Tenango Otomi embroidery is probably one of the most visible forms of Mexican embroidery, with samples available in many tourist markets, often on garments and linens. As bright and attractive as it is, what is available in the markets is not indicative of the skills many Otomi women of the state of Hidalgo have.
Elvira Clemente Gómez does some of the finest needlework I have ever seen and is capable of several styles of embroiderly and related stitching. She lives in the tiny town of Santa Mónica, hanging nearly off a cliff in the municipality of Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo.
Like all women here, she began embroidering and other stitching as a young girl, learning from her mother, who learned from her mother and so on, for more generations in this municipality and anyone can count. She began by learning to make pepenados, gathered blouses with yokes that are nearly completely covered in tiny stitching. These are the hardest to make, and the most time consuming, taking up to a year. These are still mostly made for local consumption and worn only on very special occasions. The main reason for this is that they cannot sell the blouses for enough to warrant the time. She then learned to make a number of other items, including the style of embroidery this region is known for.
While she spent a short time in Mexico City, Maestra Elvira’s world is Santa Mónica and she very rarely leaves it. Like others in this area, she makes much of her income doing embroidery, working with three of her five daughters and one granddaughter. However, she is extremely poor, living in a two room cinderblock construction, barely with electricity and with only an outhouse.
Despite the rough surroundings, Maestra Elvira’s work is anything but. She can manage several different types of embroidery thread, from the thick common type, seen on tourist items to very thin, both matte and silk-like. These allow for a wider range of expression and she is not limited to the simple fill technique, but rather can produce a wide variety of textures as well as colores.
However, her work is mostly limited to making embroidered panels, to be sold through middlemen (mainly from neighboring San Pablito) to be used on garments, principally yokes and sleeves. However, she is also able to make large embroidered panels such as one depicting the coffee-growing culture of Puebla. Asked why this is the case, her response is that she does not have the money to buy a sewing machine.
She was recruited for the Festival Anual de Textiles by organizer Yautic Quiroz for her fine work, one of her few forays out of Santa Monica and into Mexico City. Despite very, very spotty Internet and cell phone coverage in Santa Monica due to the terrain, she does have a Facebook page under the name of Bordadora Hñuhu.