Fill the Hole in a Vintage Guatemalan Huipil
On a trip to Guatemala in February, I purchased a number of vintage hupiles (Guatemalan blouses) from Chichicastenango region. I loved the geometric designs in the weaving and knew they would be perfect for an upholstery project. But… when you repurpose these used garments for a project, you have to Fill the Hole. And that can be an even bigger challenge than finding the huipiles in the first place!
In case you are wondering, huipil is pronounced wē-pēl′ with the accent on the second syllable. Each city/region of Guatemala has a distinctive style of huipil, making it possible to know where a woman is from — assuming she is wearing a blouse from her home community.
To take the photo above, I palace some of my early purchases on the back of the sofa and a gorgeous piece of Corte (women’s skirt fabric) on the cushions. The idea was coming together, if not the mechanics of making it happen.
Fill what hole? Yes, I hear your question. It’s not so obvious when the huipil is folded like a garment. But see that neckline? When you un-sew the side seams and lay the huipil flat, it creates a big, gaping hole. And, of course, you have to fill the hole with something that makes sense.
I debated about doing a project myself, stitching up bunches of flowers similar to the ones in this photo. But after weeks and weeks of not being motivated to get that done, I decided to use pieces from a vintage Guatemalan sash that I purchased on the same trip.
It just about killed me to cut into the sash. It was really a lovely example of rococo embroidery. I’ve used bullion knots in my embroidery, but the person who made this sash had the patience of a saint!
After stitching the two sections together with a heavy thread, I needed a template to help me match the size of the neckline openings. And, of course, the openings on each of the three huipiles were not the same. One was round, one was almost round, and the third was definitely an oval.
Rather than trying to draw this stuff out by hand, I used my Silhouette cutting machine software to make the three templates, adjusting the size of the ovals to match each of the three huipiles.
Once the templates were cut from sticky-backed vinyl, I applied a template to the back of the segments of embroidery.
Then I took a very deep breath and cut the embroideries to the size of the neck openings. Another heavy sigh!
Clearly, I couldn’t leave those raw edges exposed. After a couple of false starts, I settled on stitching some bias cut fabric around the edges.
I initially thought I would pull that bias fabric around to the back, similar to a quilt binding. But… if you’re going to fill a hole, you need a way to hold everything together!
After much head scratching, I placed the embroidery on a larger piece of fabric backed with fusible web, pressed the bias-cut fabric strip open, and stitched around the base to hold things in place.
Once the “filler” was centered in the neckline “hole” and pinned firmly in place, I was able to flip the piece over and gently iron the larger fabric backing to the parts of the garment next to the neck hole. What would we do without iron-on sticky stuff?
Here’s a look at the first of the three huipiles. Yes, that’s a whole lot of pattern, color and texture in one small space. But after two trips to Guatemala, I’m convinced that the locals would approve of my choice to fill the hole with the beautiful embroidered flowers.
As for me, I’m delighted that I have finally solved this design dilemma. Now I can get this fabric over to the upholsterer and get my sofa project back underway!
Thanks for reading
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