Threaded Roots Curated by Lisa Moreno

Textiles are defined as being a type of cloth or woven fabric. Natural fiber materials such as cotton are loomed, woven, and/or embroidered using colors and geometric attributes to embed rich symbolism and deep-rooted culture.

Mexican textiles are not only one of the most admired forms of craftsmanship but highlight the beauty and complexity of the textile history. Each textile shows the country’s persistence to preserve cultural history and significance.

Image: Tapestry. ca. 1986. Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan. 1986.07.073

The creation of cloth for clothing started off as barrier against extreme climates and eventually became more than just a necessity, but a way to transform our appearance, woven with hours of labor that tells us a story of our past and present.

Textiles of Mexico today derived from the indigenous people of Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican times. Xochiquetzal was the Aztec goddess of fertility, sexuality, pregnancy, and female handicrafts such as weaving. Weaving in Mesoamerica was done by a backstrap loom and weaving techniques were considered sacred and taught at an early age by the women of the household. Textile products in Mesoamerica were predominantly made of cotton fibers and clothing exhibited flat, untailored structures such as the huipil, a pre-Hispanic tunic.

Huipils were made out of two pieces of cloth stitched together with weaving and embroidery patterns created by rich vegetable and animal-dyed thread, shells, feathers, and needles made from agave leaves. Vegetable dyes were extracted from ‘dyeing plants’ such as the Indigo flower and the Tzeltal kanté. The typical colors achieved from the Indigo flower were hues of blue, and from the Tzeltal kanté, hues of yellow. Threads dyed these colors were used to embroider clothes and other textiles to represent natural elements while designs of animals, trees such as the Huastec purse, and the moon and sun represented life, gods, and tales of creation. Each cloth was more than just product, but a form of communication with symbolic properties that evoke meaning, regardless of context.

Tzotzil artist. Huipil. ca. 1985. Bochil, Chiapas. 1985.18.037

The arrival of the Spanish brought significant changes in textile production and garment style. Men were introduced to the treadle loom, and thus became the main laborers in obrajes, or textile producing factories. The obrajes, under Spanish direction brought different textile materials and style, slowly stripping away the pre-Columbian culture. Garment production techniques changed to produced fitted European style clothing, quite different from the huipils. Indigenous laborers in obrajes were often treaty harshly as the demand increased for cotton and other textiles. Cotton textiles became associated with social ranking and was primarily used by the Spaniards, while indigenous people used less expensive wool fibers for textiles.

Image: Tablecloth. ca. 1968-1978. Mexico. 1978.17.007

The Mexican War of Independence resulted in the shift of leadership and a new culture created that bonded pre-Hispanic roots with new elements. The Mexican Revolution brought a national attempt to create a Mexican identity which can be visible in textiles from the 20th century. The charro gown and charro outfit soon became significant, becoming part of the new Mexican identity. As the textile industry expanded, table cloths and other household fabric goods were now more accessible.

The art of hand-dyeing, weaving, and embroidery is disappearing due to the pressure of modernization, globalization, and the introduction of synthetic fibers. Few indigenous groups, such as the Wixarika (Huichol) people still continue to wear and produce traditional textiles rich in threaded storytelling.

Wixarika. Shirt and Pants set, ca. 1983. Jalisco, Mexico. 1984.03.104.001-.002

Although the number of indigenous groups are declining, their impact on textile significance is still of great importance. Today, Mexican textiles can be made from 21st century synthetic materials and dyes, but the symbolism, culture, and motifs are part of a continuous history.


was curated by Lisa Moreno

All artwork featured in this exhibition is part of the International Museum of Art & Science Permanent Collection. Unless otherwise stated, Copyright of the artwork is the exclusive property of the artist. No reproductions may be made from this website for commercial use for any reason without written permission from the Copyright owner.


  1. Textiles As History: Clothing Clues To 500 years of Mexican Acculturation. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1557&context=tsaconf
  2. Blum Schevill Margot, Berlo Janet Catherine, Dwyer Edward B. Textile Traditions of Mesoamerica and the Andes: An Anthology. University of Texas Press, 1991.
  3. DeLeon Breanna. Obrajes in Colonial Latin America, 2020,  https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/5b31f9d24e1946ff9ec5b6ec89fd98ba
  4. Folk Art Textile Guide. https://www.mexican-folk-art-guide.com/mexican-textiles.html#.Xw9Muy2ZNmA
  5. Guirola Christina. Natural Dyes Used in Mesoamerica Since Prehispanic Age. Asociacion FLAAR Mesoamerica, 2010.
  6. Pubalina, Samanta. A Review on Application of Natural Dyes on Textile Frabrics and Its Revival Strategy. IntechOpen, 2020. https://www.intechopen.com/online-first/a-review-on-application-of-natural-dyes-on-textile-fabrics-and-its-revival-strategy