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  • studio-unseens-guatemala-vintage
    Guatemala, vintage
    Art of the backstrap loom

    Travelling through Guatemala means a journey through a great variety of indigenous groups. The Mayan community is the largest, but also this group can again be divided into 21 autonomous categories. For those who love distinct colours and patterns, this country is one little fiesta. Each design reflects the heritage of the clothing. 

    We particularly love the huipiles or ‘po’t’, the richly embroidered blouses worn by women. They are generally woven on the backstrap loom (see below). Making huipiles is spadework; it can take up to 6 months to create one single blouse.
    Travelling through the country, we saw women sitting on their knees, weaving designs and symbols on pieces of cloth. But the chances of spotting such handwork becomes smaller: the influx of cheap mass-produced clothes from China make handwoven garment losing its popularity.

    On the upside, many worn blouses are given a second chance on markets throughout the country. We picked our first ones out of huge piles of brightly-coloured textiles on local markets around Lake Atitlan. Investigating the thick, heavy quality, we quickly wondered why airlines adopted such a thing as a maximum luggage allowance. Back in Antigua, we started researching a little more into the representations of the symbols on the huipiles.

    Like everywhere, also Mayan fashion is subjected to time and place. But many symbols remain the same and go back to age-old representations from the Mayan culture, like rivers, animals, corn plants, the path of the sun and the forming of the natural landscape. In some cases, you find a small ‘nahual’ in the garment, an animal of importance in the Mayan culture. A Nahual is assigned to you by birth and defines your character, qualities and tendencies.


    To secure the supply of huipils, we created a partnership with a small cooperative in Guatemala, who provides families with the opportunity to receive a fair price for their already- worn blouses. Most pieces are woven by their (grand-)grandparents and come from all regions, from the city of Antigua to remote mountain villages.  

    Making huipiles is spadework; it can take up to 6 months to create one single blouse.