Traditional Mexican Dress Inspiration
Use these photos to help you dream up the perfect embroidery design for your Puebla Dress.
When I decided to make my own Mexican dress, I first spent a lot of time studying my vintage
dress from Oaxaca. First I figured out how it was constructed, and then I looked over the embroidery,
inch by inch to see how it had been rendered.
Throughout the fun process of making my own Mexican dress, I looked at dozens of photos of tradtional
Puebla dresses and other Mexican folk clothing to try to get a really strong feeling for the 'flavor'
of these garments. I've collected some photos from generous donors in order to give you the opportunity
to admire and get inspired by authentic, vintage Mexican dresses. Whether you decide to go traditional
with your embroidery, or do something completely different, I hope these images will be a pleasure to
My study has taught me that most Mexican embroidery is composed of stem stitch and satin stitch.
The work has a thick, pillowy appearance and the motifs are grouped closely together for a very ornate
appearance. A daisy-type flower seems to be the most common choice, but birds, butterflies and human folk
figures make appearances, too. I've laid out a few suggestions for embroidery motifs here.
In addition to this, I am excited to share a couple of samples of traditional embroidery from the
collection of Bob Freund who has spent year visiting the various regions of Mexico in order to
catalog the needlework and weaving of indigenous women.
I have come across several vintage Mexican dresses from the 1950's - 1970's that were worked in
cross stitch, and they were very beautiful. I've seen both florals and graphic shapes done this way
and the effect is tapestry-like and really interesting. Mr. Freund has again been kind enough to
share a couple of samples of the traditional cross stitch worked by the talented indigenous women
of Mexico. Look at what a striking effect is achieved in these masterworks!
The indigenous women of some regions of modern day Mexico have also become machine embroidery
experts, and the textile sample below, from the collection of Bob Freund, shows the wonderful
graphic embellishments that can be achieved in this manner. Machine embroiderers, just take
a look at this!
When it comes to choosing colors, you are only limited by the spectrum of the rainbow! Mexican
folk art is some of the most colorful in the world and one of the most fun parts of making a Mexican dress
is in deciding what type of effect you want to create with your palette. My background as an artist
and quilter makes me a woman who feels strongly about colors.
When the base color of your Mexican dress is white...
I can think of several choices for embroidery hues that would be neat. You could do a whole white
dress in old-fashioned redwork. What a showcase this would be of your talents if you are a redwork buff!
Or, how about the gorgeous effect of red/green/white or pink/green/white featured in the Baltimore
album quilts that were the height of home fashions in the 1800's? Bursting with flowers, buds and
winding vines, Baltimore Album Quilt motifs (shown left) would lend themselves beautifully to a Mexican peasant
Because quilting is such a graphic art, we can take a lot of ideas from it when embellishing clothing.
One of the most favored styles of quilting are seen in two color quilts. Blue and white, red and white, green
and white, pink and white. It's the white background that makes the colored portion of the design really
pop out, and this could be a very nice concept for embroidering a Mexican dress. Or, of course, you
can create a fiesta of colors, as many-colored as confetti falling from the sky!
Creating a Mexican dress with a cool feeling...
Pastels and soft earth tones have a cool feeling to them. Pale green or sage green, baby blue or perriwinkle,
lavender, lemon yellow, apricot, soft pink, beige, pearl grey...fabric in any of these colors will make
a cool feeling dress. Think of the heavenly hues of the high mountains of Mexico, or the picturesque town plazas
with their fountains, flowers and green lawns. You can then choose to embroider in complementary cool tones and hues for a soft
look, or achieve more contrast by picking hot shades of embroidery thread. Every choice will result in
a very different finished garment.
Creating a Mexican dress with a hot feeling...
Terra cota orange, brilliant aqua, cinnamon pink, golden yellow, emerald, lime, royal blue, and firecracker red
are colors that call up the sun-baked desert and balmy summer days. If you love radiant, bold clothing, consider
these colors for the base fabric of your Mexican dress. You can then choose further hot-colored embroidery
flosses to continue the sunny feeling or contrast with pastels or even white threads.
The Mystery of the Little People Mexican Dress
Over the course of a couple of months, I received two inquiries from visitors to this site about a Mexican
dress embroidered with little people. I had never seen such a dress before and was very intrigued. Reader Pam
Bishop was kind enough to share photos with me of one of two dresses she owns from the 1980's. A-ha!, I
said, So these are the little people!
Look at those little figures! No wonder people remember them so fondly. If anyone reading this knows the history
or meaning of these little people embroidered across the bottom of the yoke of a Mexican dress, we would all like
to know the story. Please, write to me if you
have any further information about this specific kind of embroidery pattern. I'd love to post the details here
to further explain the mystery of the little people. Pam Bishop owns both this white dress and a blue one, and she
relates that a friend of hers remembered seeing Mexican women wearing them in Texas. I so admire the complete embroidery
of this beautiful gown. Look at how the needle artist chose different shades of blues so that it looks as if the florals
are changing colors right before your eyes!
The second curious feature of this gown is its construction. Unlike the easy 5 rectangle assembly of the dress for
which I am selling an instruction booklet on this website, Pam's dress has a most unusual and complex construction.
The sleeves are made of 3 pieces which appear to consist of a front, back, and a triangle underarm piece. According to Pam, the
front and back are not sewn together (at the top shoulder) but are
linked with a crochet type lace that then splits and is the trim
around the sleeve. A second difference is the gathering or smocking on the fall of the dress. Many, many tucks are taken
in the mid-center of the fall. My Mexican Dress features two sets of simple pleating to either side of the center. It's really
quite a different approach to this gown, and Pam's dress would require a bit more skill than the one I'm selling the booklet
for, but both are lovely gowns.
Unfortunately, I do not have a source for buying the Little People dresses or for making them at present. I do believe that
the construction of Pam's dress might be beyond the skill of beginners, but, if it is the embroidery of the little people dress
that you love, I would think that, if you are a really creative, crafty person, you could use my dress pattern, and then simply create your own embroidery pattern to make it
like Pam's Little People dress. The actual assembly of the dress would be quite different, but if you just love those Little People, you could at least then
have a basic gown to sew them on and the effect would be very similar. Thanks to Pam for allowing us to publish her photos. Maybe we'll learn more about this dress in the future!
Update About the Little People Mexican Dress, customer Samantha writes in:
I was looking at the photos of the Little People dress on your website. It looks like those
little people are actually smocking. You gather the pleats and
hold them still with pleating threads, then you embroider across
the pleats so that there is a pretty design and the pleats will
remain after the pleater threads are removed. The wavy lines are
called geometric smocking and the actual people are picture smocking.
That looks like a simple pattern to replicate given a better photo of
that area. Smocking is not hard to learn--it's basic embroidery,
but since you're doing it on pleats instead of flat fabric, there are
a few techniques to get down first. It's a very pretty dress and is
giving me some ideas.
Latest Update: Reader Karen Writes In:
Nice site. I'm responding about the smocked little people.
This work is done by the embroiderers of the Zapotec town
of San Antonino Castillo Velasco Oaxaca and is known as "Hazme si puedes"
(make me if you can).
Thanks for that super tip, Karen!
What is truly traditional when it comes to Mexican folk clothing?
My study has taught me that practically every color and every creative idea seems to be fair game in the art
of creating and embellishing this authentic garment that has been worn for centuries in Mexico. As with all
handcrafts, the individual maker always adds some special touch that makes what they create their own.
So, your job is to take inspiration from what others have achieved in the past and add a little bit of yourself
to the mix of this fine old tradition!
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