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Patzcuaro part 1: Handwoven

Anyone who has lived in Mexico is familiar with its crafts. They are inevitable. On the street, in markets, woven through peoples wardrobes and their homes. they can be kitschy and cartoonish, selling a stereotyped idea of Mexico and its culture to foreign visitors. They can also be exquisitely intricate and refined, achieved through skills passed down from generation to generation and a source of pride to the maker and his people.

In the past few years there has emerged in Mexico, and across the world, a slow craft movement which links local artisans to the global economy. It is only recently that the value of hand crafted goods has been re-discovered, creating an equality and interaction between craft and design. As well as aesthetic value, there is a social aspect to this movement; the empowering and elevation of the artisans creates a consciousness that benefits the communities, which can then flourish.

When producing handicrafts, each piece is unique and irregular. These inconsistency can be hard to value, as we are used to mass produced goods. Butt it is this lack of perfection, this human touch, that connects the individual craftsman to the object and, ultimately, to its owner, wherever in the world they might be.

I have long been fascinated by the crafts of my country and how they are seen around the world. It seems to me that the same prolific exuberance that gives a local craft market charm and color, prevents the appreciation of specific pieces, which can get lost in the festive displays. Of course, half the fun is making a selection when there is so much choice and variety, however for me, it is the narrowing down of that choice and then re locating the pieces to a new context that is truly engaging.

A good friend, and all round creative wise man, often says " everything can be really good or really bad - depending on its context". In other words, the edit point is everything. My goal when shopping for crafts is to edit or curate a narrow point of view in order to present it with more emphasis, in a context where the work that has gone into it can be truly appreciated.

Each area of Mexico creates its own crafts. Often these hail from Pre- Hispanic times and have been practiced by the same family for generations. Patzcuaro is well known for its textiles. Shops selling hand loomed table and bed linens are dotted all over town. It can be overwhelming to make a decision with so many choices, so on our recent trip there, we asked our hosts where we should shop. They pointed us in the direction of a particular local family, who produce the best quality textiles on the outskirts of town and have several retail stores within the town center.

The store we visited was manned by members of the family. They showed us all their new designs, pointing out their favorite color combos and ,after we made our selection, we got chatting about the design and production process of their hand woven textiles. I have always dreamed of working with Mexican artisans and was thrilled when they offered to give us a tour of the workshop where their textiles are hand loomed. It was agreed that we would visit it the following day.

This being Mexico, the arrangements were vague, as were the directions to the workshops' location. 10 am became,1PM ( My fault. We spent the morning at the bank, dealing with my lost credit card...) and two blocks turned out to be 8 or 9 blocks, up a steep hill. Our large-ish group was squeezed into an old, small-ish car, and we held our breath throughout the ride, hoping to get there in one piece. We did. And were greeted by the charming and beautiful Dary, who showed us around.

When we finally arrived, we found a busy, family oriented work space where organized chaos reigns. Yarns are dyed in the property, using local vegetables and minerals and are hung to dry in the sun. They are then hand spun into the weft and placed on the loom. This is an intricate and beautiful process where the pattern of the fabric to be woven is established.

Then the weaving begins. It is a wondrous thing to see fabric created out of yarn. The design of the wooden looms has not changed for centuries, and the expertise of the Artisans, who use both their hands a and feet to work them, has been passed from father to son for generations. The men weave the fabric, a job which requires some strength and stamina and looks from the outside like a sort of intricate dance between the worker and his loom. The women are the finishers, a job which requires a more delicate touch.

The Designs and colors have also been around for generations. Table cloths in bold colored checks are woven in one part of the workshop, and the other is reserved for striped bedding with raised ridges and a Fleur de Lys like pattern. Recently, some new patterns have been introduced. Monochrome bold stripes and sophisticated neutrals are making an appearance. Dary is planning to design a new line of products which she is planning to export to expand the family business. The talent and skill, ingrained in this family and the local artisans, offers endless opportunities for the future.

We are living a special moment. One where traditional craft workshops like this can find a new place in the world of design and the global economy. It is a time when we can honor history and inherited skills and utilize them to create something new, a new chapter that allows workshops and communities like this to not only survive, but also thrive and grow, to take their place in a connected world where they can be seen and appreciated. History and tradition are made day by day. Dary and her family are writing their history. We want to write it with them.

Stay tuned. We are planning to add an e shop to our website, where you will be able to buy a curated selection of hand woven table linens from Dary and her family.

We hope you enjoyed this blog. Please share it with your family and friends. Thanks for reading.

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