A Quick Huipil
Some people have finished their Huipil already! Old friends Sue S and Lara and new friends Raquel in Taiwan and @rowinggranny – go and have a look at our #dresslikefridasal hashtag on Instagram, Well done!
On Tuesday I provided my huipil pattern which fits just about everyone. Here is a another even quicker way to make a Huipil, with no or minimal cutting out, two or three seams and hardly any finishing.
Aquire a nice old scarf. If it is longer than it is wide it can usually be folded over, and a head shape cut into it. You have to finish the neckline, or line it as I described on Tuesday. Easier still, is if you have a large square scarf, or even better two the same or sufficiently similar to work together. Sew them together at the sides leaving arm holes (about 10″/25 cm depth), and join them at the top for the shoulders, leaving around 10″/25 cms for the head. This doesn’t need lining, but you may wish to wear a T-shirt or camisole underneath.
Embellishing your garments
Lara mentioned, via Instagram, that the shapes are simple – what makes the difference is the embellishment. Or the fabric you choose. While I focus on the embellished Huipil here you might have a plain huipil and embellish the skirt, rebozo (shawl) or other accessories, such as a belt.
Here are some ideas:
Applique, attached braids or other panels
Many original Huipils have contrasting fabric, ribbons or braids appliquéd in a geometric pattern. Here the neckline is bound with the same fabric, probably cut on the bias. I noticed that in many cases the appliquéd panels are red and yellow, creating a nice bright effect.
The most beautiful Huipils are embroidered, generally with floral motifs. The bright colours used in Mexican blouses are very attractive and on a white (or black) background they pop. In the photograph we see Frida wearing this top, with what looks like fly-button cords. Mrs Mole adds: “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.” That’s a challenge.
Equally the black embroidery on a white ground is very dramatic. You could copy these motifs. This tunic length is also very attractive and easy to wear. If you plan to do some hand-embroidery on your huipil it may be worth considering your own embroidery traditions. I found a lovely book in the charity shop last weekend featuring Irish white embroidery, known as Mountmellick Work. The book included patterns for splendid plants like dog rose, blackberry, honeysuckle, forget me not, daisy and shamrock. How nice it would be to do an embroidered Huipil based on these patterns – either sticking with the original white work, or making them explode with colour. The author Jane Houston-Almqvist writes: “The designs are often quite large in scale – so large, in fact, that if they were worked in colour, the total effect would be garish and vulgar.” (p25) I find this warning rather amusing. In the UK we tend to have small, delicate flowers in soft colours, and many of us have complexions that are soft, washed out and delicate too. In hotter climates the plants are strong and showy – orange, red and yellow with big stamens and huge waxy leaves. And local complexions are darker and more vibrant, and strong sunshine makes the colours sing. White work and pastel colours suit light Celtic or English skins. But the Mexican palette is so beautiful and attractive. Frida lived in a blue house. Part of this challenge is to come to terms with how we feel about colours which may look “vulgar” to some (but to my eye they look exciting).
Attach lace, hand knitted (or crocheted) braid or already embroidered fabrics
My first Huipil was made with an amazing piece of Chinese embroidered silk, from an old skirt. I have had it for a long time – I bought it from the Royal College of Embroidery as it was in poor condition and not good enough for them to keep. It was not a full skirt and although I had hoped to turn it into a skirt it is not really ideal for such a use. At the exhibition I spotted that Frida had a Chinese skirt. She bought this in San Fransico’s Chinatown, and used Chinese embroideries on her built-up boots and prosthetic leg. So this was my chance to use a textile at once Frida-ish and at the same time something I felt at home in. I cut away part of the red central panel to allow my head to pass through and zig-zag satin-stitched the edges (like you might do with lace lingerie). The lower neck edge (the same at the back) was just turned in and hand sewn.
Painting on the fabric
I used a small piece of yellow linen for my second Huipil and drew stylised “tropical” flowers on it (rather than my traditionally English roses, peonies, sweetpeas, foxgloves, and hollyhocks. Initially I was planning to embroider them but I thought painting would be quicker. And it was! I was able to use colours that I have in my own palette, but I think I achieved a bit of a Mexican feel by using shading, and sticking to a bright colour palette.
Below is a proposed “Mexican palette”.
These are colours used in Mexican embroidery, and in the interiors of homes. Much of the vibrancy comes from counterposition of pink and turquoise, brick red and bright yellow, red and green. When you are working out how to embellish your Huipil or other items the use of two or three strong, bright shades could look stunning.
Are you going for a plain, or ornamented huipil? Anyone doing a slow, hand-embroidery project? What about cutting out flowers from printed fabric and appliquéing onto a new background? Anyone incorporated knitted or crocheted detail? Let us know how you are getting on.