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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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

Textiles of Oaxaca / Remigio Mestes – Intern.Folk Art Market 2012 – Santa Fe, NM

The International Folk Art Market will be opening in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 13th, 2012 with a previous week full of festivities, parties, concerts and related gallery openings. I’m looking forward to the arrival of Remigio Mestes, a friend from Oaxaca, who for the second year will be bringing the BEST textiles of Oaxaca to the market. Remigio works with about 250 artisans from remote Oaxacan communities, supporting their finest work, promoting the textile arts of Oaxaca and making sure the artist’s kids have the opportunity for higher education, by providing a home for them in Oaxaca City. It’s all part of his master plan for raising the level of Oaxaca’s textile artisans to the highest level of national textile ARTISTS. Remigio has been hard at work for at least 20 years making it happen and now has a store in Mexico City (see below), besides his Baules de Juana Cata store on Alcala street in Oaxaca (his flag ship) and a shop in San Miguel Allende. See my previous post Tres Colores – Indigo, Cochineal &  Caracol  an exhibit of Remigio’s artists’ work at the Museo Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec (near Oaxaca City) last year.

Last year two of his master weavers, Nicolasa Pascal Martinez from San Bartolo Yautepec and Luisa Jimenez, who is Trique from the Mixteca demonstrated weaving on their traditional back-strap looms. Many beautiful blouses, long huipiles, rebozos/shawls and quechquemitles (triangular caplettes) were offered of very fine weaves, ancient patterns and sumptuous colors. Included are images of garments brought last year as well as the Tres Colores exhibit. I suggest heading over to the Banamex booth, Remigio’s sponsors, EARLY  for the best selection of Oaxacan textiles at the International Folk Art Market July 13 – 15th, Santa Fe, NM.

See Remigio in action in this slide show, at his store in Oaxaca and in the Mixe region with some of his weavers.

His new shop is called Los Baules at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca – near the Oaxaca Zocala and he has also opened a shop in Mexico City store at Isabella Catolica Street, 30-7 in the Centro Historico to broaden the knowledge of indigenous arts throughout Mexico.

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