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.

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.

Baskets 4 Life Exhibit

While in Copenhagen, we went to the observation deck of the Rundetaarn. The Round Tower houses one of Europe’s oldest functioning observatories. From the observation deck, we could see the spires of the churches and rooftops of buildings across the city. Rather than stairs, you walk up the winding spiral path to the top. Walking down was much more fun!

Halfway down the tower, there is a large loft space for the museum shop and which serves as a venue for exhibitions. On the day we visited, the loft space was taken over with baskets – large and small baskets woven by hand using many different materials. It was an exhibit of Baskets 4 Life, a collective of ten Danish women who weave the baskets. According to their website, the purpose of the project is to highlight the need for baskets instead of plastic bags and to “break existing norms in relation to the appearance of baskets and the use of materials in making them.” As part of their mission, the group has started producing the baskets in Africa to create a source of employment and income for women. You can read more about the project at Baskets4Life.dk.

Here is a sampling of some of the beautiful baskets on display. My favorite is the crocheted one.

{Click on any image for a full-screen view.}

A Very Crafty Evening

This is my second year attending the annual Artisan’s Market presented by the Contemporary Handweavers of Houston (CHH). The market runs from September 6 – 8 so if you are near Houston, you still have Saturday to stop by.

I am so glad that I went on their opening night. I did my usual walk around the rooms to look at all the displays. I then picked up a small plastic basket from the front so I could begin collecting the beautiful handwoven textiles, baskets, handmade jewelry, handspun yarn, and felted ornaments that I had singled out. I was too slow. Those ladies are fierce! Several items I had on my mental checklist were gone! Nonetheless, I had a great time looking, touching and taking pictures.

I saw beautiful handwoven textiles.

There were felted bracelets, handmade cards, woven rugs and artwork.

There were felted baskets, silk baskets and other sculptured baskets.

There were ghosts and goblins and catnip wrapped like mice for the upcoming Autumn holidays.

Even Saint Nicolas’ helpers offered their wares for the yuletide season.

Of course, there was yarn.

A huge round of applause to all of the fiber artists who produced these beautiful handmade items. By the crowds and the long line at check out, I am pleased to say that Houstonians truly appreciate the handcrafted arts.

If you want to see more lovely items like these, this is the post I wrote about last year’s event.