Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Offering Cloth for a Saint Effigy

2009_042_189_D_SCR (1).jpg
Supplemental Tzut Patterning .jpg
Santo Tzut 20x Magnification.jpg


Offering Cloth for a Saint Effigy


This green and blue cloth is a santo’s tzutan all-purpose cloth often used as a male head covering. Green is commonly associated with Saint Joseph, perhaps indicating the identity of the saint it originally clothed. The machine-made lace is a Spanish influence, while the small decorative motifs are more traditionally Maya. These include what appears to be small plants and diamond shapes with emanating rays that likely denote the sun. Many highland Maya believe that the sun represents the fertile masculine element, reinforcing its placement on a santo’s tzut. Sun symbols also recall the Maya solar calendar, the sun god Tojil, and agricultural success. The santos are beseeched for intervention with the spirits, both Maya and Catholic; Saint Joseph is seen as the most powerful intercessor with Mary and Jesus, as he was the male head of the Holy Family.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guatemala, San Pedro Sacatepéquez


Kakchikel Maya




Cotton, silk

Credit Line

Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

Technical Notes

The lightweight textile of the santo tzut was woven from cotton threads. Patricia Ewer removed single fibers a few millimeters long from each of the colors of thread in the warp and weft directions. Viewing these samples with a polarizing light microscope, the characteristic twist of cotton was readily recognizable, distinct from the rough surface scales of wool and other animal fibers or the smooth extruded length of silk and modern synthetics. Samples of the lace and brocaded threads were also examined, revealing all to be cotton except for the pale purple supplemental patterning threads which are silk. Because it is not always possible to differentiate fibers by look and feel alone, the fiber types of many textiles included in the exhibition were confirmed using light microscopy.

For more conservation information, please see The Threads of Time Conservation Project.

Exhibition Checklist