Lost Textile Tradition of Making Needle Lace Revived in Oaxaca

The town of Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca, is widely known for its Sunday market or tianguis.  Tourists and villagers from throughout the region flock there to shop, eat or stock up on whatever is needed for home or workshop.

Visitors know little about the textile traditions of Tlacolula, where up until the 1960’s cotton and silk ikat rebozos with long, intricately hand-tied fringes (puntas) were still hand-woven there to be used with versatility as head scarf, baby and bundle carrier, and shawl.  Today, rayon, called seda (silk in Spanish), or cotton ikat rebozos are imported from the state of Mexico to fill the market gap of the locally lost art.

Another local tradition that was lost was the making of needle lace.  Today, this tradition is being revived by Tamara Rivas Vazquez in Tlacolula de Matamoros where she lives and works.  Making needle lace is a laborious art requiring exceptional dexterity and a lot of patience.  Its origins are European.  Needle lace became popular in Mexico in the 19th century.  The technique consists of fashioning a network of tiny knots that are tied, one by one, using a single thread and needle.  Tamara learned the technique by interviewing elderly women in Tlacolula and recording their knowledge.

Tamara says that the strips of needle lace are called cambalaches.  In the example of her work, on display at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Tamera used industrial cotton poplin embellished with needle lace and black embroidery as part of the smocking.  It took her eight months to complete the piece, shown above and below, which is now part of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca permanent collection.  Notice the intricate needle lace work under the armpits.  This part is called, humorously enough, “the louse’s window.”

For the past two weeks, Tamara and her husband, Alfonso Gonzalez Inaldonado, have been at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca giving a class on the intricate art of making needle lace.  He is the pattern designer and they work together as a team –a typical practice in artisan households.  This is an intensive, 2-week experience.  Some of the participants are wearing magnifying glasses because the work is so detailed. Two have come from  Mexico City and one from Colorado to learn this technique.

For classes about this and other textile topics, contact the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  To learn traditional tapestry weaving with naturally dyed wool, attend a workshop in Teotitlan del Valle.




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