Artisans preserve traditional embroidery

These women are preserving and reinventing traditional embroidery techniques in Oaxaca

Mexican artisans preserve traditional embroidery techniques
Although their pieces are handmade, many people refuse to pay fair prices for them - Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 05/01/2020 16:00 Juan Carlos Zavala Mexico City Actualizada 16:03
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Thirty years ago, a group of 25 artisans from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, a community located in Oaxaca, decided to come together to preserve and promote traditional embroidery techniques.

Photo: Juan Carlos Zavala/EL UNIVERSAL

They named themselves “Do it if you can,” after one of the most difficult techniques used in the making of huipiles and dresses. Erika Guadalupe Santiago Méndez, the group’s spokesperson, explains that “the group was formed in order to rescue our culture, to promote through the events we organize.”

These 25 women learned to embroider through their families but they all acknowledge that in time, many of these techniques are being forgotten and with this, the meaning of each of the embroideries they spend hours to complete.

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Moreover, these groups of artisans preserve huipiles that are 100 years old and other fabrics and embroideries from their ancestors.

Photo: Juan Carlos Zavala/EL UNIVERSAL

Preserving traditional techniques

Erika Santiago explains that although they know around 18 techniques, only five are used. One of the main reasons is that this knowledge is no longer passed down from generation to generation, as well as the time it takes to complete each piece, prices, and the difficulties to sell the garments.

She says that making a dress “has that magic, that desire to make things pretty. The magic to combine colors, not to lose the beautiful things we’ve inherited.”

In just one huipil or dress, it is possible to observe up to five different embroidery techniques. Each one has a particular name and meaning, some even form part of the community’s worldview and traditions. Many of these elements also identify them as part of the Zapotec community.

Photo: Juan Carlos Zavala/EL UNIVERSAL

Some of those techniques are known as traditional embroidery, thoughts, unraveling, pleats, seed point, do it if you can, and cambalache, among many other techniques.

Now, 30 years after they created their group, they are now working to establish it as a civil organization.

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However, despite their intense efforts to promote traditional embroidery and their products, commercializing them is a difficult task.

Erika explains that they don’t have a selling point. She also emphasizes that they spend months embroidering but what is the point of all this effort if they can’t sell their pieces?

Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL


Just like them, many other artisans in Oaxaca face problems to sell their products and intermediaries, who take advantage of the artisans, who are forced to sell their work at a low price.

All artisans are asking for is for a selling point, according to Erika Santiago, so that they don’t depend on resellers and so that they can make an income and sell their products at fair prices.

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