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The Ancestral Craft behind Our Marketplace Collection

The Ancestral Craft behind Our Marketplace Collection

Guatemala is a land rich in culture and folklore. One of the most interesting and diverse parts of this culture is how their traditional women, who are Mayan descendents, dress. The top portion of the female attire is called “huipil” (pronounced we-pill).  Today we are shining a spotlight at the process these traditional women follow to make their “huipiles”, literally from scratch. 

The process begins with raw cotton picked from cotton plants. Women gather the cotton and start cleaning it from impurities such as seeds and small twigs. 


Then, they pound the clean cotton ball for hours with what looks like padded xylophone mallets. This process is crucial to obtain quality cotton thread. 

Once the cotton ball has reached the desired texture, they extract the thread using a spinning technique that produces thread and transfers it to a cone. This entire process is done by hand. 

After the thread is produced, the dying process takes place. All of the dyes that they produce come from natural resources like berries, insects, tree bark, etc. During this process, ancestral tradition taught them to also use the moon phases to produce different hues of the same color with their natural pigments. Astonishingly, some natural dyes produce deeper pigmentation when the moon is full. 

Then comes the looming process for the fabric. Thread by thread, and by hand, the fabric is created. The hardest part of the looming process is that most of the time, the fabrics are not a solid color, instead they are created with diverse colors and patterns that require the female artisan to be focused on her work to incorporate the correct number of threads for each color in the correct place.

Once the fabric is created, it is cut into what looks like a boxy shirt with openings on both sides for the arms, and a circle or square opening in the middle for the head. 

As if the whole process were not impressive yet, the final step is one of the most important as it is what makes each “huipil” truly unique. Women then embroider different shapes into their “huipil”. Many of the shapes have a symbolic meaning, while others are added just for fun. In the traditional Mayan culture the colors and shapes of a woman’s “huipil” symbolized and distinguished ethnicity and social rank. Here is a brief list with a few of the messages that a “huipil” masterpiece would convey:

White: north, hope, promise, wind, spirituality, that which can’t be touched

Black: west, death, war, dusk

Red: east, honey, blood, power, dawn, energy

Yellow: south, corn

Blue: water, sky

Green: royalty (from the royal national bird, the Quetzal), nature

Diamond shape: the four corners of the universe

Stars: astrology related

Zig-zag: mountains, volcanos, serpents, the path of life (lows and highs)

At M&J, we were fascinated by the talent and ancestral craft that these female artisans employ and chose to incorporate a collection of their hand-made “huipiles” into our brand. Shop your unique “huipil” today! 

Not only that, we have found a way to employ their embroidery talent into our denim collections with hand-embroidered patches that make each piece one-of-a-kind. Shop our most recent denim collection with Guatemalan, embroidered patches. Shop now!

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