Just Cross-Stitch Reprise

Closeup of a cross-stitched yoke from Bachajon.
Closeup of a cross-stitched yoke from Bachajon. Photo by Chip Morris.

When I was about seven years old, my mother gave me a cross-stitch kit for Christmas. Along with several skeins of embroidery floss, it had a piece of cotton fabric stamped with the pattern of a little house, some flowers, and the motto “Home Sweet Home.” Oh, I struggled. I didn’t know to make all the stitches go in the same direction, and the fabric was not the even-weave kind that makes it easy to create uniform stitches. I did eventually finish it, and stuffed it in a drawer never to try cross-stitch again.

I was immersed in cross-stitch, though, when I was editing Chip Morris’s book, Maya Threads, that traces the evolution of designs and techniques in the clothing of Maya women in Chiapas, Mexico. Cross-stitch plays a huge role in textiles all over the country (all over the world, actually). You find it among the Tzotzil huipils of the central highlands, and the Tzeltal huipils of the jungle lowlands. You see it on shoulder bags, ceremonial cloths, household goods. The designs range from extravagant and wildly colorful to simple and understated, often covering every inch of the cloth. The skill and persistence, practiced by everyone from small girls to ancient crones, is impressive. Just look!

A young girl from San Andres works cross stitch in the local style.
A young girl from San Andres works cross-stitch in the local style. Photo by Chip Morris.
The huipils of Santa Marta are dainty and refined, the cross stitch motifs mimicking those of traditional woven.
The huipils of Santa Marta are dainty and refined, the cross-stitch motifs mimicking those of traditional woven. Photo by Chip Morris.

 

 

In this style of huipil in El Bosque, the square cross stitch yoke is worked directly on the fabric of the huipil.
In this style of huipil in El Bosque, the square cross-stitch yoke is worked directly on the fabric of the huipil. Photo by Chip Morris.

 

Tzeltal weekend: A young girl in the hamlet of Sibaca wears a huipil with cross- stitched yoke and a wide border of satin-stitched flowers.
A young girl in the hamlet of Sibaca wears a huipil with cross-stitched yoke and a wide border of satin-stitched flowers. Photo by Chip Morris.
Girls in the market at Abosolo wear the popular style of a separately made cross-stitch yoke with lace trim on a simple white huipil.
Girls in the market at Abosolo wear the popular style of a separately made cross-stitch yoke with lace trim on a simple white huipil. Photo by Chip Morris.

I’m much better suited to reading about cross-stitch and looking at lush photographs of it than I am to actually picking up needle and thread, and I love thinking of the kind of life where fine handwork is a source of personal pride, a cultural imperative even when such necessities as food and shelter are challenging. Maya women would shake their heads if they could see the crude old sampler of my childhood. What’s wrong with these gringas? They might say. The answer would be very complicated.

—Linda Ligon

 

Maya ThreadsLearn more about the culture of cross-stitch in Maya Threads, available at Amazon, ClothRoads, and your favorite bookshop.

 

 

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