Camila Otomi Pouch
The State of Hidalgo in central Mexico is home to the Otomi people among whom hand-embroidery from freehand drawings is an ancestral craft. Initially practiced exclusively by the women, the art took on major significance as an alternative source of income when crops failed during the prolonged drought of the 1960s.
Otomi artisans are known for their use of color and fluidity of design. They like the pull of primary shades and their feelings about mixing colors are intuitive rather than learned, and come from nature while not being ‘natural’. They’re inspired by the flora and fauna of their mountain home and, some say, by the cave drawings discovered in the area. The artisans use what is called a ‘satin stitch’ and depict animals in profile, both of which give Otomi textiles their unique look.
Designs are first sketched on the cloth by hand using water soluble ink so the lines later wash out. No self-respecting Otomi would ever use a stencil. The skill of the drawing determines the fluidity of the embroidery and each artisan develops his or her own patterns, distinctive as a signature. Every generation adds to the family repertoire and these designs remain their exclusive property.
The embroidery for the Camila Otomi Pouch takes an artisan eight hours to complete. The finished pouch is a work of art to which the artisan contributed the greatest part and for which he or she is paid accordingly.
Bringing modern vision to ancient craft invigorates both and generates items of beauty that are greater than the sum of their parts. Otomi embroidery is now a motor for change that the artisans of Hidalgo are riding to economic stability and a future of promise for themselves and their children. We are proud and grateful to be part of that change.
Petal loom weaving is an old, complex art and the way of it hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, modern manufacturing aside. In Chiapas, where the cloth for the Coco is made, artisans operate their looms manually. They wind the warp by hand and set each thread individually, a process that may take hours depending on the width of the cloth to be made. The weft is created by passing a shuttle wrapped with thread through the warp.
The looms are set with harnesses controlled by pedals; the number of harnesses is what permits design complexity. The harnesses lift different sets of warp threads through which the weft passes. The simplicity of the pattern used for the Coco Pouch requires only one harness. The width of the stripes and the tightness of the weave are all factors and multiple samples are woven before getting it right.
Traditional artisans work with natural fibers only cotton, wool and silk and with organic dyes made on site. The pigments come from insects, plants and minerals. These are the people with whom we partner.
The Madeline Clutch
The Madeline is made with fabric woven by the highland Maya. Among the Maya in the Mexican state of Chiapas, weaving is a sacred art and the province of women. The Maya believe that the gift of weaving was given to women by the goddess, Ixchel, along with a sacred trust: women were to be keepers of the flame through weaving. The story of the Maya and their place in the universe is woven into every fragment that comes off a backstrap loom.
Images of royalty weaving on backstrap looms are scattered throughout the codices and murals of the ancient Maya, and the technique hasn’t changed in any of its particulars. Females are given a weaving tool at birth to symbolize their membership in a sacred lineage, and they start weaving at the age of eight or nine.
The work of a skilled weaver is complex and the rich tapestry of figures and symbols that is the result reflects the prevailing beliefs of the culture. With color, form and thread, the women record the Maya myth of creation and other cultural truths that give the Maya their unique identity. The women even weave their personal histories into their huipils making their blouses a calling card that speaks of who they are and their place in the community.
One of the advantages of backstrap looms is their ease of use and portability. The apparatus is lightweight and can be rolled up for easy storing and transporting, and set up and taken down in minutes. The weaver simply unfurls the loom, hangs the warp from a post, a tree trunk or a nail in the wall and wraps the other end around her waist. She sits on the floor in a posture most of us would be hard-pressed to mimic but which she easily folds into and can sustain for hours.
Our artisans are delighted by the small dimensions of the Madeline Clutch and challenged themselves to weave a complete statement or short story within the space given. Thanks to the skill of our partners, the Madeline is both lovely and eloquent.
The Stella Tote
The Stella is a Cinderella story: the makeover of the woven plastic bag that frumpy yet functional standby found in every kitchen in the country. They’re wonderful market bags, literally indestructible, but oh so dowdy.
It’s not surprising this more stylized woven plastic bag is made in Oaxaca, the state with the highest concentration of indigenous people in Mexico, and the greatest diversity of crafts. The artisans making the bags are mostly, but not exclusively, men. The craft requires manual dexterity, an eye for color and a capacity to visualize form, all talents the Oaxaquenos have in spades.
The craft was transformed about a decade ago when a weaver split his strands of plastic down the middle for a thinner, more flexible ‘thread’. The result was a bag with a tighter, smoother weave and a more polished finish.
The bags are woven on wooden frames, one for each of the several sizes. The artisan holds the frame on his or her lap to work. The warp is set on nails that have been inserted into the cross beam. A tool akin to a darning needle is used to create the weft, and the handles are woven into the body of the bag for never-say-die strength. It takes an artisan about eight hours to create a medium tote.
The finished artisan made article is a functional, well-made bag that with additional detailing-lining in contemporary colors, the addition of tassel or pom poms moves from handsome to positively stylish.