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Sunday, 12 April 2015

San Antonino Castillo Velasco

I've been going back through some old posts this week and realised that twice now I've promised to talk about the second half of my residency in Mexico and still haven't done it. I got quite sick in my fifth week there, which meant I had to work really hard during the last week to get everything finished, leaving very little time for blogging.

My embroidery teacher was Miriam, and thankfully she spoke English (because my Spanish is appalling). In fact Miriam was one impressive woman. She had a degree in chemical engineering, a masters in urban development, she embroiders for well-known artists and high-end Mexican fashion designers and teaches a bit of embroidery in her spare time! Miriam is from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, which is the town known for its embroidered floral blouses, and all the women in her family are embroiderers. She works in Oaxaca though, and does a 3-hour round trip each day to get to work and back.
I made two trips out to her town to see what it is was like, take some photos and visit the blouse shops owned by her mother and her aunt. On the first trip I was still a bit wobbly, so the only pic I took was the one above of the church dome. It reminded me a little of the one at Téotitlan del Valle, but more colourful. It was definitely my favourite one in Oaxaca.

We took a local bus out to Ocotlán from Oaxaca, and then an auto-moto to San Antonino Castillo Velasco. These would have once been separate villages, but the latter is really just an outer suburb of the former now. My second visit out there was probably the only time I felt nervous on my whole trip. Two hours away by bus from Oaxaca, me with very little Spanish and no way of contacting anyone, and only one other person – my remaining fellow resident – who knew where I was. I needn't have worried – the day went without a hitch.
Auto-moto in San Antonino.
I really noticed the difference between rich and poor in Oaxaca. There are some obviously very well-off people living there with beautiful houses, clothes and well-paid jobs, but there is also extreme poverty. As you get out into the countryside though, to places like San Antonino, there is much less of a gap. People live very simply and without all the excess we take for granted here. Life also seems slower. There aren't many cars, people have time to chat in the marketplace and they're not rushing around to get from place to place. I don't mean to make it sound idyllic though, it would be a very hard life for many.

But back to my blouse... Neither Miriam nor I happened to have fabric scissors with us, so at my first lesson Miriam took a few basic measurements and then proceeded to rip the blouse pieces from my fabric. I had my doubts about this turning into a blouse.
From left, two sleeves, the body and the bodice.
Miriam then showed me how to draw all the floral motifs. I've spent quite a bit of time practising these since, but as we needed to get going with the stitching, Miriam drew me a small motif that I could embroider onto each side of the blouse. I was a bit disappointed we weren't going to do something with more flowers on it, but now that I know how long that takes, I can see she was quite right to start with something small.

Miriam drew this motif in about two minutes. She said she's been drawing them since she was three, so I guess she's had a lot of practice.
While I kept going with the stitching outside class, Miriam started me on the drawn threadwork during the lessons. This took even longer than the stitching, and it's something I've not worked on again since I got back. I'd really love to design a blouse with a stretch of drawn threadwork across the front, but it hasn't even made it onto the 'to do' list yet.
Drawn threadwork beginnings.
It took me a lot of hours to complete the bodice. I lost almost a week being sick so I remember thinking there was no way I was going to get the blouse done before it was time to fly home. We still had something called 'make me if you can' left to do and that didn't sound very easy to me. At this point I probably had two lessons to go and with the lighting in our studio not being great, I had to do most of it during daylight hours. Thankfully I had done a lot of exploring in my first weeks in Oaxaca, because it was head down, bum up during this last week to get the blouse finished.
It was a relief to find that the hazme si puedes or 'make me if you can' wasn't that difficult. Miriam did show me some more complex examples, especially the little people motifs which are very popular. You can see a sample of the beginnings of that pattern below.

During this last week I was also madly crocheting around every edge, as that's the way they finish their hems without having to sew them. I don't do a ton of crochet, and what I have done has been on normal-sized needles. I tell you what though, after getting around this blouse I'm a demon with a 1.5mm crochet needle now!
Finally the last day of class dawned – two days before I was to fly home. Miriam arrived and we spent the session sewing the blouse together. It was done on a tiny little machine she'd brought with her on the bus! It was so small it was almost battery-powered, but it was perfect for the very limited amount of machine sewing I needed to do. I still wasn't quite the way around the bottom of the blouse crochet, but I promised Miriam I'd finish it before I left Oaxaca and send her pictures. I was getting a little concerned that I might also run out of the crochet thread, but I made it with less than a metre to go.

And there you have it finally! My first, but definitely not my last, Mexican blouse and the end of my textile residency.


  1. Hello! I found this looking for back information for an article Im doing for my blog Creative Hands of Mexico. This is a really great explanation of embroidery stitching from San Antonino. I am a bit weak on embroidery nomenclature and I really need to fix that as it is so important in the world of Mexican handcrafts. I will link to this article in the one I am doing on a specific workshop. Thank you!

  2. Amazing work. Thank you for sharing your travel experience.