When one size doesn’t fit all: Lessons from a huipil

17 February 2015


Photo by Karen Elwell

Photo by Karen Elwell

This is a huipil from Tehuantepec is for sale in a vendor’s booth.  This is machine embroidery on velvet.  And I decided that one of these would work for New Year’s Eve in Oaxaca, outdoors in the cool night.  So I went shopping for one for me.

Now I am not the size of most Americans, I am short and with time I have gotten wide.  But I am not the size of the tiny women from Oaxaca either.

So I went to the Artesian’s Market one evening and was looking at this style of huipil– they have many kinds of glorious flowers.  But the first thing I asked was did they have any bigger ones, because I didn’t think I could fit into any of them.  As with all huipils these are rectangular garments, not fitted ones, but I needed to be able to get inside it.  The sales clerk, as  are all good sales clerks are, was reassuring, we will make it fit she said.

She showed me that each seam and hem had about 2″ turned under that she could release.  So when I found one with pink flowers that I said I would buy if it was big enough, she took out the side seams and released the part that was turned under and took out the hems. So now the piece was 8″ bigger around and 2″ longer and it looked like it would fit.  So I bought it and took it home.

At home I basted the side seams, leaving more space for the armholes  and tried it on.  It was fine  except when I sat down.  The bottom would slide up.  I could have left the bottom part open but instead I added a gusset with the crochet technique I had learned at the class at the Museo.   The class was on joining together panels of cloth  with crochet.  This is a sample with a narrow join, by adding more rows of crochet the join can be much wider. All rows can be the same color or the center can be a contrasting color.

teacher's sample

teacher’s sample

I decided to use my new skill to join the sides of the velvet huipil and to make the bottom wider with more rows of crochet, in effect making a small gusset.  The crochet is quite elastic.


At the under arm there is only one row of black crochet arches on each side but at the bottom there are four. Then they are joined together with the pink crochet . Another problem was that my crochet hook would not penetrate the velvet and backing.  So I started with a row of button hole stitch spaced at about 1 cm.


The top went over my long black sleeveless dress nicely , did not ride up and kept me warm for the evening.

The lesson learned here is how to make a garment that will fit many people.  The seams were 2″ from the edge, and the wide seam allowance was basted down on the inside.  This garment is lined sort of, another cloth  was attached to the inside before it was embroidered and then the two cloths were turned under and hand sewn together all around the edge. So all the edges are finished. Here you can see the inside and the gusset on one side before joining. IMG_3187

Japanese kimonos are also sized by the width of the seam.  So for a hand weaver who has unique cloth and can not make another size, this is an interesting concept. We all know that one size fit only a few.


One Response to “When one size doesn’t fit all: Lessons from a huipil”

  1. How incredibly useful. Thank you.


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