The Dress Like Frida Sewalong Week 2 How to make a Huipil (and a giveaway)

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.”

If you want to see how this work is done there is a charming and very interesting film available. I am most grateful to Helen from Cut it out, Stitch it up.

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.

Modern Huipil

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.

#dresslikefridasal
Kate’s English Huipil

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.

Frida Khalo's book
Book in Frida’s collection

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)

How to make a Huipil
Piece of yellow linen ready for lining

Lining

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.

Huipil Toile

Embellishment

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!

 

19 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Thanks for the inspiration and interesting information about the Huipil. Your English version is so simple but effective, not at all like a costume and a great use for heirloom linen.

    I have so many ideas floating around in my head for this – use some of the trims or laces acquired over the years or press my fancy sewing machine into action and do some embroidery. But on balance I think I will stick to my knitting. I haven’t yet reached my underarms so need to stay focused and not distracted by the next new shiny toy (or should that be top).

    • fabrickated

      I think this is the sort of pattern one can come back to. I often find half a metre or so of fabric, or some interesting trims, and can’t think what to do with it. Also, just before going on holiday, I often find I want a simple top to put over hot or sweaty skin and these tops are loose and lovely. Hope your knitting is going well Stephanie!

  2. 1stitchforward

    I love this initiative! I so want to jump on, but what really holds me back is the decoration bit. I have a creative block!

    Kate – does it ever happen to you and if so do you have any tips to get unstuck?

    xx Giorgia

    • fabrickated

      What a great question. I often have too many ideas and not enough time. If you are not feeling very creative maybe just make a plain white one, perhaps including some lace at the hem. Wear it and if you like it do some white (or colourful) embroidery on the front. You can add a bit more over time whenever you want a bit of handwork to do in the park or after dinner.

  3. Aida

    such an inspiring post and the video you shared is a real treasure, I’m so in traditions and different cultures so I enjoyed every bit of that video! I also like how detailed the post is including a plethora of information covering all the aspects of this project, I think when this sewalong posts will be completed it will be a good reference for others who will want to make a similar look in the future!

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for your very kind feedback Aida. I loved the video too – I do wish there were more programmes of this sort – really showing craftspeople at work. I have had lots of interest in these posts – it is such a nice simple approach to creating a unique outfit. And I love not having a pattern – its very freeing. I was sorry to hear about the horrible fire in Greece Aida and send love to you and your country.

  4. Bunny

    Great post and so informative, Kate. Thanks. I have to tell you of a recent experience that’s related. I was in the checkout line at a very busy supermarket and about three registers down, in line, was this darling twenty something. She was dressed in a white tee and jeans shorts. it was a very hot day. She had her hair pulled up to the very top of her head, just like Frida, and braided. Around the braids was a small vine of silk flowers wrapping the whole thing. She was right out of Frida’s playbook and looked positively unique and darling, as most twenty somethings do. I wanted to stop and compliment and ask her if she of Frida but she was out of line and gone way before me. Is Frida’s esthetic reaching into our younger people? I would say she was college age and polished in her look. I really wonder if she knew of Frida.

    • fabrickated

      What a nice story Bunny (you always have good stories, and you tell them so well). I think the youth are rather inspired by Frida – but sometimes people just have natural style and they discover something like this all by themselves. Personally I love long hair coiled up on an elegant neck, with added flowers in gorgeous colours.

    • fabrickated

      Yes! Good and useful link Juliana. Thank you. I will mention that when I get to my skirt post in a fortnight. I am keen to hear what your plans are – do share when you crack it.

  5. Jules

    Purl Bee has two tutorials for kids’ huipils (6-12 mos embroidered cotton jumper, and 4-7 embroidered denim jumper, as I remember). Their method and embellishments are slightly different, and quite charming, though anyone wishing to use their template should be aware that the neck cutout is much too large, and adjust accordingly.

  6. Raquel

    I’ve been enjoying making my hupils. It’s just the proportions and fit that I’m struggling with. I decided to use a boxy top to help me get it right. I’ve made a few, I’ll post them and I even wore one to dinner tonight.

    • fabrickated

      Oh my! Great progress. Yes I too have been playing around with the length and width of the huipil. Once made (using the lined version) you can place the side seams where you like. I have kept mine as wide as possible but they could skim the body and branch out to integral short sleeves.

  7. Helene Parenteau

    Thank you Kate for this insightful post. I love this preliminary stage where everything is possible. I have searched my personal cultural background for inspiration and I have something like 10 huipils to make! Will try to post my WIP in IG. Thanks again for all this xx

  8. mrsmole

    This seems to be the perfect project for ladies who have embroidery machines that have built in big flowers that have never been tried out. You could make embroidered strips and then connect them together for the same bordered look. If I had time I would make a panel or two but have to attach it to more princess shaped side panels for bust ease, in fact using a princess seamed top is a good place to start for a panel around 10 inches across (bust point to bust point) and you would have the neckline already shaped and possibly a facing too. Really looking forward to what everyone comes up with!

  9. Melanie

    Thank you for this information. I’m feeling inspired and really enjoyed the video too. Can you explain the ‘burrito’ method for finishing the sides of a lined houpil please?

    • fabrickated

      There are lots of good tutorials on the internet Melanie – just search “burrito method sewing”. This ensures that all the edges are neat and clean and will be useful for you in terms of finishing armholes and necklines.

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