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A sarape is a colorful item of clothing that is worn by peoples in South America, Central America, and Mexico. Not to be confused with ponchos, sarapes are long rectangular garments that can be wrapped around the body much like a shawl for protection against cold and other natural elements. The garments were originally made in Coahuila, which is in north-eastern Mexico.
Coahuila is near the city of Saltillo. Textiles are still created in the Saltillo region today. The descendants of many of the people in Saltillo trace back to the early Chichimecs, a people who migrated from the Casa Grande area of Northern Mexico to central Mexico.
Sarapes that are made in this area are often referred to Saltillo sarapes. Textiles from this region are often designed with bright bands of color such as yellow, orange, red, or green, against a dark field such as brown or black. There are, however, sarapes that are made in lighter palates with white or cream fields and pastel bands. Like many shawls, the ends of sarapes are often fringed.
Sarapes have been made for many generations and they are still produced today. Sarapes of many different designs and qualities can be purchased in today’s market. In the main, they are sold in the Southwestern United States, or to shops dedicated to this region of the world. They may also be imported. Discerning buyers may seek out vintage sarapes. A vintage sarape may be interesting to a collector because of the craftsmanship or specific design evident in the garment.
Although the term sarape is meant to refer to a shawl, not a poncho, the term is used differently in Guatemala. In Guatemala, sarape is used to define a garment much like a poncho. In this country, sarapes are heavy wool blankets that have an opening in the center. The wearer inserts his head through the opening and wears the Guatemalan sarape as a poncho. Some Guatemalan sarapes are created with matching hoods to cover one’s head. In general, a sarape is long enough to reach the knees of a person of average height.
Although the color palates are often the similar in Guatemalan sarapes as Saltillo sarapes, the designs within the fabric are quite different. Furthermore, the use of bright colors in Guatemala sarapes is less common. Design patterns in Guatemalan sarapes are large and often incorporate Mayan motifs rather than simply bands of color. Guatemalan sarapes are generally handmade by women in the communities who use personal looms to create the garments. Then a broker, often a member of the community, takes the garments to local markets.
A sarape is only one of many different garments that are traditionally associated with Latin America. Some of these other clothes are also made of a single piece of fabric that is usually worn as a shawl, but they are distinguished from sarapes by size, cultural origin, or the method of wearing.
What is a Rebozo?
A rebozo is a fringed, patterned Mexican garment traditionally worn by women. A rebozo can be worn around the torse like a shawl, draped over the head, or even used to carry a baby on one’s back. Modern rebozos can be made from cotton, wool, silk, or synthetic materials; their colors and patterns vary greatly and can often be traced to specific parts of Mexico.
What Is a Poncho?
A poncho is a traditional Latin American cloak that is thought to have originated in the Andes Mountains. Ponchos are usually a single sheet of fabric with an opening for the head; they rest on the shoulders and keep the torso warm. Many also have hoods. As with sarapes, ponchos are traditionally handwoven and colors and designs vary from place to place. Some of the oldest ponchos discovered (in Peru) have elaborate embroidery depicting birds, monkeys, and other animals. Ponchos have been adopted and adapted by many cultures. Today the most familiar form in the US is probably a plastic rain poncho which usually has sleeves and closed sides; the US military has its own standard-issue ponchos. Ponchos made from many types of fabric are popular fashion accessories around the world.
What Is a Lliklla?
A lliklla is also a woven garment that originated in Latin America and drapes over the shoulders, but it is smaller than a poncho or a sarape and is held in place by pinning the edges together at the upper chest. It was developed by the Quechua people of the Andes and is traditionally worn by women.
What is a Huipil?
A huipil is a traditional garment worn by indigenous women throughout Mexico and Central America. A huipil consists of up to five rectangular pieces of cloth connected by ribbons or decorative stitching. A huipil is designed to fit very loosely and can be anywhere from waist-length to ankle-length. Huipils were invented well before the arrival of Europeans and their colors, embroidery, and other embellishments can vary considerably between areas. Traditionally they are made from handwoven cotton, but huipils sometimes use silk or wool instead.
What is a Guayabera?
A guayabera is a lightweight long- or short-sleeved shirt popular in many parts of Latin America. Guayaberas have verticle rows of very small pleats on both the front and back and either two or four pockets. Although the color and cuffs are similar to those on button-down dress shirts, guayaberas have a looser fit and are not tucked into the waistband.
What Is a Sombrero?
For Americans, the term “sombrero” usually refers to a wide-brimmed hat with a pointed crown and a chin strap that has historically been popular in Mexico, especially with cowboys. This type of sombrero can be made of straw or felt and is often worn by mariachi musicians as well. In Spanish, however, the term refers to any broad-brimmed hat worn to protect one’s face and neck from the sun (in fact the term “sombrero” comes from the Spanish word “sombra,” which means “shadow”). Different versions of sombreros are worn in various parts of Latin America and Spain.
What Is a Panama Hat?
A Panama hat is a lightweight brimmed hat woven from straw made from the leaves of the toquilla palm. Panama hats are often worn with summer suits and usually have a band at the base of the crown that can be either the same or a contrasting color as the rest of the hat. Although this type of hat became associated with Panama during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it actually originated in Ecuador. Today real Panama hats are still woven by hand and can be quite expensive. The best are generally considered to come from the Ecuadorian town of Montecristi.
What Is a Chullo?
A chullo is a woven hat traditionally made from alpaca or similar wool; it originated in the Andes Mountains, possibly with some influence from Spanish colonists. Unlike some other styles, chullos have earflaps.
What are Huaraches?
Huaraches are woven Mexican sandals developed before the arrival of Europeans. Traditionally they are made entirely of leather, although later versions sometimes have soles made from wood or woven string. Huaraches became popular in the US during the 1960s and today various versions are sold throughout North and South America, but traditional huaraches must be handmade and include woven leather.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a sarape and where does it originate from?
A sarape, also spelled serape, is a traditional Mexican garment that originated from the indigenous people of Mexico. It is a brightly colored blanket-like shawl or cape, often featuring intricate patterns and designs. Sarapes are typically woven from wool or cotton and are known for their vibrant colors and geometric shapes. They are a symbol of Mexican identity and are used for both functional and decorative purposes.
How is a sarape traditionally used?
Traditionally, a sarape is worn draped over the shoulders, serving as a versatile piece of clothing that can provide warmth and protection from the elements. It can also be used as a blanket, a saddle blanket for horses, or even as a wall hanging for decoration. The sarape's use has evolved over time, but it remains an iconic representation of Mexican culture and craftsmanship.
What distinguishes a sarape from other similar garments?
A sarape is distinguished by its unique design elements, which include vibrant colors, bold stripes, and intricate geometric patterns. Unlike other similar garments, such as the poncho, which has a head opening, a sarape is often worn without a specific opening for the head, simply draped over the body. The craftsmanship and specific style of weaving also set sarapes apart from other textiles.
Are sarapes still made by hand today, and how are they crafted?
Yes, sarapes are still made by hand today, preserving the traditional methods passed down through generations. Artisans use a loom to weave the sarape, carefully selecting colors and creating patterns that often have cultural significance. The process can be time-consuming, with some sarapes taking weeks or even months to complete, depending on the complexity of the design and the size of the garment.
Can sarapes be found in different regions of Mexico, and do they vary in style?
Sarapes can be found in various regions of Mexico, and their style can vary significantly from one area to another. The most famous sarapes come from Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila, where they are known for their intricate designs and fine craftsmanship. Other regions may have their own distinctive patterns, colors, and weaving techniques, reflecting the diverse cultural heritage of Mexico.
What is the cultural significance of the sarape in Mexican society?
The sarape holds deep cultural significance in Mexican society as a symbol of national pride and identity. It represents the rich history and artistry of Mexico's indigenous communities and the blending of pre-Hispanic and Spanish influences. The sarape is often used in celebrations, ceremonies, and everyday life, showcasing the enduring legacy of Mexico's traditional textiles.
How can one identify an authentic sarape?
To identify an authentic sarape, look for handcrafted quality and traditional patterns that are typical of the region it originates from. Authentic sarapes are usually made from natural fibers like wool or cotton and feature vibrant, hand-dyed colors. The texture, weight, and the intricacy of the weave can also be indicators of authenticity. Purchasing directly from local artisans or reputable dealers specializing in Mexican crafts can help ensure the sarape's authenticity.