I have been collecting ethnic garments from Oaxaca since my first trip there over 30 years ago. The textile tradition of Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico is not as well known as that of Guatemala, but it is very strong. The many regions of Oaxaca each have their own textile designs. Fabrics tend to be lighter than in the Guatemalan highlands because it is warmer in Oaxaca. Since the opening of the Textile Museum in the city of Oaxaca a few years ago, textiles have made a huge, resurgence. There are textiles available that I had never seen before in the city. When looking for textiles, I look for fine hand-craftsmanship. Weaving should be tight, gauze should be “locked” with leno weave, embroidery should have small stitches so it doesn’t pull easily. I also prefer cotton to synthetics, although some embroidered fabrics use rayon yarn for more shine in the design.
The Chiapas pieces shown here are machine embroidered by hand and they are one of a kind. The machine embroidery, like in Guatemala, is done on a old treadle machine with zig zag stitch. The sewer moves the fabric back and forth on the machine to create the design. This sewing machine embroidery takes a lot of skill and is also done by contemporary textile artists. The technique is totally different from computer generated mass-produced machine embroidery.