This huipil and skirt from Tehuantepec struck my eye immediately. John explained that it dates from around the 1970's and he held out the skirt for me to photograph. The bands of geometric patterns, alternating with the bands of bold, stylized floral images is characteristic of Tehuana work.
So is the exquisite needlework. He turned the huipil inside out to show me - it's almost as finely finished on the underside as it is on the front.
In Southern Mexico and Central America, women are known for their weaving and needlework. A huipil is woven by hand on a back-strap loom, usually of cotton. Panels of fabric are then sewn into a loose blouse or tunic, which is often embroidered. Each village or region has a distinct look, or pattern, or technique, so that people know where someone is from by the details of their clothing.
The city of Tehuantepec is the home of people descended from the indigenous Zapotec people. In days past and still today, women from Tehuantepec - or Tehuanas - have a reputation for being strong matriarchs, controlling their families' financial well-being. Tehuanas are also known for their skill at embroidery, and have long supported their families with their needlework. In Tehuantepec, the traditional huipil and paneled skirt have evolved into an elaborate costume for festivals, made of velvet or satin, and heavily embroidered with flowers and brilliant colors. This has also made them attractive to tourists, creating a lucrative market where skilled artisans thrive, and a creative and competitive artistic culture.
Tehuanas use three different types of stitching on these dresses. The first is called abordar, work by hand to create the flowers and leaves. The second is called costura, and its machine-work that creates some of the geometric banding. The third is called gancho, and it's handwork done with a tool similar to a crochet hook.
Lise and John Thomas had many other pieces displayed from several regions of Mexico. Each region of Mexico - each village, in fact - has its signature costume, its distinct style of weaving or embroidery. This website by a scholar of Mexican regional costume includes photographs and video of artisans creating these unique works of art.
I'll share more of what I discovered with you, in later posts.