Home PageCentral AmericaA Whole Village of Floral Embroidery

Feb 05

A Whole Village of Floral Embroidery

The Festival of San Sebastián in the village of Zinacantán, Chiapas, Mexico culminates in an explosion of fireworks and cutting-edge fashion of floral embroidery embellishing skirts, shawls, and tunics of Zinacantecs. The raising of the “jaguar” tree followed two days later by a full-blown festival provided the most colorful backdrop for clothing that I’ve ever seen. I wrote about my visit to Zinacantán in this blog and more about the Maya festivals in this one. Now, let’s look closer at the clothing, fashionistas, and frivolity.

Men Are the Fashion Leaders

According to our guide and local textile authority, Chip Morris, in the past few years, the men have become the fashion leaders. While tunics are a part of their traditional dress, the use of embroidered floral designs and other patterns, such as birds, have gradually overtaken the field of cloth. For one, men are at the forefront in every aspect of the festival. And, I’m surmising here, but if a woman wanted to show off her embroidery skills, wouldn’t she embellish the clothing of the one most visible? Note: Women make coordinated clothing for the whole family so they come to festival fully bedecked in floral splendor. Take a look at the various ensembles and you judge whether the men are fashionistas. (I added more detail in the image captions.)

On the day of the big festival, we pondered whether marsala, the Pantone color of the year, would be the base fabric color. We weren’t too far off. The base color ranged in deep red-tones like merlot or rosé. Look at the open yoke area of the men’s tunic to see the base cloth.

Who Decides Color and Designs?

Trends start somewhere. Who decides to change the color of the backstrap woven base cloth before the embroidery begins? Who decided to start cutting the edges of the shawls into scallops versus keeping them rectangles? The cynic in me says it’s the thread manufacturers driving color changes, but Chip doesn’t agree. You can read more about the influences in his and Carol Karasik’s new book, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas. He says there are a few fashion leaders in town, the fashionistas, who the other village women watch and copy. One such family has a shop across the plaza from San Lorenzo church. The sisters, Petra and Rosie, always seem to have something new to show.

This visit, Petra showed me new table runners; I had first seen their work four years ago. Ater weaving the base cloth on a backstrap loom, she uses the freeform machine-embroidery technique originally used for clothing, changes patterns into larger stitching and bolder flowers, and makes these rich “bouquets” for the table.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some behind-the-scenes in Zinacantán. Coming next, I’ll highlight how various Chiapas villages celebrate San Sebastián. Meanwhile, travel along the cloth road and bring your friends along. Share this on. By doing so, you help sustain the artisans and their traditions.

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