The following is a story written by Marcia Lucas, owner and founder of El Interior.
The art of embroidery is fully on display in our beautiful San Antonino style dresses and blouses. They are a classic favorite in the wardrobes of many Austinites and Texans because of their gorgeous handwork and comfort — one can dress them up or be Austin “casual”. We feel these blouses and dresses are the perfect apparel for your next lawn or garden party especially if you are the hostess. In fact, we have some beautiful selections of what we like to call “Hostess Wear”. They are perfect for our warm climate and our many Fiesta-themed parties and celebrations: parties for the bride and bridesmaids, graduations, reunions, outdoor weddings and dining on the patio.
The Women Behind the Work
Below, Dona Rebecca demonstrates the complex embroidery process that goes into making San Antonino dresses and blouses. Her daughter, Rachel, followed in her mother’s footsteps and plays a crucial role in this mother-daughter duo. These wonderful women are just two of the many talented artisans who’s love and care go into the garments we sell at El Interior!
Dona Rebecca showcasing the embroidery process.
Her daughter, Rachel, wearing a beautifully embroidered deshilado blouse.
The Art of Embroidery
Most of the women doing this form of artwork began young, learning from their aunts and mothers when they were seven and eight years old. The techniques used in the making a San Antonino dress include many skills in all kinds of embroidery, different techniques of crochet, the deshilado or drawn thread work and the smocking stitch called “haz me si puedes” (make this if you can). This “haz me si puedes” is the part of the dress where the little people go across the front, right below the yoke. There is also the cutting out of the dresses and blouses, the yokes, sleeves, cuffs and body of the garment and finally, sewing them together on a sewing machine. Many of the finest maestras hand draw their designs directly on to the fabric free handed, so they are always one-of-a-kind. As master maker, Dona Rebecca says, “I love this work, I will never put aside this work.” We believe you can feel the love, the authentic beauty, the joy and the patience in these works of art, especially when you wear them!
Dona Rebecca, Rachael and Marcia sharing a laugh.
Dona Rebecca, Rachael and Marcia viewing a replay of video we had just shot of them working.
Master artesana Dona Rebecca and her daughter Rachel draw their designs directly onto the cloth by hand, showing their strength of design and talent, plus their confidence in their abilities. The flora and naturalistic images reflect their village and the country life. Dona Rebecca’s late husband, Isauro, was a campesino, a farmer, and up until his recent death a few years ago, spent his life in the “milpa”, or cornfield, growing the family’s corn, bean and squash crops. Besides the lovely and masterful embroidery on Dona Rebecca’s garments, she also incorporates delicate and complicated deshilado, drawn-thread work. The released threads from the fabric are rewoven and crocheted into many intricate designs. The crochet also edges the blouses and dresses and sometime joins the sleeve to the bodice.
An example of the deshilado and beautiful crochet work
Measuring the fabric to make a dress, Dona Rebecca uses her hand’s width very precisely instead of using a ruler or tape measure. She also measures the proportion of one part of the dress with another by folding and doubling the fabric, sometimes marking it with a pen and other times not. When done, she gives a nip with scissors, and then loudly rips the fabric apart, keeping the fabric’s integrity by lining up with the weave. Using only straight edges in the garments most likely goes back to long ago when rectangular hand woven huipiles were worn.
According to an interview with Dona Sabina Sanchez Alonzo of San Antonio, Oaxaca, Mexico in the mid 1970’s, (Judith Bronowski in her book “Atesanos Mexicanos”), Dona Sabina says she was the first person to “invent the embroidery using all the colors” in 1928. Up until then, the blouse and embroidery work were both white on white. The traditional smocking “Hazme si puedes” or “dejalo a las mujeres” seems to come from the custom of young girls preparing their trousseaux before marriage. “Do me if you can or leave it to the grown women!” Apparently if a young girl was able to do the smocking then she was mature enough to marry. The most popular form of smocking today is the row of people, this most likely reflects village life, and the people are ready to dance.
Crochet work on the border of a sleeve by Dona Rebecca
A fine example of Dona Rebecca’s beautiful embroidery work and the Hazme Si Puedes little people