Preserving Maya Roots: Ch'ol Embroidery

“For those not familiar with Ch'ol embroidery, the best way to explain it is to say that it is an ancestral embroidery from the time of the Mayas themselves that has been passed throughout generations and it is done to preserve the knowledge from our ancestors” –Diana Laura

Among the many cultural expressions of the state of Chiapas, there is the textile craft of the Maya-Ch’ol people, which has had a new boom due to the quality and beauty of embroidery. At Lolo, we are proud to present the work as the pieces of art that they are, full of history, tradition, love, and respect.

Join us in this very special highlight, where we introduce Diana Laura Montejo Arcos, a Maya-Ch’ol artisan from the community of Amado Nervo, in Yajalón, Chiapas and the work that she does in her workshop Ibojñilel Puy. She kindly took a call from us to explain in detail the very important meaning of her culture, embroidery, and the path that she has taken to preserve this generational work.

The Ibojñilel Puy Collective started when Diana Laura saw the Ch’ol embroidery from Amado Nervo disappearing and decided to quickly act on it. Together, alongside her community, she presents the colorful and vibrant legacies that their Ch'ol ancestors left them with.

About Diana and Ibojñilel Puy Ch’ol artisans:

Diana learned to embroider from her grandmother whom, she tells us, Diana considers to be one of the greatest Ch’ol women embroiderers who transmitted the cosmovision of her Maya ancestors. Today, for Diana it is important to preserve and continue passing on this knowledge, with her grandmother and ancestors as an example and inspiration.

Diana’s embroidery workshop, Ibojñilel Puy, was consolidated in 2016 with the mission of preserving and promoting the Maya-Ch'ol culture through embroidery. She currently collaborates with 47 women artisans from her community and others that surround it in the workshop to create designs, guaranteeing the authenticity of every piece.

About Amado Nervo Ch’ol embroidery:

Diana kindly took the time to tell us about the process to make the traditional Ch'ol blouse. She explained that first, they select the fabric, which is usually manta or fresh cotton that is thick enough to resist the embroidery and that will last for generations. Then, they mark all patterns and measurements, to proceed to cut the fabric.

But they will not start embroidering immediately; Ch’ol embroidery requires lots of planning. Before drawing the design on the blouse, they select the colors of the threads and/or yarns that will be used and carefully mark where all stitches will go.

To do so, they begin marking their guide, or what they call “camino/path,” for the center rectangle that runs from the collar to the bottom hem of the blouse. For this, they mark strokes down the collar, one mark for every centimeter, and then repeat this process across.  After marking the strokes, the lines come together and create small squares in the marked rectangle, thus obtaining the drawn base of the distinguished Ch'ol embroidery.

After having the rectangle filled with marks of tiny squares, now their chosen model is marked. Diana explained that it may be that the blouse is made of rhombuses, pyramids, slanted lines, or an inverted pyramid. With this base, Diana told us, one can “play” and create other models.

To begin embroidering they use a hoop that is placed on the fabric so that it is firm when starting to embroider, and so the magic begins. They usually begin by choosing a strong thread color, like red or black, that will guide the eye on the pattern that was planned, and then they add the contrasting colors and tones that highlight their intricate geometric patterns. Diana explained how the choice is up to each artisan, depending on what she wants to show about her culture, her essence, her taste in colors, and even her mood.

Once the central guide is finished, they turn to embroidering the final details they want to add in the shoulders, collar, and/or sleeves. They then join the blouse together from the sides and hem the seams with machine for a clean cut. From there, it is a final wash and ironing, and the piece is ready to go home!

It is important to mention that this process, though quick to read, can take from 5 to 30 days to be finished, depending on the time the talented artisan dedicates to it!

About the Meaning of Ch’ol embroidery

According to what Diana tells us, the meaning of Ch'ol embroidery represents their life and cosmovision of the world. Although it gets adapted for, what she called “more modern pieces,” in traditional Ch’ol embroidery, the rhombuses can be seen as a pyramid, with heaven, earth, and the underworld represented. The center is union, duality (man/woman, day/night) the place to find ourselves, where wisdom, growth, and support are acquired. The stairs of the pyramids (or the rhombuses) are the meeting with our brothers/sisters, with the son/daughter, friend, and especially the elders that take the other by the hand to teach the path of wisdom until, when ready, one can start their journey and instruct the next.

The colors also have their meaning for the Ch’ol. Red and orange are the colors of the sun, who is life and their guide. Blue and green in Ch'ol represent heaven and earth. Purple and yellow are the colors of corn, and black is the color of the underworld which includes darkness, night, and infinity, which is also part of life.

The importance of the Ch'ol embroidery technique for Diana and her compañeras is of great relevance because it means the rescue of a tradition and its conservation. For us at Lolo, it also means generating a safe income and reliable point of sale for indigenous groups in their communities. It is through all the artwork that they create that there is a real impact to the economy of their families and communities and in which we can ensure the preservation of generational knowledge that, otherwise, would be lost.

 ---

Did you like Diana's story? Were you familiar with the meaning and process of this technique? What other artisan would you like to see a highlight from? We love to read your comments, which you can make in the comment section below. Also, as usual, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter if you would like to receive more articles like this one and to check out our shop to get the latest from Mexico.

If you are interested in acquiring any of Diana's Ch'ol blouses with true Mayan technique, or any other blouses we recommend checking out the wide variety of Mexican Blouses that Lolo offers!

Artisan's profiles: the faces behind our productsArtisanal techniques: how it's made

Leave a comment