The Knowledge / Textiles

Guatemala's magnificent World of Maya Textiles has many different of attires. For example: huipiles (blouses), cortes (skirts), tzutes (utility clothes), morrales (bags), sashes, hair bands and shawls.

Those garments are made with different techniques, materials and designs varying from the region they come from. There are 23 Ethnic Groups in Guatemala and each group will have a different every-day / ceremonial garment; so the origin of people can be distinguished by the unique way they dress.

For simplicity's sake we will classify the Textiles under the following categories:
origin and type, materials, dyes, weaving techniques, quality of the work & design and finally age.

When a textile first comes into our hands, the immediate questions that have to be answered are: what is its function and where does it come from. For example, let's say it is an every-day Huipil from the village of San Lucas Tolimás in the state of Sololá.

Now that we know the origin of the piece, we will have to see which materials were used to create it. Cotton is the foundation for all garments; some ceremonial versions have silk details as a sign of elegance and solemnity. The authentic Pre-Columbian hand spun cotton technique using a hand spindle (supported spindle) has more value because of the quality of work and can be distinguished by its unevenness and knotted texture.

A common example of this technique is seen in ceremonial garments woven with Cuyuscate (short fiber natural brown cotton, common to Guatemala). In modern times, the natural materials were replaced with mercerized cotton (increases shininess, strength, affinity to dye and resistance), industrially spun cotton and acrylic with shocking colors (synthetic wool).


The way the cotton was dyed is what really determines the age of the textile. In the early 1900's colors were normally obtained from what Nature had to offer, vegetable and animal sources. Indigo (Indigofera plant from the Tropics), Cochineal (insect that lives in cactuses) and Murex (dye from a mollusk) were the source to get blue, red and purple. By the mid 1900's chemical dyes had largerly replaced natural dyes.

The Back Strap Loom is common to Native Tribes from America used only by women and it is the most common technique to create the panels that will be combined to create Huipiles, Tzutes and Sashes. The quality of the textiles created with this loom can be easily identified by the four selvedge ends.

The Foot Loom was introduced by the Spanish and is mainly used by men to create larger pieces like skirt lengths and blankets. Smaller versions of the foot loom are used to weave Hair Bands. In modern times, many Huipiles are made with this loom.

The beauty of the Guatemalan Textiles rests in their colors but mainly in their intricate designs Geometric-, Plant- and Zoomorphic designs are mixed in a single textile and refer to common elements found in the surroundings.


When comparing old and newer examples of textiles from different regions, a common patern found is that older textile have smaller and less designs. Larger designs are easier to create and do not require as much skill.

Regarding age, textiles dating from the late 1800's up to the 1930's could be declared as "Antique". From the 1940's to the early 1970's we could call it, "Old", And from the 1980's to present time would be defined as "New".

Remember, age is not always linked to beauty and quality. Some old pieces have been cut to eliminate damaged parts and are then joined to make a newly created weaving to be offered to buyers as "antique".

Or the most common example is the foul practice of sewing old dates into new pieces and presenting them as Ceremonial Garments.

There are also exceptions: Textile Cooperatives now use old techniques and natural materials to create weavings in the classic style as a way of recognizing their heritance and adding value to their products.


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