History of Textiles in Mexico

The history of textiles in Mexico can be explained by the history of its fibers, tints, and techniques. It's worth noting that traditional Mexican clothing is well recognized thanks to the history of its unique designs.

Fibers in the History of Textiles

Cotton was the original and most important material used by the indigenous people of Mexico. Originally it was only extended, but later they found that spinning it made clothing more durable. From ancient times they learned to pinch it, extend it and spun it by hand.

Anthropologists have discovered pieces of fabric from the years 900 to 200 B.C. It was found that they used white cotton, coyuchi and the natural light brown color type. Although there are stories that cotton actually grew in other colors, no evidence has been found to corroborate it.

When the Spanish arrived in the new continent; they introduced silk, wool, and linen which made clothing materials much more diverse.

Wool was first used when sheep were brought to America in 1526. Later the first Virrey of the New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, promoted new breeds of sheep to improve the quality of the wool.

Silk also started to be produced during the Spanish colonization although later it was stopped due to European commercial interest. During the colonization years, the indigenous people kept producing it for their own use. Today, silk is only produced in Zapotec communities in Oaxaca, and is imported to produce rebozos in Santa Maria Del Rio, San Luis Potosi, and Tenancigo, in the State of Mexico.

Synthetic fibers have replaced many of the traditional materials, which has had an impact in the color, the quality, and of course the quality. For example wool has much better thermal properties as it traps air in its fibers.

Tints in the History of Textiles

From pre-colonization times, indigenous people have been using natural dyes for their textiles; animal and vegetable

Here are some examples of the historical dyes used :

  • The most famous dye is the vibrant red color from an insect called nocheztli or grana cochinilla that lives in prickly pears. It was so well recognized for its quality that it was exported to China and Turkey by the end of the XVI century. Other tones of red and purpled were obtained by adding lemon or salt. This dye is used in wool because there is no technique to make it stay in cotton.

  • The blue tones were obtained from the indigo plant which grows in dry and sandy places. The process to get the dye substance is through infusion and precipitation. This particular dye takes months to apply it, and it requires more work for darker tones. The town of Niltepec in the state of Oaxaca is still producing this dye.

  • The snail dye which produces a purple color after oxidation. These snails are found during the winter in the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. Snails are taken out of the water by hand and blown air into them. This will make them discharge a colorless liquid which will turn into yellow and then purple after oxidation. This dye can only be used in natural cotton because industrial cotton has a chemical process that does not allow the fixing of the color.

Techniques in the History of Textiles

There are different techniques to knit textiles with a loom. The two common looms are:

Waist Loom Waist Loom by Thomas Aleto

  • The waist loom. This technique to knit textiles was used in pre-Hispanic times. It is a versatile way of knitting because it allows the user to make complex patterns. The disadvantage is that the width of the fabric is limited by the arms of the person knitting. Also, the weight of the textile makes it difficult to operate.

  • The pedal loom. This technique was introduced by the Spanish conquistador. It is still a manual process with certain mechanization to produce wider textiles much faster.


When it comes to designs, patterns are unique to specific communities in Mexico sometimes reflecting their beliefs. Visit our page on traditional Mexican Clothing for more information about designs and history of textiles.



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