Woman's rebozo (shawl) - ROM2014_14330_2


Woman's rebozo (shawl)

Medium:Silk and cotton tabby with warp ikat, silver and gold filé, and silk embroidery in stem and darning stitch
Geography: Mexico
Date: 1825-1875
Period: mid 19th century
231 x 71.5 cm
Object number: 979.141.4
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Newcomb
Not on view

Additional silk threads are knotted into the end fringes of this fine rebozo to simulate featherwork.


During the colonial period, clothing defined the racial and cultural hierarchy of New Spain, as Mexico was officially known. Native American women were allowed to retain traditional clothing styles. The elite, anxious to preserve links with Spain, predictably followed European fashions. Mestizas (Mexican women of mixed European and indigenous descent) were required by law to dress in the Spanish manner, unless married to Native Americans. Similar rulings applied to other racial permutations. After Independence, however, clothing evolved to become more 'Mexican' in style.


The Mexican rebozo (a rectangular shawl) has become a symbol of femininity and nationhood. Its origins probably lie with the spread of Christianity, which required women to cover their heads in church. Art from the 19th century shows Mexican women of all classes wearing rebozos. For some, rebozos were costly works of art. But for the majority, they were practical as well, sheltering the wearer from sun or cold, and enabling her to nurse a baby or transport heavy loads.


The knotted end-fringes are the work of empuntadoras (professional female fringe-knotters). It is a separate skill from weaving and is the final stage in rebozo production. Knotted patterns are passed on through generations and evolve with fashion. Today, fringes are longer and more decorative than they were in the past.


Ikat dyeing involves creating colour sequences by tie-dyeing select threads before they are woven. It is not known whether this technique existed in pre-Conquest Mexico, as it did in Peru, or if it was introduced after the Conquest. With Mexican ikat, only warp (vertical) threads are tie-dyed. Sets are tightly bound and dipped in a dye bath. The covered portions are reserved. If further colours are desired, the weaver binds new sections and re-dips.

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