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Friday, December 22, 2017

Colcha workshop

My last post reported on my developing interest in New Mexico Colcha embroidery over the last seven months since reading an article about it in Piecework magazine.

As I gathered more and more information, my obsession spilled over to the Ethnic Embroidery Studies Group of the Embroiderers' Guild of SA, of which I am a member. Other members of the group are as keen as I am to learn about the embroideries of specific cultural groups, so I offered to share my research at our December meeting.

Colchas (Spanish word for bedcovering) came to the Americas with the early Spanish explorers, along with churro sheep - small, wiry arid land sheep. The sheep provided both the woven material for blankets and the thread with which they were embroidered. When the Spanish sent expeditions north from New Spain churro sheep, blankets, looms and expertise in embroidery and weaving went with them.
modern churro wool for weaving or knitting (from Weaving Southwest)
In the harsh conditions they found on arriving in what became New Mexico, the sheep and blankets were invaluable and contributed to the survival of the community. Embroidery of the blankets was reduced to the use of a single stitch - now known as  Colcha Stitch, a variation on Bokhara couching. It was quick to work and provided two additional layers of wool to the base wool fabric. The sheep were also highly valued by the Pueblo Indians and have become integral to Navaho weaving.  The story is much richer than this summary - I put together and made available a paper summarising what I had learned of the history.

For the workshop I put together some simple kits using doctors' flannel, Appleton's wool and some traditional designs from Wroth, William (ed) Weaving & Colcha from the Hispanic Southwest, Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, 1985

I created some iron-on transfers of the designs to save having to trace them individually. While this made it easier, the transfers bled a bit on the flannel.

Interest was high and everyone tried the stitching. Many also explored the books (all of which are listed in the paper).

A couple of members have already finished their sample piece. One is intending to make a blanket or quilt!

In April next year our group is responsible for a display of work in the Guild's Gallery. We plan to display our colcha pieces.  I will post photographs when the time comes. In the meantime, I have some photos of finished pieces. Barbara Mullan finished hers and then did another one on black - this time outlining the chalk tracing with tacking stitch to keep the shape.
Barbara's finished lizard
Barbara's tacking outline

my unidentified plant!

Lori Howlett's bird

I am especially grateful to Esther Vigil who sent me her two books on Colcha. Esther is the daughter of Maria Teofila Ortiz Lujan, a pivotal pioneer in the survival and renaissance of Colcha Embroidery. One of the cleverest ideas I have seen in a long time is the back covers of Esther's books which feature the back of the piece of embroidery featured on the front of the books!

Esther has answered my questions, supported this venture and sent me links to a video interview with her. There is also a transcript of that interview. I hope I have done her justice in the workshop and paper.
We topped off our workshop with a shared Christmas lunch - a really lovely morning spent stitching, learning and eating together.

 May we all enjoy such blessings this Christmas!


Margaret Morgan said...

Thank you Jillian for being such a great convenor for our group. I am making an endeavour through the break to finish my UFOs - including the Colcha!!

Jillian said...

Thank you Margaret. It’s a great group to belong to - cooperative and collaborative with deeply shared interests. I’m sure the UFOs will shrink over the next weeks - the trouble is, you will probably start new ones!

Monica said...

It looks like you did a great job with this class, and I'm glad that a few have already finished and are ready for more! I can see the appeal -- I love those chunky, squared off designs. Is there more on the way?

Anyway, have a great holiday! (I guess it's already Christmas Day there!)

Jillian said...

Thanks Monica. Another workshop in August. I have no current plans to use the designs - but you never know...
Yes, Christmas morning here. Hope yours is full of joy!