Cellulose is one of the main constituents of plants, and is suitable for textile making in many different forms. Cellulosic fibres come from several sources:
- seed and fruit hairs like cotton, kapok and milkweed
- stems, called bast fibres: linen, nettle, hemp, jute and ramie
- leaf fibres: sisal, yucca, raffia, piña
- bark fibres like those from the paper mulberry tree
Cotton belongs to the genus Gossypium of the Malvaceae family. It was domesticated in the Americas at least 4,500 years ago.The seed pod of the plant ripens and splits, revealing a boll of white or coloured lint. The raw fibres kink and interlock naturally, making them easy to spin into yarn.
Where was this textile created?
North America: Central America, Guatemala, San Juan Sacatepéquez; Cakchiquel Maya people
Mid 20th century
Woven cotton with supplementary weft patterning
56 cm x 92 cm
Gift of Evelyn Liesner
T99.38.1 Textile Museum of Canada
Maya women in Guatemala wear huipils such as this one with belts and skirts. This traditional costume looks much like the attire of the ancient Maya shown on ceramics and in frescos and paintings of the Classic Period (250 - 950 AD). The two rows of woven cotton creatures on this huipil depict opossums, and the “S” curves between them may be snakes.
Dyeing and manufacturing cotton causes environmental pollution, and efforts are underway to find organic methods of production. Foxfire cotton, for example, is a new cultivar grown and developed in the United States from naturally red, green and brown heritage varieties.
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