From Grandma, with love

For Artesanias Yotao, the making of dolls has both familial and cultural significance.

It is a family of textile artisans located in the city of Oaxaca, with strong ties to the traditional barrio of Xochimilco and its weavers. The women of this family embroider and sew traditional wares such as bedspreads, pillows, aprons, tablecloths, napkins, but I met them at the annual Amealco doll festival, selling their contribution to this growing art.

Sewing and embroidery go back more generations than they can count, but the making of their dolls is credited  to Guillermina Cuevas Córdova. Over 30 years ago, she saw that her daughters, and later her granddaughters needed dolls to play with, so she taught herself to make rag dolls, using muslin, and scraps… stuffing the dolls with the tiny bits left over from other projects. She then taught her daughters and granddaughters.

One of her daughters, Teresa Villanueva Cuevas began making dolls to sell as toys. As their purpose was purely for play, they were dressed simply in a blouse, skirt and rebozo (a kind of long shawl).

Years later, Villanueva’s niece Arlette Monica Escamilla Villanueva took the dolls to the next level. One of her textile niches is the making and renting of elaborate traditional garb, the kind worn only on special occasions and for many, too expensive to buy outright. This came out of her love for Oaxaca’s regional variation. About 10 years ago, she put her grandmother’s doll making techniques together with her ability to make this fine clothing together.

She has preserved her grandmother’s techniques and designs (with the addition of a version imitating La Catrina). Scraps can still be used but the body is now made in light and dark-colored muslin stuffed with fiberfill. The faces are still embroidered by hand and yarn is used to create hair. Like many regional dolls in Mexico, the “wow” factor comes in with the dress. They represent regions such as the Costa Chica, the Tuxtepec region on the Veracruz border and the various mountain areas and ethnicities. The regional outfits range from everyday wear to those reserved for special occasions.

In this case, the family recreates the various regional dress as authentically as possible. This means that the embroidery is done by hand, and even the placement of tiny beads one-by-one when the original calls for it. Such work is time-consuming and only three people right now are dedicated to the dolls, Escamilla, Villanueva and one other person who helps out occasionally. This limits their production. Obviously such dolls are made as collectors’ items, but they still make the occasional simply doll meant for play.

Originally, they made the dolls in one size, which they call “normal.” But they began getting requests for a smaller version which regularly sell. They can and do make larger versions, but only special order. They are on Facebook at but most of their sales is done at fairs in Oaxaca as well as a cooperative store called Pentanda, located on Macadonia Alcala #407 Local 6 in the city center.

Satisfaction in making the dolls is similar to that of their other handcrafts but perhaps more intense. The dolls preserve a link to doña Guillermina, who died some years ago.

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