Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0116


Copyright © 2020 Eleanor Laughlin


Mexican rebozos (scarves/shawls) range in material, design, and function from those worn by indigenous women made of maguey or cotton and used to carry children or heavy loads, to those made of silk that feature fancy dyes or embroidery, which serve as accessories for special events. Among the historic embroidered examples is a subtype called the “landscape” rebozo, which featured scenes of quintessentially Mexican locations or events stitched into the fabric of the scarf. Most rebozos, in the past as in the present, were made by anonymous artisans. However, one example bears a sign that may be a signature and merits further investigation.

In this paper, I examine an eighteenth-century landscape rebozo in the Philadelphia Museum’s collection. The scarf is a beautiful example of its type and period, featuring dyed ikat segments and embroidered figural vignettes that depict Mexican scenes with people riding in boats, eating, and dancing together. These pastoral pleasures are all shown in relative perspective and scale according the embroiderer’s ability, except for one enlarged anomaly: a dragonfly sewn to half-human scale along the border of the garment. Furthermore, the rebozo references the maker, the importation, and the sale of rebozos within its own design, creating a system of self-referentiality that already brings the viewer’s awareness to the creation of the scarf and its scenes, thereby facilitating a conceptual space for a signature in the reading of the visual narrative.

After reviewing signature precedents from the same time frame, I will examine potential meanings behind the symbol of the dragonfly and consider the possible functions for this enlarged anomalous feature in the Philadelphia Museum’s rebozo.