0 comments / Posted by Claudia Martinez
The people of Mexico have always had an unshakeable bond with their homeland. The native food and drink is unmistakable, delicious, and known the world over. What many people don’t know though–or take for granted–is that just as much as with their food, their drink, and their land, Mexico has a history rich in textiles. The craft of turning the products of their verdant land into clothes and usable products dates back to a time between 1800 and 1600 BCE.
Before the Spanish came and conquered the country, the most commonly used fibers were palm trees and yucca plants. Cotton grew in the more humid areas towards the coast and, when the Aztecs finally conquered those lands themselves, they began using cotton for their clothing. Cotton at the time was held in an extremely high esteem. Only upper class citizens could wear cotton garments and cloth from cotton was even used as currency. Women were buried with their handmade woven items perhaps to please one of the Mesoamerican gods of weaving they worshipped.
All of that changed for the textile “industry” in Mexico once the Spanish colonized the country. The Spanish didn’t care for the more tribal style of clothing. They found it to be much too rudimentary and the backstrap looms they used could not produce cloth fine enough for their tastes. The Spanish fashion at the time was a mélange of Asian, Egyptian, and European styles and they wanted their new country to reflect those styles. Initially, they imported silk fabric and wool from Spain. Soon, they were importing silkworms and sheep. Eventually, the Spanish imported their well-made foot pedal looms. The Spanish trained the Mexican people in the ways of European weaving and by 1580, Mexico, specifically the regions of Puebla, Oaxaca and Tlaxcala, had turned into one of the most productive areas for silk cloth and wool production. The Mexican people were able to export their textile goods all across the world and build a sizable income doing so.
By the 19th century French immigrants from Barcelonnette arrived and with them they brought mechanized weaving by steam powered machines. After the Mexican Revolution, electricity became the preferred means of energy instead of steam. By the 20th century, much, if not all, commercial textile production was by sewing machines.
Commercially, textile manufacturing is the fourth largest manufacturing activity in the country, accounting for 1.2% of the total GDP. Both the pre-Hispanic styles and the colonial manner of dress are prevalent in current Mexican handcrafting as well as embroidery and using traditional backstrap looms. There is a Textile Museum in the former monastery of San Pablo in the city of Oaxaca. The museum boasts a collection of over 4,000 pieces including pre-Hispanic, colonial and all the way up to modern textiles such as quechquemilts, enredos, huipils, wall hangings, skirts and rugs. The textile industry, whether it be commercial or historical, still informs and enriches the people of Mexico’s, and the world’s, lives today.
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