General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Sep 2017/13 Flint
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Figurine of an Aztec woman wearing a quechquemitl

Ideas for MAKING A COSTUME

This is a project we’ve been meaning to ‘nail’ for AGES! Sorry it’s taken so long... We hope(d) to draw on the services of serious experts in this field, but in the meantime, here’s our own simple step-by-step guide to making the most common type of quechquémitl - a pre-Hispanic style of women’s blouse that is pretty well unique around the world and which dates back in Mexico around 1,500 years! (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: The quechquémitl hasn’t changed its basic design in Mexico for over 15 centuries...
Pic 1: The quechquémitl hasn’t changed its basic design in Mexico for over 15 centuries... (Click on image to enlarge)

The quechquémitl is usually described as a triangular woman’s cape or shawl. But as Donald and Dorothy Cordry write in their classic work Mexican Indian Costumes (1968) the garment is not really cape-like ‘as it has no opening except the aperture for the head, while a cape has a vertical opening at the front, back, or side. The term shawl-like is equally misleading. It is also wrongly described as triangular... When the two points are placed one on top of the other, a square of two layers of cloth is formed - with a V for the neck. However, when the garment is put on, it gives somewhat the impression of a triangle due to the horizontal shoulders of the wearer...’

Pic 2: The Aztec/Mexica goddess Mayahuel sports a quechquémitl in the Codex Magliabecchiano
Pic 2: The Aztec/Mexica goddess Mayahuel sports a quechquémitl in the Codex Magliabecchiano (Click on image to enlarge)

The Cordrys suggest that the word quechquémitl comes from the Náhuatl quechtli (‘neck’) and quémitl (‘garment’). Patricia Rieff Anawalt, in her scholarly work Indian Clothing Before Cortés (1981) suggests quechtli and quemi (‘to put on a manta or cape’). The general idea is clear. The quechquémitl could be worn either as the sole upper-body garment, or over another costume item. When depicted in the codices, the quechquémitl was only shown worn by goddesses and in ritual contexts, and so it’s believed to have been an item of special-purpose clothing in pre-Hispanic days.

Pic 3: STEP 1
Pic 3: STEP 1 (Click on image to enlarge)

Professor Rieff Anawalt describes the quechquémitl as ‘a women’s slip-on garment made of two rectangles of material joined so that when they were laid one atop the other they formed a square with a V at the neck.’ With that in mind, let’s have a go at providing some basic instructions...

STEP 1. Cut two identical pieces of cotton material into rectangles - ours are 30” in length each. A rough guide to size is that the fabric covers your body from back to chest...

Pic 4: STEP 2
Pic 4: STEP 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

STEP 2. Place the end of one of the pieces of material over the end of the other piece, at right-angles, and sew the two pieces together, as indicated (see Pic 4).

Pic 5: STEPS 3 & 4
Pic 5: STEPS 3 & 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

STEP 3. Fold the loose end of the first piece of material (on the left) back over itself and lay it over its other end (ie you’ve folded the first piece in half) - see Pic 5a. NOTE! Notice the position of the hand underneath.

STEP 4. Repeat this procedure with the other piece of material (see Pic 5b). Your quechquémitl has now taken shape, in principle. NOTE! Keep a hand under these two folds...

Pic 6: STEP 5
Pic 6: STEP 5 (Click on image to enlarge)

STEP 5. Sew the TOP TWO folds together (NOT the whole garment - remember where your hand was in Steps 3 & 4? It was in between the bottom and top layers.) (See Pic 6). You may like to turn under or sew the raw edges at the neckline and bottom of the quechquemitl. You can also add fringe here if you like.

Pic 7: Two traditional Mexican quechquémitls
Pic 7: Two traditional Mexican quechquémitls (Click on image to enlarge)

Job done! Fingers crossed it fits...
Let us know how you get on!

Picture sources:-
• All photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore, except
• Stone Mexica woman figure in the National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City (Pic 1 left): photo by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Pic 1 (right): source unknown
• Pic 2: Image from the Codex Magliabecchiano scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1970

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