A Short History of Traditional Mexican Textiles
The oldest known fragments of Mexican fabric dating approximately between 1800 and 1400 BCE were found in the northern region of the country, particularly in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango.
Many of those fragments once constituted women’s clothing, including huipils (tunics or loose sack dresses), enredos (wrap dresses), fajas (cloth belts), and quechquemitl (short, square-shaped ponchos).
The huipils found in Oaxaca and guanengos (blouses) from Michoacán featured elaborate embroidery, including cross stitching, straight stitching, and tucks with wonderful geometric and floral patterns.
The oldest known huipil is on display at Museo Nacional de Antropologia.
Embroidery techniques differed with each indigenous community. Many artisans used the tip of agave to stitch and embroider fabrics by hand.
The earliest known textile materials were plant fibers sourced from maguey, yucca, and palm trees in addition to cotton harvested from areas near the coast. Amate (a kind of bark paper) was typically reserved for ceremonial robes. Spanish colonizers introduced new raw materials like wool and silk with their arrival in the 1500s.
Following Mexico’s conversion to Christianity, Catholic nuns in the country wore white linen with stitching of the same colour, which exemplified deshilado, a technique in which select yarns are extracted from the base fabric (in this case, white linen) then connected and reinforced using decorative stitching.
It is believed that the prevalence of white in modern Mexican textiles comes from this tradition, unlike other Latin American textile traditions in which white is not a dominant shade.
During the Hispanic era, Mexican fabrics and techniques became heavily influenced by European traditions. A good example of this is wider spread use of the loom for creating textiles and the use of needles for embroidery.
Clothing styles also changed with the mechanization of weaving (courtesy of the French) with fabrics either produced at home or in workshops by the 1910s.
The 1960s was marked by the innovation and fortitude of Mexico’s women artisans, who took their richly embroidered blouses to market to sustain their families when drought and poor harvests triggered an economic crisis within the country’s Otomi communities.
If you want to learn more about traditional Mexican textiles, Museo Textil de Oaxaca harbors a collection of over 4,000 pieces from all over the country and Central America. The museum opened in 2006 and is located on the former site of a 16th-century Dominican Convent.
What is Mexican Cambaya?
Cambaya is one of the country’s most celebrated textiles and is commonly associated with the state of Michoacan in western Mexico. Traditional Cambaya refers to rustic, hand-woven cotton made on wooden pedal looms. However, most Cambaya cloths in the market today are woven acrylic made to look and feel like fine cotton.
Either way, Cambaya tela is a beautiful, lightweight, and breathable fabric prized for its colourful woven designs.
Cambaya cloth often comes in bright colours like yellow, red, and blue, evoking the festive atmosphere for which Mexico is known. It is used in a wide variety of textile goods, including shawls, scarves, hair wraps, dresses, blankets, and more. Their versatility and vivid gem-like hues make them an excellent choice for Bohemian-style decor.
Modern Mexican Textiles
Today, modern Mexican textiles, fabrics, and clothes are made by craftsmen and factory workers. Popular handcrafted goods include pre-Hispanic clothing styles like embroidered huipils and sarapes (shawls) using natural fibers and natural dyes. Most of these handicrafts are produced by indigenous communities in the states of Chiapas, Mexico, and Oaxaca.
The country’s modern-day craft industry has a strong social aspect within indigenous communities, encouraging artisans, many of whom are women, to organise into cooperatives that can help protect their trade and pass down their knowledge.
The modern Mexican textile industry is also known for its colourful hand-woven rugs. These prized rugs are sought for their quality and distinctive Zapotec designs.
Franklin Hobart offers a variety of boho-style homewares and furniture. Browse our store for beautiful decorative pieces.