The Dress Like Frida Sewalong Week 3 Embellishment

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

Frida Kahlo maroon velvet Huipil with appliquéd panels and bound neckline

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.

Kahlo embroidered Huipil
FK: Embroidered black and white tunic

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.

Appliquéd Chinese embroidered panel onto blue silk Huipil

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.

Fabrickated Huipil
Hand painted yellow huipil

Below is a proposed “Mexican palette”.

#dresslikefridasal Mexican palette
Mexican colour 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.





24 Responses

  1. Sue

    I’m beavering away on my second Huipil. I’ve just used a rectangle with a hole for the head as suggested in your last post, and I’ve printed the decoration on. Now I have to do some simple embroidery, which is this weekend’s project. I’m also working on my headwear and some trousers. It’s all go at chateau Sue!

  2. Giorgia

    Very interesting points on the different colour palettes and sifferent countries. That’s so true! If it’s true that our perception of colour is based on light then it makes perfect sense that the intense sunlight of certain places will affect our colour taste.

    I have to say I have huipil envy every time I see your chinese piece. It’s such a fantastic way to bring that history back.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Giorgia! I did a colour consultation last week with three English ladies – warm, light and muted. It made me think about our environment – usually misty, drizzly and grey. This bright sunshine is so unusual, but of course so uplifting and wonderful.

  3. Julia

    So clever and creative! Wonderful to see so many different interpretations.

    It has all taken me back to the early 70’s – I made a mid-blue long cheesecloth dress, the yoke embroidered with red, pink and yellow poppies and lots of black and green. I dyed a small pompon edging to get the colour I wanted, as with the fabric – much like the end one in the middle row of the chart.

    Frida Kahlo was unknown to me then, and believe it or not it was inspired by an article in Vogue showing Joan Collins and ‘the jet set’ at a resort in Mexico wearing huipils and other Mexican clothes! I cut off the yoke and still have it but rue the day I cut the garment up as it faded so much. I must dig out the yoke and see if I could at least make a little bag or something. Lesson to all you ladies!

    I still see the same pattern around on ebay and very momentarily thought ‘shall I remake it’, but a copy of something you wore in your 20’s is not necessarily a good look nearly 50 years later!

    It is wonderful to see so many young women sewing and crafting these days, and inspirational to see all that creativity out there.

    • fabrickated

      Your cheesecloth dress sounds lovely Julia. Do you remember the pattern number? I love the idea of pink, red and yellow poppies and I really hope you can re-purpose it somehow. That would be fantastic. Isn’t it interesting that we find it hard to let go items that we have put so much time, energy and love into? I treasure a Christening robe I made for my grandson and have kept it in the hope that maybe his son or daughter will also use it.

  4. Raquel

    It’s been fun working on the design details. I went to a second hand clothing stall at my local market and found some interesting pieces that I’m going to take apart . I’m trying to figure out how much to add so that It’s still wearable.

    • fabrickated

      It’s good to approach this via the inventory/de-stash route. I found almost endless possiblities. For me one of the best things is that I have used up some precious fabric (most dyed or printed by me) that was just languishing. The simple styles are sometimes the best way to deploy the best fabrics. Conversely these little tops don’t need much fabric so can sometimes use up what is no good for a carved out garment. Even short pieces can have trimmings or lace added to the base.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Jay. I have a couple more to show at some point, but I really must stop! Our summer cannot last much longer (tipped with rain this morning, and now very breezy).

  5. ceci

    Loving reading about all these projects! I have a bag of various textile things from overseas that I need to dig out and see what I can use. I think there is some wonderful embroidery on tiny muslin blouses my aunt made for me when I was a teen…..perhaps that could be appliquéd on to something more contemporary, it would be fun to have a tribute to her lovely work!


    • fabrickated

      Dear Ceci – what a terrific idea. I love the idea of saving these special commissions. I used to have some really small, Indian choli blouses made in brightly coloured cotton, almost like a bra with lots of darting, and edged with metallic hems and cuffs. I am sure they went to the charity shop at some point as a bare midriff was a look I couldn’t get away with past my early 20s!

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Anne. I am looking forward to seeing how your embroidered top works out. It can be a very effective way of making a plain top special and celebrating distinctive approaches.

  6. Manoli

    I am loving this Dress Like Frida inspirations. Your tops have left me swooning. Thank you so much for doing this.

  7. Karine

    Both your tops are beautiful and very inspiring. I’m far away from my stash and sewing machine at the moment, but I feel I have to make one! I may explore local 2nd hand shops tomorrow…

  8. Hélène

    Though all your iterations are lovely, your yellow huipil with painted flowers and motifs is stunning!

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