I’m not the kind of person who brakes for yard sales, usually. But when I see a stack of what looks like handwoven cloth from Guatemala, I pull over. This happened a couple of weeks ago. And it was Guatemalan cloth that I’d spied from the road, a modest pile of slim table runners with a few other cuts of fabric and a rug mixed in. Delightful to find, but nothing compared to the gorgeous huipils hanging from a rack nearby in various styles, sizes, and colors. Some looked as though they’d never been worn; a few looked like old favorites.
My favorite huipil, (which happened to fit perfectly!) drew its genius from an adventurous color palette and extraordinary weaving skills. For one who has waxed passionately about the beauty of brown, listing it as one of my favorite colors, the affection I had for the color fiesta dancing across this huipil seemed out of character, but I was taken. Plus, I thought I knew where in Guatemala this huipil was from based on photographs and stories in Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordón’s Traditional Weavers of Guatemala. I paid a pittance for this handwoven gem and dashed home to send a picture of it to Deborah—whom I always associate with Guatemalan huipils! Deborah replied immediately, confirming that my purchase was indeed from San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Happy day.
Weavers in San Antonio Aguas Calientes use a technique for creating double-sided patterns that are completely reversible. Deborah and Tere refer to it as “a kind of weft-faced tapestry,” but caution that the technique is actually much more complicated than they describe in Traditional Weavers. The cloth woven in this region of Guatemala is, as Mary Meigs Atwater described it, “amazingly fine in detail and beautifully done.”
So I know I’ve scored. I bought a valuable and beautiful huipil for a fraction of its worth because I happened to be driving by. Herminia Santos, a master weaver in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, says that a well-cared-for huipil can last forty years. I plan to grow old with mine. But there’s something more.
I mean, I can’t keep from looking at it. After I had bought the huipil, I draped it over a chair in my living room for a few days and just sat there smiling at it. The colors and the textures and how they all fit together–and those birds! I’m completely in love. I suppose that with many beloved objects, you see in them a piece of yourself. And maybe that’s why this huipil has become an instant treasure: it reminds me of the joy when something vibrant and daring rises from a steady brown veneer.
Learn more about the weavers and the weaving of San Antonio Aguas Calientes in Traditional Weavers of Guatemala—Their Stories, Their Lives.