My first visit to Zinacantán in Chiapas, Mexico was in 2011. Fast forward to my next one in a few weeks. This time, I’m better prepared for what embroidery, hand weaving and textile fashion may unfold as I’ve been reading, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, the newly released book by Walter R. Morris, Jr. and Carol Karasik, and published by Thrums Books, ClothRoads’s sister company.
In 2011, we visited a studio where the mother and daughters wove fine base fabrics on backstrap looms. These fabrics were then machine-embroidered with floral motifs in rich patterns and color. During this visit, we were told that a new palette was created for each festival season, and we swore we’d return to see the streets filled with such beauty. Hence, my scheduled visit this month for the Festival of San Sebastian.
The release of Maya Threads couldn’t be timelier as it’s given me an understanding of the Zinacantec weaving transformation. What was plain weave in 1975 is now plain weave covered with embroidered flowers, birds, and/or animals. Within a span of forty years, along with the introduction of the sewing machine, fashion has moved into the 21st century. I love this quote from the book, “Women are voting with their looms, creating audacious new patterns and colors or woven essays on older styles, fashions that are, in their own way as traditional and original as any work by Alexander McQueen.”
In 2000, sewing machines were brought to Zinacantán along with Yucatec embroidery techniques. Machine-stitched flowers replaced the embroidery and time-intensive heddle brocade weaving that had dominated the textiles for decades. And with two major festivals in January and August, women could now create color-coordinated fashionable outfits quickly for the whole family.
Every year, the lavish field of embroidered colors and flowers are redefined. In 2000, the color red disappeared from fiesta clothing and blue took the spotlight until 2009. In 2013, red became dominate again but blue flowers returned in 2014. Ten thousand new pieces of weaving are made for each festival and are not worn again! What happens to them? Well they get recycled to us tourists and the Maya women in northern Guatemala have fallen in love with them too. For a textile culture that is never stagnant, hand cross stitching is returning.
So what will we see this year? I’ll let you know in a few weeks!
Travel along the cloth road and bring your friends along. Share this on. By doing so, you help sustain the artisans and their traditions. Maya Threads is available in the ClothRoads store along with Morris’s other book, A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas.