skirts) quechquemitles (capelets)  and manteles (large coverings). These webs were then joined together. To cut a hand woven cloth was to destroy its integrity or soul and spirit that went into its making. I managed to photograph the exhibit on several visits to Museo Textile de Oaxaca and following is a slide show of my favorites. In future posts, I will write about the two areas that I’ve explored that still use the quechquemitl: the Nahua of Cuetzalan, Puebla and the Mazahua of the State of Mexico.

The shortened pronunciation “Quech-que” is acceptable but don’t call it a poncho!! That’s a larger and more blanket-like garment.

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(BEST) Oaxacan Textile Shopping – Part II – Individual and coops

Around the Santo Domingo church are several individual shops with fine textiles. Out and about? Take a look at these!

El Nahual – 412 A Reforma (near and across from the Botanical Garden) El Nahual is a small coop of friends who present the best of their work. Master weaver Erasto ‘Tito” Mendoza’s exquisitely woven tapestries are highlighted along with some excellent San Antonino embroidered ‘Oaxacan wedding dress’ style blouses by Miriam Campos Cornelio…and of course some other non-textile artisania i.e. jewelry, wood carvings and an interesting secondary market of prints from famous Oaxacan artists.Toledo anyone? Definitely great stuff!!

Interior - El NahualTito weaving

Silvia Suarez – Gurrion #1110 interior 1 (across the street from southern side of Santo Domingo nr. Alcala) For over 10 years Silvia has been working with different textile groups throughout the state of Oaxaca. Artisans involved in her projects develop creative skills which are then transmitted into her clothing line that joins the contemporary with the traditional. Lots of great ‘younger’ innovative style dresses, blouses etc. Plus some wonderful accessories and gifts.

Silvia SuarezSilvias Store

Sivia’s Website  and YouTube presentation

A R I P O – 809 Garcia Vigil (located in a beautiful colonial building above Alcala)  The Oaxacan Institute of Artesania, is a state sponsored institute with multiple small galleries of fine artesania: ceramics, textiles, jewelry etc. Especially interesting to me are the textiles and I usually find some good specimens among the huipiles and blouses. Plus there is innovative jewelry coming directly from remote parts of Oaxaca. Different craft media is featured at various times during the year – so you never know what you will find here and you won’t see it any other place. Generally good quality and worth the visit if just for the colonial building alone. Climb the hill above Alcala.

ARIPO - outsideARIPO inside #2Detail ARIPO

(The BEST) Textile Shopping in Oaxaca City

Having recently lived in Oaxaca for 3 years plus many other visits over time, I’ve scouted out the BEST and highest quality Oaxacan textiles. The following shops are where I hang out and send my fellow textile junkies. Of course, there are LOTS of textiles EVERYWHERE  in Oaxaca, but even if you aren’t a collector, it’s a good idea to educate your eye with the BEST. Honestly, you won’t find anything better than the textiles here!  You’ll most likely be back to buy something as the textiles are that beautiful. I call the following stores —textile DANGER ZONES.

Baules de Juana Cata – Alcala 403  – entrance to ‘Los Danzantes Restuarant’ – inner courtyard to the right. Remigio Mestes’ store is chock full of the most gorgeous textiles in all Oaxaca. The last 15 years Remigio has been instrumental in revitalizing traditional back-strap weaving and natural dyeing, not to mention embroidery and use of finer base materials.  He has encouraged over 200 artisans (see picture) to create the most refined and elegant textiles probably in all of Mexico. To talk to Remigio you have to have luck and timing as he’s often out of town visiting his artisans or out of the country or traveling searching for better base materials (silks & cottons) or setting up exhibits in places like Japan. If your timing is right the best time to catch him is around 7 pm in his shop. If you are seriously interested in seeing (and possibly buying) the VERY best he will be happy to pull things out of his ‘baules’ / trunks that will knock your socks off!  He also has a very knowledgeable staff who look young but are very charming and capable of assisting you. He’s training the children of his artisans to be merchants and ambassadors of their traditional textile culture.

Museo Textile de OaxacaHidalgo 917 corner of Fiallo – two block east of the Zocalo –  The museum shop at Museo Textile de Oaxaca offers top quality textiles from Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico. GREAT stuff. The Museum itself  has an outstanding collection of Mexican textiles but seeing it will depend on what is currently showing. You might get lucky and be there for the monthly 3-4 day sales/demonstrations by visiting regional artisans, which is a great opportunity to buy directly from the artists. Please check the following link to see what’s going on. The museum also offers short classes in indigo dyeing, back-strap loom weaving, embroidery and other things textile related. Current classes will be listed on the site too.

Arte Amuzgo5 da May #217B– one block down from Camino Real Convent Hotel on the right. Odilon Morales, represents his weavers coop from San Pedro Amuzgos,and indigenous villages near the coast of Oaxaca. (see a little sign painted on the wall outside of his shop of a weaver at her back strap loom). Odilon is another innovative organizer/promoter of traditional weavers who provides the high quality threads and encourages contemporary color combinations. His weavers produce refined sophisticated huipiles and blouses sought after by affluent Mexicans and foreign collectors. High quality textiles from other weaving groups in the Oaxacan coastal area available too. Both Odilon and Remigio have been participants in the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market – so my best images of them are from this event.

COMING SOON  – PART II AND III – Textile Shopping in and around Oaxaca and Individual Artisan Shops….

 

Lila Downs’ Costumes – Performer and Fashionista Mexicana

I became a Lila Downs fan when she performed in Santa Fe, NM perhaps over 12 years ago. At that time her fashion sense was pretty much ‘Dead Head’ exotic-hippie-Mexicana. I loved her long ribbon braids and pieces of traditional  heavily embroidered Tehuana skirt fabric that she somehow managed to keep on her hips during her dynamic songs. Well, things have changed, baby – and now she has a designer  (Mane’ Alta Costura of Oaxaca) making her still-indigenous based costumes, to my great joy, from traditional traje /regional clothing and textiles of Mexico.  Since I’m a collector/documenter of Mexican traditional textiles, I certainly recognize the original pieces. But how they’ve been transformed!  All I can say is , WOW! ! !.  I’ve been collecting images of some of her most original uses of these beautifully woven or embroidered textiles and the creative ways they’ve been reconstructed into lavish and sometimes ‘over the top’ creations.

I hope you enjoy this slide show (many of the images are from past performances featured on Lila’s FB pages) and for those interested in “Living Textiles of Mexico”, I’ve identified the original village or region, where her textiles are from. After all, Lila’s mother is from Tlaxiaco in the Mixteca area of Oaxaca and Lila spent part of her childhood there, and currently spends part of the year in Oaxaca, living, performing and doing philanthropic work by supporting education for young rural indigenous girls. She knows  the traditional origins of her clothing, most are from Oaxaca her home, and she’s proud of it!  They are the very best of the best Oaxacan traje ! 

VIVA LILA – Fashionista Mexicana!  VIVA the traditional trajes of Oaxaca!

Here’s a YouTube vido I just made for this post – and my favorite song – ‘La Cumbia del Mole’

http://youtu.be/4bDmM8rN4n4

upcycled Tijaltepec  Blouse Oax - Lila's FBZapotec apron - Lila's FB

Sergio Castro – San Cristobal Humanitarian + Textile Collector El Andalon/The Healer

Sergio CastroSergio Castro of San Cristobal, Chiapas has a world class collection of  textiles (which I covered in a previous post). Many tourists and locals have experienced his lectures, learned about the different traditional Mayan groups living in the highlands of Chiapas and viewed the beautiful ‘trajes’ displayed at his museum.

An important short film El Andalon/The Healer (available free on-line for a short time) shows the life of this dedicated humanitarian and the work he does for the communities in the San Cristobal area. This is a truly inspiring story….and if you love Chiapas, one you will enjoy.

Please watch if you want to learn more about Sergio and how his Textile Collection and museum is part of his legacy and continuing humanitarian work.
http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/8957/El-Andalon–The-Healer-

Sergio's Costume

 more costumes

Mexican Fashion Week?….or more indigenous artisan exploitation?

This past Fall there was a bit of NEWs buzz about Mexican fashion designers during Fashion Week in Mexico. After viewing the slide show and reading the following article I have to make a statement about what I feel about the exploitation of traditional costumes and the artisans who have created them. The women weavers and embroiderers, whose work has been cut up up and pieced into some other garment in the name of fashion – are the real artists, whether they call themselves that or not, and whether they are credited by so-called designers.

In the article called “Indigenous Fashion hits the Runway”  you will see pictures about what’s new and cool in Mexican fashion, and you might possibly identify Tehuantepec embroidery embellishing many clothes while older Isthmus huipil pieces have been patch-worked to create rather ‘minimal’ pieces of clothing. Far from the original ‘covered up’ and modest, but elegant, look of traditional traje these fashion statements are more than a bit vulgar to my textile researchers eye.

What is somewhat disturbing is the rather cavalier and self-absorbed attitude of the designers featured. In the designer statements there is no mention or acknowledgement about where these textiles originated or who the women are who made them. Whoa and how disrespectful is that? Not everyone mentioned in the article was as callous as the designers and there was even a comment toward the end, by one of the artisans,, who said that, ‘they are hardly paid anything for their work anyway’.

So what do you think? – Fashion or more insult to artists/artisans? You decide……. but I have to include the YouTube video by Lila Downs whose mother is from the Mixteca/Oaxaca and who wears  traditional textiles when she performs. Some of these have been cut skin-tight to show her voluptuous figure but in no-way degraded to little patches of antique cloth to cover up breasts. In this video the Zapotec women of the Valle Central of Oaxaca, are also featured with their feminine dresses. rebozo head-wraps and aprons. Hooray!  Somehow this shows much more respect for Mexican indigenous culture, traditional textiles, and the artisans who spend many hours/days creating them. Thanks Lila!

Textiles of Chiapas – January 2011


Currently I’m exploring the textiles of the Highland Mayas of Chiapas by visiting villages, markets, and if I’m lucky.  a festival or ceremony  in process. Many villages are having the changing of their civil and spiritual leaders through the passing of ‘cargos’ (obligations), so ceremonies are common and luckily for me, traditional costumes are in abundance. The downside of this story is that photographing their ceremonies  and their costumes is prohibited by village tradition. On several occasions I just ‘got lucky’ and managed to get an image and other times I was invited to take a picture. Sometimes the images of these groups of people have been so stunning it will be indelible in my visual memory. What I will try and do is give you a taste of the textiles worn by the people in the area of San Cristobal de las Casas. Some of these were in taken in the villages – others were taken on the street during the funeral Jan. 26, 2011 of the famous Bishop Samuel Ruiz who championed the rights of the indigenous people through the ‘theology of liberation’ in the 70’s . It is obvious which people were compliant in these images and I hope to have more textile friends like the V. Carranza weavers I am documenting with more in-depth information in the future. Enjoy this sampling of the beautiful and intricate textiles of Chiapas.

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