Make me if you can

Parish church of San Antonino (credit: Alejandro Linares Garcia)

Magia Textil de Severa Santiago is professionally run workshop specializing in the traditional embroidery and textiles of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

San Antonino is one of the Central Valleys’ famous handcraft town, located about 25 km south of the city of Oaxaca. It was once physically separate from the local economic center of Ocotlán, but urban growth has made San Antonino a kind of suburb, although the two are politically and culturally separate. It is a very traditional town and maintains a simple life. There are two main handcrafts which forms most of the municipality’s economic base. By far the most important is textiles, especially embroidered ones, and the other is arrangement of dried flowers.

One of its signature garments is the “San Antonino dress,” a kind of long, yoked smock elaborately decorated in fine embroidery. Despite its popularity as a wedding dress and for certain other formal occasions, it is a relatively new invention, according to Magia Textil. The traditional women’s dress of the town is a loose, embroidered blouse with the wool wrap a skirt.

The talented fingers of the town work with many different techniques, using rayon or even silk thread on fine commercial cotton or poly-cotton cloth. Its signature technique is Hazme si puedes (lit. Make me if you can.). It consists of many little dots, some piled on top of each other for form three-dimensional design. This work always include 2 or more people with the purpose of demonstrating community or family unity.  Often, embroidery is combined with drawn thread work (deshilado) and woven/knitted/crocheted accents. This work was introduced to the indigenous peoples here so that they could make clothing for the Spanish.  Over time, it modified to local tastes, especially designs. Local flora is now mixed in with that from Europe.

There are many families that do this work in San Antonino. The one that runs Magia Textil has a typical story with many generations in San Antonino and the pueblos that surround it. Although the story goes back generations before her, we will start with Guadalupe Soledad Paz Miguel. She was born in 1926 to Fidencia Miguel y Lázaro Paz, who were traditional campesinos of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. She inherited from her mother’s line the knowledge of making a myriad of embroidery styles as well as deshilado. She had to start working early to help her mother as her father died when she was very young. Paz learned to decorate traditional blouses with over 25 embroidery techniques and 18 types of drawn thread work.  She also learned to make decorative textiles on small looms.

Guadalupe Paz with a young reporter from the United States.

When she was old enough, she married Cordoba Santiago, with whom she had seven children, including Severa. Her girls learned in turn working in the daytime as much as possible as they had no electricity, only candles at night. The force behind the workshop today is Several Santiago Paz, born in 1955. She is an innovator with unique designs for wedding dresses, tablecloths and more. She had five children, including Erica Guadalupe and Yeny Jacqueline, who have managed to take the family trade and open a cooperative workshop in San Antonino, working with up to 70 women, mostly embroiderers. Although only 35 years old, Yeny Jacqueline already has over 20 years of embroidering and sewing experience. The next generation (including the boys) is also involved in the business, doing everything from washing to pressing as well as all the other tasks of running a small business.

Traditional blouse and skirt of San Antonino

Depending on size and complexity, garments can take anywhere from one month to a year to make. Despite all the work, the prices seem ridiculously low. A garment taken 7-8 months typically runs only 3,000 to 4,000 pesos. A highly-decorated dress, which takes about 10 months to make and runs only between 8,000 and 10,000 pesos.  Most sales are made in Ocotlan and the city of Oaxaca.

As I lack the knowledge to translate embroidery techniques and stitches into English, I recommend reading a wonderful article by about one woman’s experience learning in San Antonino to get a better sense of how the work is done.

You can reach the workshop at their Facebook page–103326517837487/

Photos courtesy of the Santiago Paz family, used with permission

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