When I travel, I always have my eye out for other knitters. I bet you do too. (Cat Bordhi once confessed to me that the advent of tiny headphones has been hard for her. Watching people pull them from their bags, for one wonderful second she always thinks “Yarn!” and is then a little crushed when it’s just headphones again. It happens to me too. Over and over.)
I was looking for knitting in Mexico, but I didn’t find it. (I did find one knitter – although technically she found me. As Joe and I were walking down the street, a very nice knitter approached us, and introduced herself, and she was a cyclist, and a knitter, and she was also American, not Mexican, there on a visit herself. Being me, I was confident I would remember her name – and being me I’ve forgotten it, but not her. Hi there! Lovely to meet you!) As we travelled around, there was lots of evidence of the textile arts, but no evidence of knitting – this makes sense, there’s no traditional knitting of Mexico – it’s not like they had Aran sweaters like Ireland, or mittens like Latvia. Knitting came to Mexico by way of immigrants coming from other parts of the world, much like the rest of North America. (Surprise, there’s no knitting tradition in Canada or the United States either, not until immigrants brought it from Europe. The indigenous people here didn’t know how. I know someone just flipped out and is about to leave me a comment about the Cowichan people and their sweaters. I know, I know, but the Coast Salish peoples didn’t knit until about 1850 – when a Scottish settler taught them.)
Mexico then, doesn’t have a knitting tradition – the Spanish knew how to knit by the time they colonized the place, but knitting was an art that wasn’t known by a lot of regular people and it looks like they brought farming techniques, floor looms, sugar cane, horses, sheep and small pox, rather than knitting. Instead, what knitting exists there now was probably brought by missionaries later on. That said, the indigenous people of what’s now Mexico were making textiles for a long time before they were colonized. Spinning, weaving and beading were well known to the Mayans, using cotton, backstrap looms and drop spindles were commonplace, and figure largely in their art and artifacts.
Those are primarily the traditions that have carried on. I saw absolutely buckets of weaving in Ajijic, Guadalajara and Mexico City. It was everywhere. There was handwoven textiles in just about every shop, and every restaurant boasted some handwoven napkins, or a tablecloth.
Beaded bookmarks, necklaces… you name it. If you can bead it, it was beaded. At this booth, a guy sat in the back, beading a neckpiece so fast that I worried he’d bead me if I stood still too long. (No picture. He didn’t want me to take one.)
At the Museum of Archeology, there was a recreation of a 16th Century room from Tlaxcala – and there were a lot of items in there we’d find pretty familiar. Hand cards, a wheel not too different from one of my own, a skein winder, and a pretty modern looking floor loom and bobbins.
There was a frame loom,
and a back strap loom – the use of both of which almost certainly pre-date the floor loom.
There was beautiful embroidery everywhere, and tiny hand made needles from (crap. I forgot to write it down – they’re pretty stinking old. Maybe one of you knows?)
One lady even showed us the first needle and thread –
The tip of an agave leaf, with the fibres that run down the plant still attached. Voila. It was really, really sharp, and you could see how well it would have worked.
I even saw a weaver, working away at her loom – outside a shop full of the things she’d made. (I tried to tell her I was a weaver too, but I didn’t know the words and it didn’t go very well.)
In Guadalajara I turned a corner and suddenly found myself in front of three yarn shops, all in a row – Well, they were shops that had yarn, but they were really different from what I’d call a yarn shop here. For starters, in not a one of them could you touch the yarn.
It was in cases that opened to the back, so only the staff could touch them, or it was up on shelves behind a counter – running back into the shop. Near as I could tell, the customers did a lot of pointing and shouting, and the people who worked there went back and forth with sticks, ladders and other implements, fetching the yarn that the patron fancied, and running it to the front, where it was examined, and then rejected or accepted.
There was little or no supply of knitting patterns that I could see, and the notions section (including needles) was very, very meagre, and also behind the counter. Now, what was really interesting, was that it seemed to me that all of this was for crochet. All the samples were crochet, there was lots of crochet hooks, and the few magazines of patterns I could see at all, they were crochet too.
This all sort of fit, I think – because the only person I saw using that yarn the whole time I was in Mexico?
They were a crocheter. This is Stephanie, your roving correspondent, signing off.
(PS. We’ve had some last minute cancellations for the April Strung Along Retreat, so we’ve got two spots available. We’ll let you know now that June is looking full, and November is full, so if you wanted to launch off for a spectacular treat, this April might be your chance. We’d love to have you. Email Debbi or I at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll set you right up.)
(PPS. We’re still accepting goodies for our goodie bags – if you’d like to put something in them, that same address works. We tweet, instagram and Facebook all our goodie bag stuff, it’s not a terrible way to show off what you do.)