Wrap It Up

The rebozo is a traditional Mexican garment with many uses
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

The rebozo is a long, flat garment that is a powerful symbol of Mexican culture and identity. It’s worn mainly by Mexican women, usually folded or wrapped around the shoulders and/or head. You would possibly call it a shawl.

The origin of the rebozo is not known, but it likely had its beginnings among the lower, mestizo classes in the early colonial period. The most traditional rebozos show colors and designs from the colonial period, and mestizo women (who could not afford expensive Spanish items) likely wore them to distinguish themselves from indigenous women.

But by the 1800s, the popularity of the rebozo had grown so that all women, regardless of their ethnicity or social class, wore them. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 brought the rebozo notoriety, as it was the garment of choice for the 'Adelitas' - rebel women who assisted the male soldiers and who used it to smuggle guns and other weapons past government checkpoints.

Today, a cotton or rayon rebozo is worn in daily life by women in rural areas of Mexico. It is used as a carrier for babies and toddlers, and is used to carry produce. It is worn in holy places, during mourning, and as shelter from the sun and rain. It is part of the national costume. The silk rebozo is worn as a decorative garment for social occasions. The wool rebozo is worn for warmth in the highlands, where they are produced.

Mexico is the main producer and exporter of rebozos. The average time to make a traditionally woven rebozo is 30 to 60 days, with anywhere from15 to 200 different steps in the process, depending on how complicated the design is and the type of fiber used. For example, rebozos made of real silk take longer to weave.

The dying process is done before weaving, with the most common technique the ikat method, sometimes called “amarrado”. In the most traditional work, thread is dyed with natural dyes, in colors like black, blue, red, purple and green, but synthetic dyes are now often used.

The patterns of the garment are determined by a sequence of colors dyed into the thread, with color changes made that are similar to tie-dying. Groups of threads are tied together tightly at intervals so that the dye cannot enter some areas. After dying, the knots are cut off. The weaving begins by cutting the threads to the length of the final product. The number of threads determines the width. They are woven on both backstrap looms and European style looms.

The groups of threads are then placed on the loom in order to work out the design that the body of the cloth will have. After weaving, the last rows of the weft are finger woven to secure them, which is complicated and meticulous work, often done by women specialized in this. In some areas, after they are finished, rebozos are “smoked” with rosemary branches or are stored with apples in order to make them smell good.

The survival of traditional rebozos are threatened because there are fewer specialist weavers. Machine manufacture are not the same in either quality or detail. It is not that machine manufacture is taking over, but hand-made takes much longer and therefore the costs are higher.

There are as many patterns and ways of making rebozos as there are communities in Mexico, each made with endemic materials or traditional patterns or images. It would be impossible to describe each pattern, but I can tell you these pieces of clothing are now very chic and fashionable, and some women even have collections of rebozos, acquiring different garments from different regions.