A simple garment with a complicated name

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Gala dress with finely woven quechquemitl from 1950s of the Otomi of Toliman, Querétaro

The name quechquemitl has various spelling variations and somewhat different pronuncations. The name originates from Nahuatl (meaning “neck garment”) as its use was originally limted to Nahua communities. In the colonial erea, it was adopted by various indigenous groups such as the Otomis, Tepehuas, Totonacs, Mazahuas.

 

The garment looks simiilar to and is most often worn like a poncho, but smaller and made a bit differently. It is made from two rectangular pieces of cloth, which traditionally are hand woven on backstrap looms. The ends of one piece are sewn onto a side of the other, making a triangular shaped garment and leaves a hole for the head without cutting.

 

Lengths and materials vary, depending on the community that makes the garment and its purpose. Wool and heavy cotton versions can be for warmth, while thin, delicate ones are decorative. Its use is concentrated among indigenous communities in central Mexico, such as Puebla, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, State of Mexico and Querétaro, but it can be found as far south and west as Michoacan, Morelos, Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca. It is used to cover the upper body of a women, although some communities use a modified version, which may be of fine gauze, as a head covering.

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Garment from Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo
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Two quechquemitles, one for the head and one for the shoulders from Santa Ana Hueytlapan, Hidalgo

Its original purpose was for warmth, and at one time could be worn with only a skirt. Today however, it is most often worn over a huipil or blouse, as part of an overall outfit. Its use is fading, with only women of traditional indigenous communities in certain areas wearing them, and even then only older women on regular basis. For younger generations, the wearing of the garment is being relegated to traditional festivals.

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Embroidery design for a Sierra Norte quechquemitl border (credit Yavidaxiu)
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Tzotzil quechquemitl and skirt from Chiapas

One area that is particularly noted for the wearing of this garment is the Sierra Norte of the state of Puebla, a wet, rugged mountain area that separates northern Puebla and Hidalgo from the Veracruz coast. The area’s rugged terrain and weather have kept it relatively isolated, with the Otomi and other indigenous communities able to keep a number of old ways and handcrafts. Here the finest gauze pieces woven, often reserving the most complicated patterns for quechquemitls, rather than for the huipil. In this area, the designs the quechquemitl can indicate the town or village of the wearer as well as the ethnicity.

 

Featured image-Huasteca quechquemitl from San Luis Potosi

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia or Leigh Thelmadatter unless otherwise indicated

 

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