posahuanco (skirt)


The cloth’s warp stripes includes cochineal-dyed silk, Purpura, a dye excreted by shellfish, and indigo-dyed cotton. It takes about 400 Purpura shells to dye one 12 oz. skein of cotton, and the dyers work three hours a day just to collect the secretion during low tide.

This skirt is a rare and excellent example of Mixtec dyeing and weaving skills. Three four-selvage webs have been stitched together with red thread: when the skirt is worn, the patterned warp bands are seen horizontally
This warp-faced wrap-around skirt has been dyed with natural colourants in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. The dyer has used cochineal-dyed silk (termed hiladillo) and indigo-dyed cotton to create pink and blue warp stripes. Lilac, the third colour, was achieved with the aid of a rare mollusk, Purpura patula pansa, which is found along isolated stretches of the Pacific coast. Dyers rub the foamy secretion of mollusks on to cotton yarn: contact with the air turns thread yellow, green and eventually purple. In 1909, after a visit to Tehuantepec, Zelia Nuttall wrote an important essay about this complex dyeing technique: 'A Curious Survival in Mexico of the Use of the Purpura Shell-fish for Dyeing' (Putnam Anniversary Volume). The British Museum has a similar example (AOA Am1977,07.2)

Today, wrap-around skirts are becoming rare, as women opt for skirts on waistbands. This exemplifies the pre-Hispanic style of dress. Mixtec weavers in Pinotepa de don Luis make skirts of this type for local women and for women in neighbouring Mixtec communities — traditionally, each community had its own distribution of warp stripes. Women in the Pototepa region went topless at home; in recent years, however, they have adopted bibbed aprons.

Purchased by donor in February 1967

This object is not on display.

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