On a trip to Guatemala in February, I purchased a number of vintage hupiles (Guatemalan blouses) from Chichicastenango region. I loved the geometric designs in the weaving and knew they would be perfect for an upholstery project. But… when you repurpose these used garments for a project, you have to Fill the Hole. And that can be an even bigger challenge than finding the huipiles in the first place!
In case you are wondering, huipil is pronounced wē-pēl′ with the accent on the second syllable. Each city/region of Guatemala has a distinctive style of huipil, making it possible to know where a woman is from — assuming she is wearing a blouse from her home community.
To take the photo above, I palace some of my early purchases on the back of the sofa and a gorgeous piece of Corte (women’s skirt fabric) on the cushions. The idea was coming together, if not the mechanics of making it happen.
Fill what hole? Yes, I hear your question. It’s not so obvious when the huipil is folded like a garment. But see that neckline? When you un-sew the side seams and lay the huipil flat, it creates a big, gaping hole. And, of course, you have to fill the hole with something that makes sense.
I debated about doing a project myself, stitching up bunches of flowers similar to the ones in this photo. But after weeks and weeks of not being motivated to get that done, I decided to use pieces from a vintage Guatemalan sash that I purchased on the same trip.
It just about killed me to cut into the sash. It was really a lovely example of rococo embroidery. I’ve used bullion knots in my embroidery, but the person who made this sash had the patience of a saint!
After stitching the two sections together with a heavy thread, I needed a template to help me match the size of the neckline openings. And, of course, the openings on each of the three huipiles were not the same. One was round, one was almost round, and the third was definitely an oval.
Rather than trying to draw this stuff out by hand, I used my Silhouette cutting machine software to make the three templates, adjusting the size of the ovals to match each of the three huipiles.
Once the templates were cut from sticky-backed vinyl, I applied a template to the back of the segments of embroidery.
Then I took a very deep breath and cut the embroideries to the size of the neck openings. Another heavy sigh!
Clearly, I couldn’t leave those raw edges exposed. After a couple of false starts, I settled on stitching some bias cut fabric around the edges.
I initially thought I would pull that bias fabric around to the back, similar to a quilt binding. But… if you’re going to fill a hole, you need a way to hold everything together!
After much head scratching, I placed the embroidery on a larger piece of fabric backed with fusible web, pressed the bias-cut fabric strip open, and stitched around the base to hold things in place.
Once the “filler” was centered in the neckline “hole” and pinned firmly in place, I was able to flip the piece over and gently iron the larger fabric backing to the parts of the garment next to the neck hole. What would we do without iron-on sticky stuff?
Here’s a look at the first of the three huipiles. Yes, that’s a whole lot of pattern, color and texture in one small space. But after two trips to Guatemala, I’m convinced that the locals would approve of my choice to fill the hole with the beautiful embroidered flowers.
As for me, I’m delighted that I have finally solved this design dilemma. Now I can get this fabric over to the upholsterer and get my sofa project back underway!
Thanks for reading
Your attention is the greatest gift you can give to a writer. I appreciate the invitation to be a small part of your creative world.
If you would like to join the conversation, leave a comment below.
Brenda Broschard says
Stunning huipil to work with. I think I would have a difficult time cutting them up also. Beautiful colors. I’ve never heard of them before and the workmanship is outstanding.
You’re right, Brenda. The huipiles I purchased are absolutely gorgeous examples of work from the Chichi area.
Guatemala is a textile lover’s dream. The population is still about half Maya, and the Maya people have done an amazing job of preserving their textile traditions. If you ever have the chance to travel there, I highly recommend it.
You just made me enjoy the article the second time.
Awww… you’re welcome, Katy. I’d say it was my plan all along, but that would be a biiiiig stretch of the imagination! 😉
Debbi Maruyama says
Oh thank goodness…I thought it was me being techno challenged! Your repurposing of the huipil are brilliant and beautiful. The mix of colors and designs reminds me of Kaffee Fassett fabrics and his combinations are very wild and fun. Glad to hear from you again and hope you stay well.
In one of my usual projects, I seriously doubt that I would pack that much pattern into one place — let alone add a stripe to the piping. Yowsa!
But… when working with Guatemalan fabric, do as the locals would do. It’s perfectly normal to wear a heavily brocaded/woven/embroidered blouse with a striped or plaid skirt and an embroidered sash that is not related to either the skirt or the huipil (blouse). Kaffe would be totally at home there!
Angela Steen says
What beautiful and ingenious ideas you had to repurpose the huipil! You have given me inspiration to figure out what to do with the crewel work that my mother stitched on a shirt she made for me when I was a younger woman. I’m not able to wear the shirt any longer but I wanted to save her handiwork! I admit, I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it but seeing your creativeness gives me courage to go forward With some ideas! Make a pillow?? Sew it onto a pair of jeans cuffs? Thank you for including me in your blog!
Yay! I’m so glad you found an idea for your mom’s embroidery. Now that the seed is planted, I have no doubt that you’ll figure out just the right home for it.
Marty Meyer says
Your project is just beautiful! I am a fan of Mexican and South American Textiles and these are really nice.
Do any of your sources do mail order business? I would be interested. I don’t plan on traveling any time soon.
Hi Marty, I shopped for my huipiles at local markets in Panajachel and Antigua. My purchases were separate from the tour I took with Multicolores. (Multicolores.com) I’m not sure where you would be able to find huipiles online. One of the best places I know of for unique textiles from around the world is Cultural Cloth in Maidenrock Wisconsin. Jody and MaryAnn travel around the world buying textiles and crafts from women artisans and resell them online and in their store.
Shirley Sylvester says
I was fortunate enough while in the Yucatan to be gifted with a pupil + taught how to make one + do the Mayan embroidery stitch.The Mayan lady that was kind enough to teach me had for equipment only one large needle that looked like a darning needle,no scissors,just bit the thread off with her teeth.
Was informed that the main stitch has been used for 6,000 years in their culture.Was a very interesting lesson as l spoke no Mayan or Spanish,she no English.lt is a very thrifty stitch as it covers very quickly + with only the colored thread showing on right side + very little on wrong side.Came home with a whole under bed storage box full of all the colors l could find.Have made great use of it,full size quilt on my bed + window balances for sliding patio doors + 5 ft living room window.Still as bright + beautiful today as they were 22 years ago when l first made them.They are the warmest,friendly people + you are living my dream! Enjoy.
That sounds like a fabulous adventure Shirley! If you can share a photo of the stitching in your message, please send to email@example.com. I would love to see what you learned from your trip.
There is a huge variation in the weaving and stitching techniques among the Maya people. It boggles my mind to think that so many different traditions grew up right next to each other. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to visit not once, but twice. Especially with the total shutdown of travel for the immediate future.
Karen Louder-Strobe says
Welcome back! I’ve missed your inspirations to my creative self. I have always been good at self isolating, but I find it difficult when it’s not self-imposed. I’m looking forward to getting back into the world, too. I LOVE this latest concept and the richness of the fabric.
Thanks, Karen! It’s great to hear from you. I think LOTS of us are looking to rebuild connections — to get back into the world — in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our health.
Marcia Finger says
Your post really took me back – I visited Guatemala twice in 2001 & 2003 and I bought a huipil on one of the trips . I’ve been to the market in Chichi – and loved that also. My huipil has a white base with greens, oranges, reds and birds – each huipil design reflects the village/are of the maker. What you did with your huipil is beautiful. I’m not sure I can cut mine up. I also bought a similar embroidery piece with 20 some native birds on it. Both of these are languishing the closet. Time to bring them out and enjoy them. Thanks so much for your post!
That’s great, Marcia. It will be lovely to bring your embroideries out again.
So good to have you back in my mail box. I have missed you and your inspiration.
I to have found this world has tipped upside down. Thank goodness for being able to communicate though the internet as there is a world of inspiration right at our fingertips. We are blessed to have talented people like you. Welcome back!
Thanks, Lorraine! As much as I have enjoyed my time “offline” the past few years, we are truly blessed to have a way to communicate while we ride out the pandemic.
Barbara Williams says
Love hearing from you. You have always been a great inspiration to me.
Now I am making masks from your pattern. The fit is great!
Dusty Huxford says
Great to hear from you again. Love the beautiful work you shared. It’s always wonderful to see and enjoy textiles from other places around the world. I also miss the talk and hugs with family and friends. Stay safe and look forward to hear more about your adventures.
That’s the marvelous thing about textiles, Dusty. They are all made of the same basic stuff — but the variety is endless!
Romney Keane says
What lovely items, Shelly! You have certainly not lost your design eye since you have moved to Mexico.
Thanks, Romney. If anything, my time in Mexico has definitely informed my design and color choices. It’s wonderful to live in a place where bold color is the norm rather than the exception!
Ann Meyer says
Thank you so much for sharing your journey and process! I enjoyed your article so much! Your sofa is going to be a real treasure.
J Prince says
Welcome back Shelly! I have really missed your newsletters so happy and inspiration they bring to my own projects. What an amazing project! I love those colors. Several years ago ago a friend bought me a hand embroidered Mola piece while visiting relatives in Panama. I am inspired to find a way to use that lovely piece by your project. I love Kaffe’s fabrics and use many of them in my projects because of his bold color combinations. The huipiles really do remind me of his designs. Thank you for the resource mention. I am going to check them out. Looking forward to your next update on your creative journey.
Thanks, Jan. It’s great to hear from you as well!
Dorothy Bisek says
I love the way that you figure things out as you go along. So creative and such a beautiful outcome. Thank you. Be well!
Trial and error would be a good description of my thinking and creative processes. Lots of steps forward and backward, and then landing in a happy place.
The problem with blogging (and much of what gets posted on the internet), is that we (the authors) share the final iteration of the path we took. You don’t see all the back and forth and back and forth of the things that didn’t work out. In the end, it looks like it was a clean path from start to finish. But in reality it may have been a very messy process.
At least that’s the way it works in my life! 😉
Shirley M. Higginbotham says
Absolutely beautiful!! I can’t wait to see the finished upholstery project.
That makes two of us, Shirley!