The Weavers of Chiapas

Chamula Huixtan Spacer 5x5 pixels
Just two examples of the diverse textile traditions
found throughout the remote Chiapas Highlands of
Southern Mexico. 

When I went to Chiapas for the first time a year ago, I really didn’t know what to expect.

 

It’s just across the border from Guatemala and the population is largely Maya, but it’s also surrounded by a lot of tourist-friendly Mexico. On the other hand, there’s been a latent civil war for almost twenty years. Mariachi bands? Corona beer? Guerillas with submachine guns? Well, no.


What I found was a bunch of the most diverse and interesting textile traditions you can imagine, all within a few hours of the colonial capital of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

 

In Chamula, men and women wear great shaggy handspun, handwoven woolen garments that resemble animal pelts – howler monkey fur, to be precise. In Zinacantán, both men and women wear tunics and capes and skirts of the finest, most brilliant floral motifs embroidered solidly on a backstrap woven base fabric.

 

In Magdalenas Aldama, even the saints in the church wear handwoven huipils – piles of them. In the hotter lower elevations of San Bartolomé de los Llanos Venustiano Carranza, the traditional garments are exquisitely fine cotton gauze with inlaid patterns, white on white. In Huixtan, the men’s trouser legs are more than a yard in circumference, and the brilliant red sashes five yards long. And so it goes.


  Weaving Hands
   

The best find of the trip for me, though, was a book. It was written by the man who served as our guide, Chip Morris. Chip has lived in Chiapas for some forty years, and knows the language (Tzotzil), the people, and the cloth.

 

The book, A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas, was oversize, tri-lingual, and rather expensive, and it wasn’t available at all outside Chiapas. It was just crying to be revised into a more accessible format. A year later, that work is done, and you can find it in the Interweave store. You can also find some of the textiles described in it – even that brilliant red sash that’s shown on the cover – at www.clothroads.com.


So I’ll be headed back to Chiapas next week, since that first trip was just a four-day blitz. Chip is working on a new book, much more comprehensive, covering more than thirty communities in all their diversity. I can hardly wait.

 

Linda Ligon

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