Crafts not only have a commercial value but also have a cultural and symbolic meaning. They occupy a fundamental place in the towns. In Tlaxcala, textiles have a relevant place whose essence is preserved as part of the cultural identity, they also have their memory that is transmitted through generations, where craftsmen and craftswomen seek to enrich them with original designs.

In municipalities such as Chiautempan, Ixcotla, Ixtenco, or San Bernardino Contla, textile production is fundamental and preserves particular characteristics: techniques and technological resources of colonial or pre-Hispanic origin are used, such as the backstrap loom or the pedal loom, as well as various materials of natural origin such as maguey or henequen fiber. Embroidery techniques such as pepenado are also used.

Once Noticias spoke with Crescencio Tilayatzi and Isabel López, both Tlaxcalan artisans who safeguard the memory of the generations that preceded them and who have sought innovation in their designs, to embroider and weave dreams.

Pepenado embroidery.
Pepenado embroidery. Image: Once

Pepenado embroidery: heritage of Otomí women

María Isabel López Carpinteiro, 40 years old, is originally from San Juan Ixtenco, a municipality in Tlaxcala on the slopes of the Malintzin volcano. She is seated at the table and her attention is focused on her embroidery. She has been doing it for a month and a half, it is an original embroidery.

"I am already the fourth generation of the family, on my mother's side, of those of us who are dedicated to the embroidery of pepenado and embroidery pepenado with chaquira. My mother taught me this ancestral technique. My grandmother taught my mother, my mother taught me and now it is up to me to teach my children so that it is not lost", she tells Once Noticias.

Isabel, who wears a blouse embroidered with this technique, says that when she was 11 years old, her mother gave her a fabric and asked her to embroider, "I learned by pecking, but with time one grows and now my designs come out by myself, one grows in the pleating".

This municipality has, among other traditions, two that stand out: the corn festival (Ngo r'e dethä, in the Otomí language) and the elaboration of blouses and shirts with the pepenado embroidery technique, as well as sashes made in waist loom. In the latter, it is mostly women who are dedicated to this activity.

The pepenado refers to the act of counting the folds of the fabric, which when crossed by the needle, has colored threads, resulting in a design. It has its own characteristics of this municipality, which has made it a central element of the cultural identity and memory of Ixtenco.

In Isabel's case, she proudly shows her work, brings some of the pieces in a cloth bag, and does not hesitate to place them on the table to see every detail of her designs. Maria Isabel Lopez says that the older women inherited the tradition of the municipality in their designs, for example, in the guards appear the original flora and fauna and the Malitzin, however, at present they have created original designs.

"Now we have innovated and everyone has their creations. Innovate without losing our origin. It's all a matter of imagining," she says as she shows a fantastic being embroidered with black thread on her white guard.

The woman affirms that the main characteristic of pepenado embroidery is that "the work can be seen from the front, on the main guard, and nothing can be seen on the back. It is not like the quadrillé that one embroiders and it remains on both sides or some napkin. Here it is only on the top, on the figure, but on the back, you don't see it. That is the main characteristic. We also have pepenado with chaquira, here it is a pleating and a chaquira, and so on," she explains.

The simplest work takes 15 to 20 days. She also makes special designs or orders, "as long as we do not lose our origin, our flora and fauna, each state embroiders its own identity. We embroider what is Ixtenco. The golden eagle is the most important bird of the municipality, although we have other birds, in flowers we have guides".

Embroidery in Tlaxcala.
Embroidery in Tlaxcala. Image: Once

To embroider is to write

Isabel shares that this work is usually done with a blanket, poplin, or linen. To make the pleating, thread and a needle are used. "In embroidery one writes, the needle writes and my ink is the thread that captures what I dictate. The work is to pleat without breaking the fabric". She affirms that no machine can replace her work. However, she emphasized that it is a very valuable work and should be appreciated because she and other embroiderers give their feelings in each piece.

"One embodies what one feels. For me, it means a lot. To embody what you already have, you fall asleep thinking about what you want to do, without losing your culture and tradition. People should give value to our crafts because we leave the best of ourselves in each garment or object," says Maria Isabel Lopez.

A textile artisan in Tlaxcala.
A textile artisan in Tlaxcala. Image: Once

Crescencio's work: the ikat jasper

Crescencio Tlilayatzi Xochitemol is a textile artisan from the town of Santa María Tlacatecpac, in the municipality of Contla de Juan Cuamatzi. He is mainly dedicated to the art of jasper and works with different techniques. At the time of the interview with Once Noticias, the artisan was working with a shawl.

"I am the third generation dedicated to textiles. My grandparents and then my parents. They taught me when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I started with the backstrap loom, then I got into the pedal workshop. Now I make exclusive designs in shawls, waist cinchers, dress fabrics, huipiles, tangles, quexquemetl," he shares.

For Crescencio it is important to maintain tradition and innovate, so he considers that his interest is to recover the idea of the original and also to make exclusive designs. Crescencio specifies that the marbled ikat is when the fabric, if it is dark, for example, looks unstained, "those are moorings to make the figures, it is like an original seal. We do not let the dyeing get into what is tied. When we make the ties and untie them, the figures are formed," he says.

He explains that he works with two main techniques: the backstrap loom and the pedal loom. "The first can be taken wherever you want. The second, no, for example, like this one that is in this place," he shows a sash woven with the treadle loom. By stepping on the wooden pedal, the threads meet and tangle as dictated by the artisan. He confesses that some rebozos, with the ikat jaspe design, have taken him from 20 days to months of hard work. He uses natural fibers such as wool, ixtle, and henequen. "For me they are fundamental, beautiful pieces come out with different textures and colors".

He considers it important to experiment with yarns, fibers, and colors, without leaving tradition, "I like to make elegant pieces and make innovations. My interest is to recover the tlaxcalteca", he emphasizes. His pieces have been awarded in '500 years, Encounter of Two Cultures' and in 'Great Masters'. He has made exclusive designs for the writer Laura Esquivel and Eugenia León. Last year he created huipiles -with three canvases in the pedal and backstrap loom- for the series "La Malinche".

Local consumption

Both artisans regret that their pieces are not valued locally. Isabel pointed out that in the case of this embroidery, it was falling into oblivion because the women were stopping doing it. After all, it did not represent a fair profit in their economies.

"The women of the town were no longer interested because it was a lot of work and sold very little. It took us up to two months to embroider and the value of our work was expensive for the people. That discouraged them, they preferred to work in a factory where they could get their paychecks than to embroider and wait for a client who would value their work".

Crescencio would very much like "that all artisans have more opportunities, that they take us into account to promote our work". Isabel and Crescencio can be found at the Casa de las Artesanías. In this small enclosure, together with other artisans, they have some pieces on display -such as blouses, huipiles, and quexquemel- and it is also a space for work, sales, and meetings.