Mexico is not the first place you think of when you think of patchwork quilts, but it’s fairly popular despite its short history.
It is big enough such that many Mexican cities have one or more quilt shops, a number have quilt “guilds,” social groups of quilters, as well as two major expositions in Mexico City alone.
One of these, the Expo Quilt México Internacional, enters its fifth edition this year, running from 31 July to 2 August 2017 at Casino Campo Marte, Avenida Reforma, San Miguel Chapultepec in the western part of Mexico City. It was founded and is run by Silva Barba Alhadro, the propietor of the Quilting Studio, a quilting supply shop/studio/school in the upscale San Angel neighborhood.
Barba’s story is fairly typical of those who have become attracted to the craft here. She discovered it quite by accident, working as a kindergarten teacher at a local British/American school. A illustrated alphabet had images of quilts for the letter “Q” and one of her students told her that her mother makes them. Curious, Barba got in touch with this mother and soon after took her first quilting class. She has been quilting ever since.
She did not get involved with the aim of starting a business. She had her afternoons free and was looking “for a way to entertain herself for a few hours each day.” But within a couple of years, she found herself teaching a couple of other women. Word of mouth brought more students over the next 5 or 6 years, she was regularly teaching and quilting in her home. Finally, it got so big that she decided to move it into the current location, where it has been for about 7 years. She estimates that she and others at the shop have taught over 60 women in Mexico City. They also import and distribute supplies and equipment for various parts of Mexico… everything from cloth, to tools and even industrial sewing machines designed to sew the three layers that make a quilt a quilt.
Quilt making most likely came to Mexico via American expats who came to retire here since the mid 20th century. There are well-organized groups of such quilters in expat havens such as San Miguel Allende and Ajijic. But the establishment and spread of quilting in Mexico has not been documented. Barba states that quilting in Mexico “is still in diapers,” but has been growing rapidly, in Mexico City and other areas, especially in the past 6-7 years.
There are quilters in a number of Mexican cities such as Veracruz, Guadalajara, Merida and Monterrey. Most are in metropolitain areas, but there are some in more rural areas as well. Unlike traditional Mexican craft tradition, quilting is dominated by hobbyists. While Barba’s students have ranged in age from 15 to 75+, she says by far most are women around 40-45 years of age, upper class, whose children are now older, either in school full time or are grown. Most of these women have domestic help and time on their hands. Quilting and quilting classes provide both entertainment and a social outlet. For more than a few, they find the work and the comaraderie therapeutic.
Very few sell the quilts they make, although such artisans can be found communicating with quilting circles.
Those who make money from the craft do so by teaching. The giving of quilting classes has grown into a cottage industry, with most giving classes in their homes and a few, like Barba, in quilting studios. The Expo Quilt is dedicated to such teachers, providing them an opportunity to demonstrate their quilting skills and ability to teach aspiring hobbyists.
The 2017 version with have not only expositors from Mexico City, but also from Morelia, Guadalajara, Toluca and Querétaro. Last year’s exposition attracted about 1,000 visitors.
Another important part of the Expo is the Quilt Competition, with this year’s theme being stars. Prizes are awarded in various categories, such as those for beginners to advanced quilters as well as one for children. One prize is reserved for the crowd favorite. There are also displays of quilts that are not part of the competition.
Special thanks to Silvia Barba for the photos of the 2016 Expo