I have been looking for a hand woven huipil to buy since I’ve arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez in December 2014.  I finally found one! 

black cotton three panel huipil with coyuche and purpura pansa brocade

I found it at the Festval of Artisans that the state organized just above the Santo Domingo Church for Holy Week. 

I do have my criteria:

  • Back strap woven
  • Good craftsmanship 
  • Three panels
  • A colorway that I would wear
  • A size that I feel comfortable in. 

The size has been the stumbling block. Most are made for Señoritas, I need twice as wide to feel comfortable.  I did a turn of the whole festival and came back to an Amuzgo booth. She had many beautiful, well woven huipiles. Mostly on a natural or off- white ground, which looks lovely with their black hair but I don’t much like with my all white hair, too monochromatic.   She did have a pale pink one that looked a little greyed and a Mexican Rose one with black brocade. I love Mexican Rose but the craftsmanship  of this one wasn’t top quality, particularly in the construction. She had an elegant black on black  huipil, sized for a small señorita. 😟

She hung up a very beautiful  huipil in a cinnamon brown with natural colored brocade.   It was very fine brocade and the colors were spectacular, the brocade almost looked golden. Very elegant and special. When she got it down so I could see it closer I recognized the color as that from nanche, a tree that has an edible fruit and the bark can be used for dyeing. Unfortunately the nanche color had already stained parts of the natural colored threads that were used for brocade and construction. Yes, it was natural dye but it was not well dyed. 

Reluctantly I left that booth and went to a booth that had some lovely small utility cloths with brocade style I associate with San Juan Colorado, but wasn’t from San Juan. There were several styles of brocade in the booth, which I think was a coop. Some pieces had women’s names on them, which I thought was the maker’s name. She began showing me huipiles too and some were lovely but small. She finally showed me a “large” three panel black huipil with brocade in coyuche, that is always hand spun, and purpura pansa, the seashell violet. Excellent workmanship.  Price I could afford. Perfect except it was too small. She thought it was big enough, but I insisted that it was only as wide as the top I had on and the top had slits from the waist down. The black huipil was ankle length and I had to convince her that it was going to catch on my hips so I wouldn’t wear it.  As I was ready to walk away she said she had a very large one.  I said let me see it, she had to root around a bit to find it and when I saw it it was perfect. Big enough, well made, black ground with Leno and coyuche and purpura pansa brocade.  It is now mine!


detail with purpura pansa dyed yarn used for brocade and construction

The ground cloth is 16/2 black cotton in plain weave and leno. The cloth is light weight and drapes well. Not hot because of the open work, leno. Each panel has a few warps of purpura at each side selvage. The panels are joined by hand with a faggoting stitch in the same purpura.  The neck edge is carefully made and decorated with the same purpura dyed yarn. 

The purpura dyed yarn is commercially spun yarn that is taken to the seaside. The wet yarn is held in the hand and the sea snails are pried from the rocks and their excretions rubbed on the yarn. The snails are returned to their rock. The secretions slowly change color, in the sun and air , until the yarn is a pale red- violet color. 
The coyuche is a brown cotton that grows here. It is short staple and thus hand spun.  Both colors are from prehispanic times. 

The brocade technique is discontinuous inlay. This inlay is done with the weft turns on the top making tiny scalloped edges around each motif. 

  • detail of the brocade with coyuche and purpura

This brocade style has a neat backside that is only slightly different from the front. 


here is the fourth selvage carachteristic of back strap weaving and the neat backside of the brocade

 Blessing on the weaver that made my cherished huipil!



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.

A black and white huipil

18 January 2015

Saturday is market day in Oaxaca and I went.  I came home with many things but what I want to share right now is a black and white, hand woven, cotton huipil that I bought.


If it looks a lot like a black and white tencel scarf I wove, you’re right.  I do like B&W geometric designs.
This is a huipil, which means that it is a rectangular garment with no shaping.  This one is made from two panels of cloth  and seamed down the center front and under the arms.  The hole for the head is cut into the cloth.

I’m going to discuss the details because of how it is made because there are so many questions asked about how to transform hand woven cloth into something to wear.  These people have been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands of years. 

First the cloth is sturdy but not thick nor stiff.  I doubt it has been washed (warp faced cloth changes very little when washed).  It is warp-faced cloth with stripes and brocade.  The motifs and sleeve embellishment are brocade.  The warp appears to be mercerized (because it is smooth and shiny) 8/2 cotton.  I have not been able to count the warps/inch in the poor light since I have been home, I will try tomorrow in the daylight.  But I made some warp -faced cloth of of 8/2 unmercerized cotton sett at 50epi and the 8/2 tencel ( a much slippery fiber) was sett at 60epi, so I would guess that it is some where in that range. 
The brocaded motifs are discontinuous overlay/underlay; that means that a separate piece of supplemental  weft yarn was used for each motif and that the brocading weft is either on top of the ground cloth or under it. 


The black brocading weft does not show through the ground cloth because it is so dense.  The appearance of sleeves ( there aren’t really any sleeves) is made by some heavy brocade  on the outer edge of the panel at the point where the panel folds over the shoulder. 


The is no front or back to this garment, both sides are identical. 
The horizontal bars are made in the warp; all the threads in one shed are white and all the threads in the other shed are all black producing alternating black and white bars.
The symmetry of the piece is a mirror symmetry, I don’t know if it was one or two warps.  I never noticed the seam down the center front until I got home and started looking at the inside for seams.


It is well planned in the warping and the seam is not noticeable.  The selvages of the panels are hand sewn together with a tiny overcast seam.  The seam is barely 1/8″ wide and is on the inside and not bulky or obtrusive.  The center front seam is sewn with the black warp yarn and the side seam with white.


I took out some of the side seam to make a vent at the bottom.
Here is a picture of the inside showing both the front center seam and the brocade.


Both the neck-hole and the bottom edge are just cut.   The hem is made by folding bottom edge over twice, about 2 picks worth, then hand stitching it down with the same yarn.  The neckline  appears to be folded over once and densely covered with button hole stitch using the same black yarn as in the piece.


The neckline seems robust.

This is a large huipil, some of these women here are tiny.  Each panel is 13.5″ wide for a total circumference of 54″ and the length from shoulder to hem is 25.75″.

To weave this as one warp I would make the warp 13.75″ wide (there is very little pull in in warp faced cloth) .  The length of each finished panel is 51.5″ and there are two of them for a total of 103″ woven.  Warp faced weaving has a lot of take up in warp so add 20% or 20″ and then your loom waste, say 12″.  Total warp length, 103″+20″+18″= 141″ or 3.9 yds.  All you have to do is get the brocade motifs and sleeves in the right place.
All sewing was done by hand, with a needle and the same yarn as was used in the weaving.
I purchased another of these huipils but in color

I now think the warp is a mercerized cotton 16/2 or 20/2. I have managed to count the # of warps; 96 epi. For a width of 13.5″ that is a total of 1300 ends. Not for the faint of heart or weak. Opening the sheds, whether on a floor loom or a backstrap loom is going to be difficult and require physical strength.
The overlay/underlay brocaded motifs are made with 6-stranded embroidery floss and the pick up was probably done on a closed shed.

Some of the colors are red, lime green, black, sky blue, deep blue, gold, kelley green,teal, wine, deep purple, turquoise, hot pink ( or Rosa Mexicana as it is called here) all on a white ground.

A new bag?

13 November 2006

crepe bomaki.jpg
This is a piece of silk crepe that I did up in technique I call bomaki. I used this technique to make the pleated leather for Sting Ray jacket.. Here the silk crepe was dyed a bright red , then the the silk was sewn into a tube that fits very tightly onto the pole ( no string involved) and then scrunched together. It was then discharged– too much– and overdyed. The colors are not what I wanted but good enough to try an idea that I’ve had for a small handbag.
The idea is to make a lined bag that will flaten into a circle when on the table, with the pleats as radii. So the circumference of the circle dictates the amount of silk required. I wanted the to have a flower of the unpleated silk in the center when the draw strings are closed.
bag top.jpg
The problem is that closed, that is draw strings a tight as possible, it still has an opening for your keys or condoms to jump out (which ever will cause the maxium disruption). Here you can see on the bottom that even the tightest gathering leaves a hole (the lining is red).
bag bottom.jpg
The opening on the bottom was expected and can be covered by a button sort of thing but the top remains a problem. I can try 2 drawstrings and a shorter bag that has less fabric….
This shot has some charm , the red lining was the starting color of the pleated crepe.
bag open.jpg

You can compare this with the instudio picture.
62.jpg This is the Stringray outfit much discussed in this blog (a, b, c, d </a e, f, g, h i, j).
The textile center has put up pictures from the ARTWEAR IN MOTION show. They have pictures from the show and of the winners. This year’s show wasn’t a runway show but took place on a stage.
At the Center’s website you can find info for entering next years show.

Mirian Clayden–sad news

17 August 2006

Mirian Clayden, based just south of San Francisco, has had a line of clothing for the past 20 some years (her line). She started as a tie-dyer and has continued to dye/discharge her clothing. To a dyer, many of her designs were visually stunning, she could add just the right bit of dye or discharge. I never handled any of her clothing and do not know the quality of the construction. It looked good on the runway.
I heard that she had a stroke recently and that there are further complications. She appears too young to expect this kind of health problems. I ask if we can take a few seconds and send a silent blessing her way in this moment of personal distress.

At the San Francisco show I took some photos, with permission, of Mark Thomas’s clothing that incorporates shibori. It is all flat shibori, but this one is arashi shibori. His clothes are beautifully made, one of my criteria that is rarely met. The scarf above is silk organza. Below you can see both the back and front of the jacket, photos taken in his booth.
I did meet two of you readers, quite delightful! Now I have to get ready for Evanston, I leave next Wed.

This is sort of shibori top (no dyeing) available at http://www.shibori.org/, click on GALLERY SHOP, then POCKETEE. Here the emphasis is on texture, no dyeing and polyester to make the pleats more robust. Issey Miyake’s PLEATS PLEASE falls into thiis catagory. So does Justine Limpus Parish.
I forgot to share the free patent for making shibori clothing like this. I learned that those little things that form when you do shibori are called SHIBO—who knew, I just said poof!

Shibori clothing

30 July 2006

How do we make clothing out of cloth with shibori patterns?
(To see the type of clothing I’m referring to check out Fiber Arts Design Book 7, pages 154-175 or Artwear: Fashion and Anti-Fashion, which has older work.)
Traditional shibori techniques, such as the resists shown in Wada‘s first book, developed in Japan, where the traditional cloth is woven 13″-15″ wide. Hence most of their techniques work well on long narrow pieces of fabric. This is true of arashi shibori, you can do almost any length but widths greater than 15″ are a challenge.
Our clothing designs, on the other hand,are based on flat pattern making, and work best on wide cloths, 36″ being the narrowest we usually consider. Bias cut garments usually work best in the wider cloths, 54″-60″.
Here are some of the solutions/compromises I see current shibori artists use:
shibori kimonos copy.jpg
•Use the traditional Japanese shibori techniques on narrow cloth and make the clothes from it. Make Japanese style clothes from narrow widths of cloth. Kimonos, kimono style jackets are common solutions. John Marshall‘s book has directions for tradtional garments and some modern adaptations. Weavers also prefer to make long narrow fabric, so many designs have evolved to make clothes from it. Cut My Cote by D. Burnham and Costume Patterns and Designs by Tilke (try the library it is a truly mind expanding book) are sources of historical designs for long narrow cloth. Piecing is also a way to get bigger cloth from narrow pieces. These designs do not have a modern fit. It can be unrewarding to invest this much time into a garment percieved as a bathrobe.
•Others use shibori techniques that work with wider cloth.
yuko_top_amala_skirt copy.jpg
Itajame (fold and clamp), binding, capping, stitching techniques work on any width cloth. Those with a tie-dye back ground seem to be less limited by the size of the cloth, possibly because of their expeience wih large pieces and whole garments(T-shirts).
•Others adapt the techniques to the cloth they want to use. They get huge diameter stainless steel poles and lifting devices and bathtubs. Others just wrinkle the cloth on the pole to make it fit the pole they have.
Some wrap complete garments on poles, others make the cloth then think about the garment. There seems to be a different solution to these challenges for each maker– that why each has her own style.
My solutions for these problems do not involve 24″ ID stainless steel poles, that is Joan McGee. Most of my work is textural shibori including the few special garments I make for exhibitions or runway shows. Here are some photos of and outfit I made with Grace. It has both arashi and bound shibori. The dress was designed by draping some old pieces or samples (Grace and samples again) of my textured shibori. Then the pieces for the dress were planned with bound spider webs at the shoulder and hem and the shrinkage due to the pleating. The pieces were hemmed. Then I did all the shibori at the same time, including some extra pieces so that the color would match. We ended up using 5 of 6 pieces that we made. The dress was then constructed, a lot of hand stitching is needed to sew the already pleated material. There are ribbons and silk marquisette, that we dyed to match, to give structure to the dress. The hat has a red felt foundation.
Another oufit with with pleated shibori can bee seen at here.

Carter has staying power! He started with tie-dye in the 60’s , evolved his own style and now call himself a shibori artist. He makes and sells his famous “K” dress– becoming in floaty silk chiffon. Here is a video with him, I don’t know when the video was made but I think this is the big house in MA that recently burned.
Video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7120955573255419230&q=dudeular
his web site
A much more informative article and one that talks about his “K” dress is this one associated whith his exhibition at the CAC in Cincinnati in 2000-2001. article
Carter’s work is published in
early work in Batik and Tie Dye Techniques by Nancy Belfer
Ornament, Autumn 1997 Volume 21 No. 1
Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now, Y. Wada
You can see how he works in Textile Dyeing:The Step-By-Step Guide and Showcase
by Kate Broughton.
I have seen a large selection of his work, and to my knowlwdge he doesn’t use arashi shibori techniques nor does he keep the texture. He works with acid dyes and discharges.
My observation is that working for the final effect in a pattern is different that working for a final effect in texture. At least I find that I work different.
The things I most admire about Carter’s work is his unique style of patterning and is evolution, and his willingness to go for it! He will embrace anything helpful and will try many more things than most others.