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A few months ago I spotted a top at my thrift store and knew I'd buy it before even trying it on. Luckily it fit beautifully! It was just too pretty to pass up and right away I knew there was a story behind this garment. I could infer that it was handmade and that it was clearly Mexican or South American. It's made from a black rayon, there is no tag of any kind, the front and back are the same size and shape and the embroidery was definitely done after the garment was made.
I've worn it often since I bought it and get comments on it every single time! Fast forward a few months and I spotted a blog post by Fabrickated talking about a traditional Mexican garment called a Huipil as part of her "Dress like Frida" series (she has such a fun blog, you should spend some time reading the series and her other content. Plus there is lots of Frida and huipil eye candy!) Thanks to her post, my thrifted shirt mystery is solved and I have had some fun researching this tradition this week so I can share it with you here.
If you have time, I truly enjoyed this BBC video Fabrickated linked to, highlighting a modern day huipil artist. If you're short on time, start at the 15 minute mark where she starts the embroidery process, it's fascinating. It's almost more like crochet, it appears?
As for making a huipil, the basic shape is so easy! Basically, it's a rectangle with a neck hole, sewn together at the sides leaving space for your arm holes (mine actually does have shoulder seams, but not all do). It makes me smile because I have witnessed many children learning to sew doll clothes and making it up as they go, and the huipil style is usually what they come up with intuitively!
While the main pattern may be simple, the embroidery and embellishment certainly is not. This is a skill that we can all appreciate and admire as textile artists, knowing how many hours go into each of these beautiful traditional garments. (The following image does not belong to me, but unfortunately was uncredited on Pinterest. Don't pin from google images, people!)
You can see some of Frida's clothing and examples, plus an interesting take on her role as a fashion icon in this Forbes article. My daughter Natalie recently listened to the Who Was... audiobook about Frida Kahlo and enjoyed it. Her actual life has quite a bit of adult content, so this version is not for kids, but the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class did an excellent series on Frida if you're interested in that.
And just for fun, here are some Frida-inspired fabrics! This first one is called Esperanza and you can find it in person or online at Joann stores in a couple of colorways.
And of course Spoonflower has plenty of good ones (people are SO CREATIVE!) including this adorable doll panel:
I also like this one:
And this panel! So cute!
Interestingly, my parents, who lived in Mongolia for several years have gifted me some Kazakh embroidery over the years and the technique is surprisingly similar. I have some pillow shams from India and those are very similar too! The world really is all linked together, no?