Welcome to Hueyapan, Puebla—Jewel of the sierra and cradle of the Chal Bordado. The Nahua community is known for the distinctive embroidered chal — a thick shawl—that is perfect for the cooler climate of the region.
It has been about two years since we met Señora Joaquina and her son, Emmanuel in the town's zócalo. Back then, we were impressed and delighted to have met a young man taking up the craft. The general trend in artisans families is that the newer generation, understandingly chooses to pursue more profitable careers. What impressed us about Emmanuel was how knowledgeable and passionate he was in explaining to us, three clueless tourists, the iconography and the different phases of the elaboration process.
The iconography of the bordados, often pay homage to the surroundings. Rivers, mountains, flora and fauna are the main subjects, but no other is more important than the turkey. The turkey, as Señora Joaquina tells us, is the center piece in any celebration in the life of a Hueyapanense. They are given as gifts in baptisms, birthdays, graduation, weddings, etc. Which is why the turkey occupies such a prominent area in their textiles. Another type of bordados is the Grecas. These are more abstract visually and have precolumbian origins.
The more intriguing part of the elaboration process for us was the use of natural dyes in their wool pieces. The red tints come from Grana Cochinilla, an insect that plagues on the nopal cactus and when crushed produces the most intense rouge. Blues come from Añil, a plant in the indigo family. Wild walnut plants are used for browns. Yellow tones come from a type of moss. Among other plants, insects, and different combinations, an incredible wide range of hues can be achieved. Seeing how interested we were in this specific topic, Señora Joaquina generously extended an invitation to visit their workshop next time we were in town.
We finally got around to visit them a couple of months ago. Señora Joaquina is as sweet as we remember her and Emmanuel's sense of humor has gotten more and more, let's say, biting. That or he's growing more comfortable with my constant teasing, either way I enjoy it. We get introduced to the other half of the family, Señor Juan Salvador and head of the household, he has been working in the textile business since age 17 and Giovanni, Emmanuel's younger brother. They proudly show off their newly built, from the ground up, pedal loom. Before it, they had to send their weaving out to a local loom shop and were restricted by the shop's schedule. Now, they have the ability to weave as much as they need and control every step of the elaboration process.
As promised, they demonstrated how wool threads are dyed. Dry up Cochinilla are crushed in a blender with a little water to create a concentrate and then pour thru a strainer on more water. Lemon juice is added to improve adhesion. When it comes to a boil, pre-soaked wool bunch is submerged into the mixture. Once the bunch has taken a consistent tone throughout it gets taken out and hung to dry. The intensity of the dye mix diminishes with every bunch done. Emmanuel explains that only wool can be colored with natural dyes and that in acrylic yarns the color would wash right off.
We give them our thanks for this demonstration and hope that more people can find appreciation in artisans like them.
Emmanuel tells us that he wishes people would find more value in artisan textiles, specially the one from ethnic origins. That their products can compete in quality and aesthetic with anything out in the shopping malls and the cultural worth has no comparison. The Salvador Martínez family can be found in the town's zócalo, Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
..But if you can't make it to Hueyapan, you can find their items at our SHOP.