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 The garments were originally made in Coahuila, which is in north-eastern Mexico.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.