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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Making a Mexican blouse – Join me at Craft's Inaugural Summer Workshop Series

A couple of months ago I put in an expression of interest to tutor with Craft Victoria for their summer series of workshops. I thought it might be a bit of a long shot, but you have to put yourself out there sometimes don't you?

First I found out I'd been shortlisted, then I attended an interview, had a few more phone calls with questions, and then, before I knew it, the event was launched (on Thursday), and there was my face on the Craft website as one of nine tutors taking part – what a thrill!

So now that it's all confirmed, I thought it might be useful to have some more detailed information on my blog about what's involved. The classes will go over four weeks and will cover the areas of construction, embroidery, crochet and 'hazme si puedes' (a type of smocking).

Obviously the most striking part of a Mexican blouse is the embroidery. The blouses in my class will be in the style made by the women of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. It's astonishing how each area of Mexico has its own type of fibre art, and the range in stitching styles is equally broad. All the elements that make up the embroidery though, are quite simple, so I've been designing various templates for the class. People can choose a design, or indeed draw their own, based on how much homework they want to do. A full bodice of embroidery can take a number of weeks if done in fine detail, as shown below.
I think the hardest challenge, but the most fun part, is deciding what combination of colours to use! While the Mexican blouses are all pretty bright (see below), I've been experimenting with some less traditional combinations as well.

Blouse embroidery from San Antonino Castillo Velasco.
The next element of decoration on the blouse is crochet. This is done around the bottom of the blouse, the neckline and the sleeves. It can range from a simple stitch that looks like a blanket stitch, through picot stitches, to more complicated scallops.
In terms of construction, the shape of a traditional blouse is very simple – really just four rectangles – and this can make the underarm area quite bulky. I've been drafting patterns to include shaping that makes it a much better fit and will be tailored to each individual.

Lastly, the section that looks like smocking on the blouse below is actually 'Hazme si Puedes' or 'Make me if you can'. I'll have to admit, I was pretty worried about making something with such a daunting name, but if you keep your stitches even and count carefully, it's not too hard.
Maybe it's because I'm from Australia – where much indigenous art is sacred – but I'm thinking a lot about where I should draw the line in working with crafts that are part of another culture's traditions. The weaving that Oaxaca is famous for dates from pre-hispanic times and contains motifs, techniques and designs that are unique to each indigenous community and hold special significance. For these reasons I don't think I'd be comfortable passing that information on.

This is not the case with the most of the embroidery, and certainly not that from San Antonino. The designs (flowers, leaves and birds), colours and indeed even the blouse itself, were introduced by the Spanish in the 1700s, and the stitches for the embroidery and crochet are standard stitches known the world over. I'm sure there will be those that disagree, but I think it gives people a real appreciation of how many women spend their lives when they get the opportunity to make the same item themselves.

Another thing I've been working on, is how I can give back to communities I visit and people who teach me. I have a couple of things in development in regards to this, but in terms of this workshop, 5% of my fee will be donated to En Via, the organisation that provides interest-free micro loans to local women that I wrote about here.

So, I think that's it! If you're interested you can find the link to my Craft page here, and the event's Facebook page here. I'd love to see you there!

And big thanks to the Wagga Stitching Ladies – Meri, Di, Gillian, Susan, Marilyn and Pat for testing various steps in this process for me.


  1. I'm sure the workshop will be fantastic! I bought an embroidered dress in Mexico 40 years ago, and I love it. It's a precious item. I can understand how much work goes into such an object, and I'm sure your students will make wonders!

    1. Thanks so much Mary! Yes, the work that goes into them is truly amazing isn't it? I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone makes.

  2. Tara, this looks so wonderful and makes me wish I lived in Melbourne! And good on you for donating a percentage of the cost to such a good cause. I'm sure it will be a brilliant success. And that stitching! I could look at it all day

    1. Thanks very much Kerry. It's been such a great thing to get this opportunity when I'm just starting out.

  3. Lv2Crft says:

    Ohhhh, how I wish I didn't live in California, bec. I'd DEARLY love to attend this workshop. Sniff. As it is, I'm carefully analyzing and copying the one precious hazme si puedes dress I bought way back in late '92 in Tijuana (for $20 no less! Oh, how I wish they were that cheap now! The cheapest I found at a local boutique 2 years ago was $159. {scowl}) I still wear it, that's how good the fabric and embroidery are on it. A gem.

    1. Hi there, I am hoping to get the course online this year, so follow along and I'll let you know when it's launched.
      I actually paid more in Mexico for my very detailed blouse than you did in the local boutique. I don't mind for handmade, good quality pieces that took someone three months to make.