Rebozos: Weaving stories at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Yesterday I went to London’s Fashion and Textile Museum’s exhibition, “Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion”.

For those of you who haven’t visited the Fashion and Textile Museum, it’s well worth a visit if you are in London.  It is a small but perfectly formed museum near London Bridge station, usually with one exhibition showing at a time.  It also has a very interesting-looking programme of courses.

This exhibition looked at the Mexican rebozo shawl, which is a traditional woven shawl or wrap which has been worn by Mexican women for hundreds of years.  The word “rebozo” comes from “rebozar”, which means “to muffle up”.  The rebozo is so woven into the national identity of Mexico that apparently many claim it should be the national flag.  According to the exhibition material, many Mexican women today own a rebozo which has been passed down through their family or given to them to mark a special occasion.

The shawls themselves are incredibly intricate. The older traditional examples in the exhibition had incredible colours woven into complex patterns and long knotted fringes.  The process of making them consisted of many stages, with the patterns often being created partly by dyeing them onto the vertical warp threads (a technique called “ikat”) and then adding further colours with the horizontal weft threads to form the final pattern. There was a fascinating interview with an old man who had been making rebozos for many years. He said that each rebozo was an achievement, and then he always wanted to know whose shoulders it would be on. So much time and care to make one garment makes each one very special.

In modern-day Mexico, co-operatives have been formed to help the skills of making the rebozo be passed down to new generations of makers, preserving the traditions and also using these garments in new collaborations.  Different regions have their own traditions and styles, using different materials and different forms of pattern or decoration, so each separate tradition would be easily lost.

As well as the history of the making of these garments, the exhibition also looked at how they have been used (such as for mourning, baby-carrying, at other significant events and as a symbol of national and regional identity) and showed versions of the rebozo which have been created by contemporary artists and designers. There was also a showcase of rebozos made by students in London and Mexico City as part of a cultural exchange by students from Chelsea College of Art & Design and Universidad Iberoamericana. Here are some of the stunning rebozos created by the students:

Rebozo

The exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum really captures how this simple garment is so deeply imbued with history and meaning, as well as the complex processes involved in making one.  It is on until 31 August 2014.

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