Clothing speaks to us. We are drawn to the texture of cloth, the cut, the fit, the drape, the patterns and what this might say to us. Here, in the Chiapas Highlands in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, and beyond into the surrounding pueblos where Maya women work on the back-strap loom, cloth has ceremonial and spiritual meaning. It tells a story of the natural world and the environment. Woven into the cloth or embroidered afterward, the symbols tell us about the Lord of the Earth who holds up the universe, serpents, sun, moon, earth, sky, the four cardinal points, fertility, rain, seasons of planting and harvest, mountains, seeds, and much more.
Cloth here is a visual presentation of all that is important in the universe. The ancient Maya marked time by the sun, moon, and stars. Corn in all its colorful varieties is in the cloth, too: red, yellow, black, purple, white, pink, cream. The diamond pattern is represented as the four cardinal points, a way to express the order of the universe and how humans fit into it. Sometimes a symbol represents orchids and bromeliads, a highlands rainforest vegetation prevalent in these parts. If a huipil is more elaborate and includes special designs, this signifies the social and community stature of the person wearing it.
If there are small stars woven into the huipil, the maker is telling us she is praying for rain. A large, two-headed serpent represents the connection to earth and sky. Often, human figures are woven into the last line of the fabric — telling us that the world is in the hands of the Lord of the Earth. We must steward what we have inherited.
We learn this during our visit with designer-weaver Alberto Lopez Gomez, who we have been visiting in Chiapas for four years. Alberto participates in NY Fashion Week and is a member of the Original planning team. Original is a Mexican government Minister of Culture program to support the indigenous designs of Mexico’s artisans. Over 1,000 artisans participate in November featuring ceramics, textiles, palm weaving, copper, mask making, and jewelry.
Alberto tells us that dreams are an important vehicle for Maya people to know the path they should take. Dreams are reflected in the textiles — what is included to represent and how they are appear in the cloth. In Magdalena Aldama, the patron saint is the Virgin of Magdalena. At age 19 Alberto asked the virgin for permission to learn how to weave, something unusual for men. He mastered the process in two months!
We will be offering a 2024 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Come with us. Add your name to the interested list by sending us an email.