February 17th (1996) the Victoria & Albert Museum opened its
display of Maudslay's Guatemalan Indian weavings, the first time
this collection has been shown to the general public.
Percival Maudslay (1850 - 1931) was an eminent scholar and archaeologist
who made 9 visits to Central America between 1881 and 1894 to
photograph, map and make casts of the Mayan architecture and artefacts
he found there. In 1899 he and his wife published "A Glimpse of
Guatemala", the account of their 1894 travels. As many of the
textiles he bequeathed to the V&A come from the villages he
mentions in that account, it is tempting to date his textile collection
from that time. However, we know that the loom he gave to the
Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography (endnote 1) was
bought in San Antonio Palopó in 1885, an indication that
he was visiting the highland villages and buying textiles from
the very first. Indeed, as all the textiles show varying signs
of wear, some may well have been woven in the 1870's.
major frustration for those wishing to trace the development of
Maya textiles from Pre Columbian times through to the 20th Century
has always been the lack of material evidence. Apart from some
tiny cloth remnants found at various archaeological sites (endnote
2) , no known examples of highland Maya weaving exist prior to
Maudslay's collection, although the Reverend Heyde followed close
in his footsteps (endnote 3) . Hence the excitement at what in
comparison to ancient Peruvian textiles, might be called very
the textiles in the V&A display with the possible exception
of the shawl T21 were woven on the simple stick loom (also called
a back-strap or hip-strap loom, Fig 1). This pre-Columbian loom
which appears in Maya sculptures and the Madrid Codex (Fig 2)
is the loom still used most by women today to weave various items
of clothing for themselves and their family . The foot loom (introduced
by the Spanish conquerors) is used mainly to weave skirt fabric
and trade items (endnote 4) .
2. The Goddess Ixchel weaving (Madrid Codex)
contrast to his meticulous documentation of archaeological artefacts,
Maudslay lumped all his textiles together under the simple title:
"Guatemala, 19th Century", without mentioning specific villages.
The provenance of many (endnote 5) , however, will be recognised
by Guatemalan textile enthusiasts conversant with Eisen's 1902
collection (beautifully presented in "Maya Textiles of Guatemala"
by Margot Blum Schevill), or Tulane University's well documented
1925-1935 collections (endnote 6) .
important idiosyncrasy of Guatemalan Maya weaving is their tendency
to be village specific, with weavers drawing on a communal repertoire
of designs and colours. Whilst over the last decade it has become
socially acceptable for indigenous women to either weave or buy
items in the designs and colours of other communities, it is only
recently that completely innovative huipiles (women's blouses)
have appeared which do not conform to any specific village style
(endnote 7) .
over the century there have been some substantial changes in the
designs and colours communities have chosen as their own, the
style in which a given community weaves has remained largely consistent.
Therefore factors such as
the cloth is plain, basket, or warp-faced weave and whether the
brocaded designs are single or double-faced, all play an important
part in village identification. Yet another stylistic factor that
has tended to remain constant where huipiles are concerned, is
how the textile is taken off the loom:- i.e. whether all 4 sides
are selvedged, or whether one or both ends are cut and hemmed.
The number of panels used to construct a huipil also conforms
to the village style.
13 of Maudslay's Guatemalan textiles have cotton warps and wefts
whilst the brocaded designs are worked in cotton, silk floss and
wool, a 'classic' combination of threads that occurs on fine weavings
through to the 1950's. Acrylic began taking over from wool in
the 1960's (endnote 8) , and is today replacing cotton for the
ground weave also. The reason weavers give for this dramatic switch
of material is their preference for the brighter-coloured, fade-resistant
yarn. The use of silk floss reached its zenith in the 1930's after
which time rayon and mercerised embroidery cottons became more
popular because of lower costs and greater availability.
synthetic dyes were invented in 1856, certain natural dyes such
as cochineal, indigo and murex continued to be used well into
the 20th Century. Carlsen and Wenger (endnote 9) have identified
cochineal dyed silk floss in textiles T33 and T34, and in one
of the Chichicastenango men's head cloths (T31); the mauve silk
used to stitch the Patzun huipil (T23) is also dyed with cochineal.
Brocaded motifs in shellfish purple (Purpura patula) appear on
both T33 & 34), and all the brown thread is undyed natural
brown cotton (Gossypium mexicanum Tod.) which is always handspun.
The blue cotton is most probably indigo or locally grown sacatinta
(Hacobinia spicigera) as indigo wasn't synthesised until 1880,
and it took another twenty or thirty years for the German cartels
to establish their monopoly of the production of synthetic indigo
(endnote 10) .
3. Huipil panels brocaded in silk and cotton. 19th Century.
by Maudslay. V&A inv.no T33-1931 &T34-1931
& Albert Museum, London.
Carlsen and Wenger have established that between 1875 and 1927
red cotton thread was dyed with alizarin, and not cochineal, as
previously supposed (endnote 11) . Alizarin used to be obtained
from the roots of the Madder plant (rubia tinctorum) and was combined
with various mordants to produce not only reds, but also violet,
brown and black. In 1869, Sir William Perkin developed a process
for manufacturing synthetic alizarin that made this cheaper to
use than the natural dye. Alizarin continued to be used in Guatemala
in diminishing degrees through the 1930's and had disappeared
altogether by 1940 (endnote 12) . The distinctive yellows and
the grey-green are colours that appear on textiles through the
1930's (endnote 13) . Tests show that they too are natural dyes,
the green being a composite of indigo and yellow.
4. Cotton tzut from Solola. 19th Century.
by Maudslay. V&A inv.no T27-1931
©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
comparing Maudslay's textiles with contemporary fashions in the
same villages it is fascinating to note the changes that have
taken place over the century. Indeed, in some villages the design
change has been so radical that it is only by tracing the transitions
that the piece can be identified. For example Sololá women's
tzutes (utility cloths or wraps T24, & T27 (Fig 4) gradually
acquired more stripes, including simple block ikat in the mid
1930's; then the dominant white, blue and brown fields were minimised
(Fig 5) to be replaced by the bold figural ikat of the 1980's
5. Solola woman's utility cloth from the 1960's; cotton.
Guatemalan Indian Centre Collection.
interesting changes have taken place with Chichicastenango textiles
also. White ground servilletas (basket cloths) similar to T36
(Fig 6) and T39 with red, yellow or natural brown cotton side
stripes and various brocaded motifs remained the norm through
the 1920's and '30's (endnote 14). In the 1940's and '50's the
white ground gradually gave way to overall coloured striped ground
(endnote 15) (Fig 7). Today these brocaded servilletas have been
largely replaced by brightly striped commercial utility cloths
woven in acrylic.
6.Cotton servilleta with brocaded designs embroidered,19th
Century.Collected by Maudslay V&A inv.no T36-1931
& Albert Museum, London.
7. Left: Chichicastenango man's headcloth from the
1950's; silk brocading on cotton ground. Right:Man's
tzut 19th Century. Collected by Maudslay
V&A inv.no T263-1928
Guatemalan Indian Centre Collection
Right: ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
ground cloth of men's head tzutes T326 and T31 began changing
from white to red relatively early on: there are two examples
in Eisen's 1902 collection (endnote 16) , and four out of five
tzutes collected by Samuel Lothrop in 1916/17 have red ground
(endnote 17) . The large double-headed bird motif, brocaded in
mauve silk floss on red ground cloth with black pinstripes, became
the predominant motif of the 1930's and '40's, gradually replacing
the small animal designs. Photographs published in the National
Geographic Magazine in the mid 1940's (endnote 18) also show a
shift from brocading in mauve silk to the distinctive maroon beloved
of the Maxeños (endnote 19) who achieve this colour by
over-dying mauve silk floss themselves. The double-headed bird
motif gradually grew more abstract and from the 1960's onwards
began appearing as a series of colourful zigzags. At this time
too a completely new design, i.e. European style flowers copied
from embroidery books, became popular. An interesting phenomenon
today is the resurgence of the older double-headed bird designs
among young weavers; it is open to speculation whether this is
due to an increasing pride in being Maya, or a response to market
forces demanding 'antique' textiles with 'traditional' designs.
similar to Maudslay's 2 panels T33 and T34, (Fig 3 - above) but
on white ground, form part of Eisen's 1902 collection and are
provenanced to San Martín Jilotepeque. Interestingly, during
recent field research women from both San Martín and San
Antonio Aguas Calientes claimed Maudslay's textile as their village
work. Huipiles collected from these two villages in the 1920's
and '30's are far more elaborate than the early pieces and very
similar in design, with continuous bands of zigzags, diamonds,
dots and chevrons replacing the scattered motifs; the brocading
threads are mainly silk floss and the ground cloth has changed
to navy blue. Whereas the design of huipiles for San Martín
Jilotepeque have remained more or less consistent from the 1930's
to this day (Fig 8), those of San Antonio Aguas Calientes began
to change radically in the 1970's, incorporating wide bands of
floral and animal motifs copied from embroidery pattern books.
Contemporary huipiles are almost completely covered in these exotic
designs woven in a double-faced brocading technique which makes
the item reversible.
8. San Martin Jilotepeque huipil from the 1980's;
cotton & acrylic; San Antonio Aguas Calientes
huipil from the 1970's.
Indian Centre Collection.
the textiles of villages such as Chichicastenango, Sololá
and San Antonio Aguas Calientes have undergone considerable design
changes over the century, it is surprising how little the weavings
of other communities have altered. The Patzun huipil collected
by Elsie McDougall between 1928 and 1931 and the one drawn by
Josephine Wood (endnote 21) between 1939 and 1942 are identical
to Maudslay's T23 (Fig 9), except for the narrowing of the white
stripes, the inclusion of occasional green and yellow pin stripes
and the decorative triangles embroidered round the appliquéed
silk half-moon at the neck. Although through the 1960's and '70's
the embroidery round the neck became increasingly lavish (Fig
10.) and began incorporating European floral designs, photographs
I took in 1983 show older women still using the simple style depicted
9. Patzun huipil 19th Century. Collected by
inv.no T23-1931 ©Victoria & Albert Museum,
10. Patzun huipiles from the 1950's with geometric
silk embroidery (top); from the 1980's with floral
Indian Centre Collection.
same sort of continuity can be traced through shawl design in
Salcajá. Maudslay's T21 (Fig 11b) (where indigo and white
ikat stripes alternate with solid indigo stripes), was soon superseded
by a similar one with solid green bands interspersing indigo and
white chevrons of varying size (Fig 11). Shawls in this style
were widely traded throughout the highlands during the first half
of this century. They could still be seen occasionally in the
1980's, despite interim changes of fashion - i.e. the popularity
of silk in the 1930's and '40's, the gradual proliferation of
multicoloured figural ikat and the predominance of bright acrylic
stripes from the 1980's onward.
11. Salcaja cotton shawl from the 1960's with simple
ikat; silk shawl from the 1950'swith figural ikat
and wool pompoms
Indian Centre Collection.
11b. Salcaja ikat shawl, 19th Century. Collected by
use of utility cloths (T22) (Fig 12) is even more widespread than
the use of shawls although both items perform the same functions:
that of carrying babies or shopping besides being worn as a wrap.
Despite the recent increase of commercial utility cloths (woven
on footlooms in the Totonicapán area and traded throughout
the Highlands), the majority are still woven on hip-strap looms
with designs and colours that conform to the village style. Although
Maudslay's utility cloth cannot be provenanced to any specific
village it does have some distinguishing features: 4 selvedged
edges, warp stripes, and twin panels sewn together simply without
a randa (a decorative embroidered seam). Similar cloths with red,
white and natural brown cotton stripes were bought for the Guatemalan
Indian Centre collection in the 1970's from Nahualá and
12. Cotton Tzut, 19th Century. Collected by Maudslay.
V&A inv.no T22-1931
& Albert Museum, London.
tracing the development of huipil T25 from Tecpan (Fig 14), it
is intriguing to note that design changes took place at the beginning
of the century and then more or less stopped. Tecpan over-huipiles
(endnote 22) collected in the 1930's show a shift from checkered
brown and white ground to solid natural brown cotton and a greater
frequency of the wide red stripes which are flanked by narrow
stripes in blue and white as well as yellow. Red and yellow pin
stripes appear between the red bands and brocaded zigzags and
lozenges decorate the huipiles in exactly the same way as Fig
13, an example from the 1960's. Today's huipiles have remained
essentially the same, although natural brown cotton has been replaced
by dyed cotton, and the close rows of brocaded motifs are worked
in cotton, rayon and acrylic rather than silk or wool. Some girls
have adopted smaller versions of this huipil for daily wear but
its more usual use now is as an over-huipil for cofradia (religious
13. Tecpan-over huipil from the 1960's with
natural brown cotton, and silk brocading.
Indian Centre Collection.
14. Hupil in cotton from Tecpan. 19th century.
Collected by Maudslay. V&A Museum inv.no.T25--1931
& Albert Museum, London.
demonstrated, although Maudslay's collection of Guatemalan Indian
weavings is small, it gives us important information on the materials,
dyes and styles used at the end of the nineteenth century. Moreover,
by tracing the subsequent development of these textiles, we get
an insight into how Maya weaving has evolved over the last hundred
years throughout the country as a whole.
1. Now the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
2. Important finds at Chichen Itza; Mayapan; Rio Azul; El Ceren,
El Salvador; and Cieneguilla, Chiapas.
3. Reverend Th. Heyde, collected a large number of textiles circa
1895; American Museum of Natural History, New York.
4. Huipiles (women's blouses) for commerce are woven on footlooms
in Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango and Comalapa, as are blankets
and many utility cloths and shawls.
5. Maudslay also collected Mexican and European textiles in Guatemala.
The identifiable Maya weavings are T36 & T39 - women's basket
cloths from Chichicastenango; T31 & T326 male (or saint's)
head cloths from Chichicastenango; T33 & T34 - 2 panels of
a San Martín Jilotepeque or San Antonio Aguas Calientes
huipil; T23 - huipil from Patzun; T25 - huipil from Tecpan; T24
& T27 women'stzutes (utility cloths or wraps) from Sololá;
T21 - shawl from Salcajá. Variously striped tzutes as T22
and sashes as T29 were, and still are, used in many villages,
so cannot be positively identified.
6. La Farge 1925 and 1927; Mathilda Geddings Gray 1935, at MARI
7. Personal field research 1994.
8. According to the owner's son, Hiladuras Centroamericanas began
producing acrylic thread in 1962.
9. "The Dyes used in Guatemalan Textiles: A Diachronic Approach"
by Robert Carlsen and David Wenger in "Textile Traditions
of Mesoamerica and the Andes." Edited by Margot Blum Schevill,
Janet Catherine Berlo, and Edward B. Dwyer. Garland publishing,
New York and London 1991.
10. Grolier Encyclopaedia 1993.
11. As 9 above.
12. As 9 above.
13. La Farge and Gray collections 1925-1935, Tulane University
and McDougall's 1929-31 collection, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
14. As 13 above.
15. Crocker's watercolours published in 1952 show both styles
16. Tzut 3-52 and child's blouse 3-155 constructed from a head
17. Schevill, Margot Blum 1985. Evolution in Textile Design from
the Highlands of Guatemala, Occasional Paper Number 1, University
of California, Berkeley.
18. July 1945 and October 1947 issues.
19. Inhabitants of Chichicastenango.
20. As 13 above.
21. Wood, Josephine and Lilly de Jongh Osborne 1966. Indian Costumes
of Guatemala, Akademische Druck -u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz. Austria;
also Tulane University collection 1925.
22. Three types of huipiles used to exist in Tecpan: a simple
'house' huipil, the brownover-huipil for going out and a 3 panelled
cofradia (religious brotherhood) huipil.
© Text: Krystyna Deuss, The Guatemalan Indian Centre 1996
All photographs related to this article and textiles are ©
/ property of The Guatemalan Indian Centre
unless otherwise stated as belonging to the Victoria & Albert
Guatemalan Indian Centre textiles photographed
by Jamie Marshall / tribaleye.com
The Guatemalan Indian Centre is a non-profit making cultural and
educational centre - The information provided here is for scholarly
information and not for profit