From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions

Working full-time and pursuing an MBA do not leave very much free time. Immediately after the new year, there was a gap of about a week before major assignments were due. We took advantage of this opportunity for a trip to México City, only a two-hour flight from Houston. There was the added benefit that Cornell has a board room of students in México City and I was able to join them for class.

The purpose of the trip was to show our son some of the many treasures of México. We went on a whirlwind tour of murals, pyramids, cathedrals, archaeological ruins, culture and gastronomy. Along the way, my husband and son appeased me by allowing me to look for interesting textile arts.

We could have spent days walking through the vast National Museum of Anthropology. The museum features grand salons for every major period of Mexican history. We made a beeline toward the magnificent Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), which is often incorrectly called the Aztec calendar. The Stone of the Sun is 3 feet deep, almost 12 feet wide and weighs almost 25 tons.

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The stone “depicts the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology. …it is an elaborately carved solar disk, which for the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures represented rulership. At the top of the stone is a date glyph (13 reed) which represents both the beginning of the present sun, the 5th and final one according to mythology, and the actual date 1427 CE, thereby legitimizing the rule of Itzcoatl (who took power in that year) and creating a bond between the divine and mankind.

(Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Sun_Stone/)

Textiles

After staring at awe at the massive stone, we wandered through various halls and came across these ancient textiles of the indigenous Nahua.

“Clothing distinguishes the indigenous groups of México and even within one group. Among the Nahuas each subgroup, each region and even each village has its own way of dressing. Each pattern conserves a tradition, each design speaks of knowledge maintained over the centuries, each form represents a way of seeing the world.”

(Source: Museum placard)

Basketry

We saw woven bags and baskets made from hard fibers such as junco, bejuco, palm and carrizo.

Weaving

This is a reproduction of a typical home in the village of Contla in the state of Tlaxcala. According to the museum placard, rustic pedaled looms were installed in any available space.

Crafts

A day at the Saturday Bazaar in San Ángel yielded a wonderful surprise. Since we were there right after Christmas, we saw all the winning entries for the Primer Concurso Nacional, “De Principio a Fin, Tradiciones Populares Mexicanas” (First National Competition, “From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions”). Themes revolved around the Day of the Dead and Christmas.

Las piezas que se elaboran con motivo de estas festividades, dan cuenta de la compleja concepción de la vida humana y de la constante interacción entre la vida y la muerte dentro de la cultura popular mexicana.

The pieces that are created for these festivities tell the story of the complex idea of life and the constant interaction between life and death within popular mexican culture.

(Source: Event signage. Translations are mine.)

Nacimiento tejido en palma natural maciza y tierna, elaborada con técnica de esfera. 38 piezas.

Nativity woven from natural strong and tender palm constructed with a spherical technique. 38 pieces.

Carro alegórico con ofenda tradicional del Día de muertos, elaborado con fibra de trigo. Tiempo de elaboración: 1 semana

Allegorical vehicle with a traditional offering of the day of the dead, constructed with wheat fibers. Time to produce: 1 week.

“Los animales van a ver el nacimiento”
Tira bordada con hilo de algodón mercerizado con punto fino. Tiempo de elaboración: 4 meses

“The animals go to see the nativity.” Embroidered strip with mercerized cotton thread with a fine point. Time to produce: 4 months.

Nacimiento con bordado fino mazahaua en manta de algodón.

Finely embroidered nativity on cotton cloth in the style of the Mazahaua people.

“La tradición de mi pueblo”
Servilleta elaborada en telar de cintura, con técnica de brocado, tenida con tintes naturales: caracol púrpura y algodón coyuchi verde.

“The tradition of my village.” Napkin woven on a backstrap loom with brocade technique and tinted with natural dyes: purple snails and organic green cotton.”

“Nacimiento tradicional de Cuetzalan del Progreso. Puebla.”
Telar de cintura de algodón azul, bordado de brocado.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

“Traditional nativity of the city of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla.” Blue cotton on a backstrap loom embroidered in brocade. Time to produce: 1 month

Tapiz de Nacimiento Mexicano, elaborado en telar de cintura de algodón con doble alzadera y puntas de flecos.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

Tapestry of the Mexican Nativity, woven on a backstrap loom out of cotton with fringe. Time to produce: 1 month

These are only a sampling of the many handicrafts we saw during our trip. More to come.

Spring Blooms

For Easter weekend, our family congregated at my sister’s home in San Antonio, Texas. It is a three-hour monotonous drive between Houston and San Antonio on Interstate 10. As I was traveling alone, I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting. I took a detour north on State Highway 71 headed to La Grange, Texas – population just under 5,000 and home of the Texas Quilt Museum.

There were three exhibits on display that were particularly impressive. The first, “Modern Quilt Guild at the Texas Quilt Museum” showcased the guild’s first juried quilt show. Photography is not allowed inside the museum but you can see photos at the Modern Quilt Guild’s blog. Here is one sample.

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Source: MQG Blog

Also on display were the Magna Carta Quilts from the UK. There are a total of eight quilts. According to the Magna Carta Quilt website:

…four Medieval Quilts will tell the story of the Magna Carta in a graphic novel style… The story starts with the death of Richard the Lionheart, which lead to the ascension of his brother John to the throne of England, runs through the events leading up to the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede… The Magna Carta was the first document ever imposed upon a King of England…by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The four Legacy Quilts…will be the shields of the 25 feudal barons who drew up the terms of the Magna Carta…

The detail of these quilts was mind-boggling. The figures depicted all had singular expressions, carried different items in their hands and wore varied medieval clothing according to their rank.

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Medieval Quilt IV (Source: Magna Carta Quilt)

The third exhibit of note was called “Wild Fabrications” sponsored by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). You can view the entire exhibit online at the SAQA website in a slide show format. I highly recommend viewing it in full screen mode. My favorite was the polar bear.

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Now You See Him by Cat Larrea (Source: SAQA)

Wild Fabrications celebrates a world of animals both real and fantastical. The theme not only lends itself particularly to bold colors and whimsical imagery, but also to beautiful realism, and humor that can be ebullient or dark.

On the exterior side wall of the building that houses The Quilt Museum is this stunning mural that depicts traditional 19th century quilts.

Quilt Museum Exterior

The mural serves as a backdrop to Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

Many quilt makers…are also gardeners, and many quilt patterns were inspired by flowers, plants, trees, and nature in general. We named the garden for a beloved Depression-era quilt pattern, “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

Grandmother's Flower Garden 1

Grandmother's Flower Garden 2

Grandmother's Flower Garden 3

And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit, next door to The Quilt Museum is a fabric and YARN store called The Quilted Skein.

The Quilted Skein

There were four rooms of fabrics in all colors and patterns. And WALLS OF YARN.

The Quilted Skein - Yarn Wall

The staff was busily climbing ladders to hang up beautiful new quilt displays. They were having a good time making sure no one toppled off ladders and took time to assist me as I perused the yarn and picked out some fabric squares.

The Quilted Skein - Sock Yarn

It was time to get back on I-10 and continue my trip to San Antonio. From La Grange, I took a leisurely drive on Farm to Market Road 609. The countryside was littered with bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes – picture-perfect scenery.

Bluebonnets on FM 609

Indian Paintbrushes on FM 609

Back on I-10, I made another stop in Seguin, Texas, the pecan capital of the world – so-called because of the large production of pecans in the area. Seguin has a quaint downtown historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. My destination was You’re So Crafty, a crafts store for making pottery, painting, beadwork, knitting and spinning. One could spend weeks here and not run out of crafty things to do.

You're So Crafty - Spinning Tools

This display was full of yarn spun from locally produced fibers. These skeins are from Windmill Crest Farms, a small alpaca farm of about 50 animals located in Seguin.

You're So Crafty Local Yarn

Content with the day’s discoveries, it was time to make the rest of the trip to my sister’s house. Both my brothers from back home and my mom and aunt were there, plus some neighbors. Between all of us, there were 25+ kids and adults hitting piñatas and cracking cascarones on each others’ heads – brightly colored confetti everywhere! After the meal, the older kids (teens and college students) gathered at the dining room table for a fierce game of Monopoly. As my siblings and I sat outside, we reminisced about how once upon a time, it was us running around the yard and competing at board games. Now we sat around comparing what medications and maladies we had in common. We had good laughs and good food surrounded by family. It was a glorious weekend full of spring blooms.

Rosebank Roof Market

On the only Sunday morning in Johannesburg, we walked over to the rooftop of Rosebank Mall where we were greeted with a huge market. What a delight! The spice table was our favorite. We were able to sample quite a few of the combinations. The Biltong Spice in the back was scrumptious! It is rubbed on raw meat so that the flavors soak in as it dries. (Biltong is a dried, cured meat similar to beef jerky).

Rosebank Roof Market Spices

There were handicrafts and souvenirs everywhere – an explosion of color! Loved the fabrics used on these cuff bracelets. There was quite a bit of beadwork such as shown on the coasters. The colorful giraffes are from a painting.

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Amongst the handmade items, were these adorable knitted stuffed gnu and other “wildlife.”

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Gogo Olive was born in Zimbabwe to empower local women – each product is lovingly handmade and is as individual and cheerful as the lady who knitted it! Hope (v.): to trust or believe. Knit (n.): to join or be joined together closely.

These farm-friendly animals are shaped with strong wire and then beaded. Love the sheep! Unfortunately, he did not fit in my suitcase.

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These baskets are woven from telephone wire. They are so colorful and the swirls are mesmerizing.

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There were various fabrics ranging from bright and bold geometric patterns to the more modern interpretations below. (That second set of fabrics is from the Neighbourgoods Market).

Traditional colors and patterns.

A modern twist to fabric designs.

I enjoyed absorbing all the colors and smells of the market. If you ever make it to South Africa, I highly recommend the Rosebank Sunday Market.

College, a President and Needlepoint

During the Winter break, my son and I went to visit colleges. It was sort of a Mother-Son trip. We hung out, talked, tried new restaurants, and toured the campus. It was nice having that one-on-one time with my 17-year old. Soon enough he will be gone from home and I cherish these moments together.

While visiting the campus of Texas A&M University, we stopped at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. A long time ago, when I worked on the Hill, I came within a few yards of then President Bush (the elder, not “W”). Visiting the museum gave me a deeper appreciation of him. The museum chronicles his time in the service, how he was married with a baby during college, and his rise in politics. Coincidentally, while we were visiting the museum, he was hospitalized in Houston; and more recently, he and Barbara Bush celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary! Regardless of your politics, that is impressive. He even tweeted about this milestone – so sweet!

As interesting as all the artifacts and exhibits of his life were, my attention was diverted by several yarn-related installations. Much to my son’s chagrin, I spent a considerable amount of time admiring and photographing these adorable yarn houses and an amazing Noah’s Ark and Nativity Scene done in needlepoint. They were stitched by the Saintly Stitchers from Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The Nativity Scene was presented to the President and Mrs. Bush in 1989, and the Noah’s Ark was presented to them in 1991 along with needlepoint ornaments for the White House Christmas tree.

I highly recommend clicking on any photo below to view larger images. That way you can see the detail of the needlepoint. So much care went into each figure. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with my boy.

In the Family

Everyone tells me that my niece, Victoria, looks like me. It makes me feel very proud especially since I do not have a girl of my own. So it brought me immense pleasure when I discovered that my niece likes to knit! She knit a scarf sometime in her teens. My brother sent me pictures of her with her needles. This first semester in college, she decided to learn how to crochet. She asked me if I could take her to buy some yarn and a crochet hook so that she could try to crochet a stuffed animal for a charity auction at her college. Of course, there was no need to go to the store, we just dug into my stash! She found a pattern and crochet instructions on YouTube. Twenty-four hours later, she had made this:

Amigurumi Bear by Victoria

She then remembered that my mother said she wanted a headband with a flower on it for her hair. So off Victoria went to crochet a headband just like my mom had requested.

Crochet Headband by Victoria

She would sit with me in the evenings with a hook in her hand and yarn on her lap while she meticulously worked on the headband. It will be her Christmas gift to her grandmother.

Crochet Flower by Victoria

I am so pleased that the arts of knitting and crochet still appeal to young ladies like my niece. It’s wonderful to keep the tradition in the family.