Saturday, March 19, 2011

Indigenous Guatemalan Women's Clothing

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments, each having their own famous hand-woven textiles, and many departments are famous for more than one type of textile. People who have grown up here and studied Guatemalan culture can many times pick out a person's indigenous background and region by looking at the type of textiles they are wearing. Especially some of the women's beautiful handwoven clothing.

Guatemalan indigenous women typically wear "huipiles," or colorfully woven, embroidered blouses like the ones pictured below:

They also wear as a skirt a long loop of woven fabric that they step into and then wrap around themselves. This is held up by a very tightly cinched handwoven belt. Sometimes when women would come to the medical missions clinic that we translated for, many complaints were that their stomach's hurt. While sometimes this was caused by normal maladies, many times the doctor would also tell them not to cinch their belts so tightly.

Depending on the region, some women wear their hair covered with a panuelo, or scarf. Many times it is worn in a long, black braid. Sometimes with a cinta, or strip of fabric, braided into the hair. According to on Guatemalan Hairstyles, "The cinta is essentially a sash made for the hair. The cinta features colors and patterns that reveal the social status of the woman who wears it. Cintas can be 4 or 5 feet long and are braided into long hair."

Another common and necessary accessory is the handwoven piece of fabric used to hold the baby on their back. The skill of getting their baby on their back and then tying it in all by themselves is something I admire. I've tried. It's very difficult! The fabric, however, is gorgeous.

If you visit any of the markets here in Guatemala, you will find these handwoven items for sale in many varieties. The fabric is made into modern versions of dresses, handbags, backpacks, stuffed animals, shoes/sandals with hand tooled leather, table clothes, and many, many more colorful items.

The hand weaving that goes into these items is very labor intensive, taking a lot of patience and talent. It is usually done on a backstrap loom. Because of the labor, it is also a bit expensive, although never what it would cost in the United States.
Many women are turning to cheaper alternatives, modern used clothing shipped down from the U.S. and sold in second hand shops. Some fear that the skill of backstrap weaving is slowly fading away and that an integral part of Indigenous Guatemalan beauty and pride will only be a memory for future generations. Some non-profit groups, like Education and More, are trying to prevent that from happening by helping the weavers goods get exposure, offering classes for people who would like to learn how to use a backstrap loom (I'd like to!) and, as the name suggests, finding ways to offer education to the indigenous people. As their website says: "Education And More is a Christian, Fair Trade charitable organization providing assistance to artisans and their families through educational opportunities and Fair Trade."

Do you own any hand-woven Guatemalan textiles? Do you know how to use a backstrap loom? What do you think of a Guatemalan women's typical dress?


  1. Great article! I love the traje tipica and am learning to weave on a backstrap.

  2. Awesome! Where are you learning?

  3. You can very much tell the part of Guatemala they are from, I'm from santa eulalia, huehuetenango and the types of clothing we were is the 2 first pictures. The other ones I believe is quiche or soloma clothing, I'm not sure.