It’s sunrise in Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla, Mexico. I’m high in the mountains of the Sierra Norte where the indigenous language of Nahuatl is spoken. Beaded and embroidered blouses are predominant here. This is one of the original ten Pueblo Magico‘s and my second visit here. Definitely worth the return!
The triangular scarves and ponchos called huipiles (that I know as quechquemitls) are still woven on back strap looms. Local women walk barefoot on cobbled streets that climb and wind vertically through the village.
The women and girls are adorned with blouses featuring colorful figures of birds, barnyard animals and flowers, winding vines. Bodice ruffles are edged in turquoise, orange or red. Depending on their village of origin, the cap sleeve could be shirred or plain. Men wear traditional white shirts and pants, their feet protected by hand-hewn leather thongs, their heads covered in woven straw hats. Traditions are strong here.
I’m traveling with my sister Barbara, who I met in Mexico City earlier in the week. We joined up with friend Merry Foss in Cuetzalan for the annual Feria del Cafe, the raucous celebration of regional coffee. The coffee farms here are plentiful. We are at the right altitude and the beverage is delicious.
I’m using Sheri Brautigam’s guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, to find the textile artisan Pedro Martin at Taller Mazatzin known locally as Casa Rosa. The book has an ample section on Cuetzalan. To get to his village of Cuauhtamazaco, 30 minutes from town on a winding mountain road, Barbara and I hop into the back of a covered pick-up truck that is lined with passenger benches. In remote regions of Mexico, this transport mode serves as the major means of getting around. Cost is 8 pesos each.
Pedro, his brother Alfredo Pizarro, cousins and nephews, work magic on a back strap loom. They innovate the traditional huipil design to combine colors and patterns that yields a fine cotton gauze. For blouses that have the intricate, detailed embroidery, they source the bodice panels from only the finest needleworkers who live in remote villages and work only in 100% cotton.
In the studio, it is the men who cut the patterns, sew and weave. Pedro Martin and his family participated in the Feria del Rebozo at the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, last year.
Internet service here is intermittent. So, I’m writing before we go off to another village where Merry Foss started a textile cooperative seven years ago. She is doing an expo-venta tomorrow morning with a group of collectors from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico, who are also here for the fair. The women of Merry’s cooperative make extraordinary beaded blouses, called chakira. The beads originally came to Mexico from Europe and Asia as ballast on the Spanish galleons and the China Poblana shirt was born.
Most of the embroidery and beadwork around town is made for the tourist market and is of average quality. No fine needlework, no finished seams. You see the finest work being worn by the women themselves. The trick is to be able to locate the best of what is made. You can find a few pieces in the artisan market. (See Sheri’s book for details.) But, I’ve been asking the ladies, Where can I get one like yours?
As the coffee fair started, I wandered to the church courtyard beckoned by the waft of copal incense. I met a group of women gathered waiting for a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The majordoma, or leader of the group, kept the copal incense burner alive with intermittent puffs of breath on the burning coals.
How to get to Cuetzalan: It’s a six-hour bus ride from Mexico City on ADO or Primera Plus. Almost four hours from Puebla on Via. Buy your tickets in advance. You can’t do this online! Sorry.
Where to stay: We are happy at Casa de Piedra, a clean, lovely hotel set down the steep hill from the plaza. It looks like a stone fortress. Great breakfast and views.
Taller Mazatzin, Pedro Martin Concepcion, tel: 52-1-233-759-3992. Get the colectivo truck at the station on the street behind the church.