This beautiful Huipil, made in Mexico by skilled artisan craftswomen is available from the Victoria and Albert museum for about £300. I believe this represents a fair price for the maker, transportation and other costs, and obviously a good mark up for the V&A which is one of my favourite charities. They write “This huipil is made by master artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico, whose knowledge and skills have been passed down from generation to generation. Crafted from a combination of satin and cotton, the fabrics are woven and embroidered by hand.”
I loved the caring and prayerful way the artist approached her work, pouring love into each creation.
We are going to make our own Huipil; a tunic traditionally made from rectangular pieces of fabric with machine stitched geometric panels, or with hand embroidered intricate floral designs.
As I mentioned last week, the V&A have supplied a free pattern! Thanks to Lisa and Trish S for bringing this to my attention. And thanks to Sue Stoney who has made it up. The instruction as well written although I don’t love the methodology for finishing the garment. Also if you are planning on several versions it may be worth your while to print the pattern.
Personally I wouldn’t print off a paper pattern, stick it all together and cut it out – in three sizes. The whole nature of folkwear and traditional garments is that this is an oral tradition, based on using fabric you have woven at home. Even the size is unspecific – it fits everyone! There probably is a version for little kids but it is roomy and will fit the average woman. Our western tradition of printed paper patterns, provided in different sizes, to some extent deskills us.
Week 2: How to make a Huipil
How to make a Huipil (or a local version thereof). Or a simple, square top.
Although the Huipil is worn throughout Latin America something very similar exists in most cultures. It is the sort of top anyone would make if they wanted a garment for the upper body. You cut a hole in a rectangle of fabric and put your head through it. You may sew up the sides. Or not (poncho style).
Last week we gave some consideration to the overall style and colour of our Dress Like Frida outfit. Today we are going to cover the blouse, or if you prefer tunic, or dress. The length is up to you. On Frida the blouse was generally worn over the skirt and it came down to about the hip, but occasionally it was tucked in.
Fabrics suitable for a Huipil
Sweaty knitter explained that traditionally the fabrics for these items would have been made with a backstrap loom, which I had never heard of. Here is an interesting blog which explains what the backstrap is, and explains how these small, portable looms are used.
I would suggest a good quality closely woven cotton, linen or silk for your top. Patterned or plain as you prefer, with the option of using lace, braid, embroidery or any other trimmings. Use this as an opportunity to work in a colour that you love or use items that have meaning for you eg vintage fabrics, hand-dyed cloth, old sheeting, pillow cases or table cloths, handmade lace, faded or patina’ed fabrics, material you bought on holiday.
This simple white linen Huipil includes a tray cloth hand-embroidered (probably) by my maternal Grandma, in typical English colours – pink, blue, lemon and a little bit of green. The scalloped edges are finished in green blanket stitch. I hemmed the huipil with dark green blanket stitch (just seen) and made pom poms in a similar colour palette. This top, despite the fullness (and the tunic length) is very comfortable and nice to wear at home, or over gym clothes as I cycle to the gym or pool. There is something very freeing about putting a garment on over the head with no fastenings.
How much fabric do I need?
The finished measurements for the genuine Mexican Huipil’s, sold by the V&A, are 27″(68.5 cms) across, with a length of 24″ (61 cms). (You do know that I carry a tape measure in my bag AT ALL TIMES don’t you?). Obviously the fabric needs to be double, so you can have a front and back. In the diagram below you will see that a Huipil is made with one piece of relatively narrow fabric, made on a hand loom, folded over, requiring no shoulder seam, using about 122cms of fabric. This works well if your fabric doesn’t have a direction (in terms of pattern or weave.
With wider factory produced fabric, to avoid waste I suggest the best thing is fold your fabric selvedge to selvedge and measure the width you want (ie somewhere between 60 and 75cms). The length will be half the original fabric width. My yellow linen has a width of 140cms, so the length of my huipil (before hemming is 70cms). Folded the whole thing has a square appearance. (The fold is at the top and the selvedge is by my feet)
You don’t have to line your Huipil, but you get a nice clean edge if you do. Simply cut a piece of lighter fabric for the lining exactly the same size as the huipil, press right sides together. Draw the desired neckline (see below) on the lining and stitch the two fabrics, right sides together. Press, cut out the head hole, close to the sewing line and turn through. Press nicely making sure the lining is to the inside. Now use the “buritto” method (how appropriate) to enclose the two side seams, leaving the hems open.
If you don’t wish to line your Huipil stitch narrow hems along all the raw edges. This is the easiest way to finish the blouse. Once it is embellished you just sew up the side seams (and hem if you wish, or rely on the selvedges).
I am copying this method from the Huipil’s I saw at the V&A. The side seam is slightly bulky as you are sewing two finished edges together. But as it is not a close fitting garment I don’t think this matters.
How big is the hole for the head?
I used some calico to try to guage the right size of hole for the head opening. For me a depth of 12cms, and a width of 20th is perfect. The 12 cms are measured so that 7cms goes to the front of the body and 5cms goes to the back. I choose a square neckline as I have an angular face. If you have a round face then it is likely that a rounded neckline may be more attractive on you. The shape in Frida’s book is squarish, with rounded corners. Draw the shape you want.
The idea is to do the embellishment before you make up the Huipil, so it may be a bit illogical to give you the instructions for the huipil before covering embellishment. However you may want to make a plain one first to get the dimensions right before you invest lots of time with your embellishment. I will deal with the various ways to customise and embellish your Huipil next week.
Do ask any questions below, and share what you are doing. Use the #Dresslikefridasal hashtag if you are on Instagram so we can all see what others are doing. Thank you!
Giveaway – finally if you would like to win a free copy of my book Making Life More Beautiful hop over to Diary of a Sewing Fanatic and leave a comment. If you are chosen by Carolyn I’ll send you one!