The heart of Otomi embroidery is located in the small town of Tenango, Hidalgo, Mexico. Tenango sits on a plateau in a lush valley surrounded by cliffs and waterfalls and is home to hundreds of embroiderers. In the 60's after a debilitating drought hit the sustenance farming community, the Otomi people sought a new form of revenue through craft, and Otomi embroidery was created. This embroidery style, born from necessity and scarcity of resources can be traced back to its Spanish and Aztec roots with its use of satin stitch and repeating side profile motives. These High above the town of Tenango is a large limestone cliff formation with a series of caves called Sirius. Inside the caves are drawings of figures, birds and animals and local legend has it, that these are what have inspired the drawings for the Otomi embroidery.
The first step of the embroidery process is to draw the design onto the fabric. Waterproof pen is used so that the design can be washed out later, and the pen is fluidly and confidently moved across the fabric. Turkeys, deer, hares, parrots, fish, armadillos, roosters, and agricultural scenes appear like magic and are common repeating motives that are often used. The perfect balance of negative positive space gives the embroidery a contemporary graphic quality. Stencils are definitely not allowed, and the quality of the drawing will directly affect and influence the final embroidered piece.
The embroidery stitch used is called 'false satin stitch' where the thread is kept on the front of the fabric and not looped all the way to the back. This results in an economical use of thread, and a sturdy, durable stitch that is anchored in place at each end with a small stitch.
It takes an embroiderer 3-4 months to complete an Olli lounger. Because of this we always ask the embroiderer to sign her name on the piece. This becomes a cherished part of the finished lounger as each signature is unique and represents the artists hand in the work.
Embroidery happens at home, on the streets, and in the market, mostly by women, and women of all ages, young and old. Embroidery is empowering, as its often the main source of income for the family. It is a satisfying, social, and enjoyable profession, created with a lot of pride. Unfortunately Otomi embroidery has recently been reproduced in China and India by machines and sold for a fraction of the cost, undermining the indigenous communities of Hidalgo Mexico. Please check the labels when purchasing Otomi embroidery.