Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Purple Corte (Skirt)



Purple Corte (Skirt)


As a Maya weaver, or more often an entire traditional indigenous family, takes on more intricate designs for jaspé cloths, the planning and execution become accordingly more challenging. Even machine-made examples, such as this skirt involve incredible amounts of effort to produce. The fact that jaspé textiles are both hand-made (more traditional) and machine-made (more changed), shows how important it is to maintain as a technique for indigenous-identifying Maya. This bespeaks the overall value on still placed on creating high-quality and time-consuming cloth, despite modern technology and its inevitable changes.

While the machine-made skirt has more threads per inch, which is relatively easier and quicker to accomplish with machines than with human fingers, it still reflects the same kinds of telltale blurry edges that signal the prestigious technique of jaspé. The imprecision itself is considered important, reminiscent of the Andean idea that irregularity (q’iwa) has a high value within a normally orderly aesthetic. In the case of jaspé, the inevitable serration of the edges indicates—especially to a textile-literate audience such as the Maya—how much went into the creation of this type of cloth. Expending large amounts of time, it could be argued, is a more traditional approach to textile making than an “efficient” modern, mechanized one. Therefore, even the machine-made skirt is defying Western and modern values in its own way.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guatemala, Santiago Atitlán


Kakchikel Maya


ca. 1945



Credit Line

Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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