a traditional art in a modern world
In the Andean community of Zuleta, hand embroidery has been an important form of artistic expression and adornment for centuries. Pre-Colombian Andean cultures boast a long tradition of weaving abilities, far surpassing those of Europe in the same era. The most talented weavers could produce material with as many as five hundred two-ply woollen wefts per inch. The highest figure attained in Europe before the industrial revolution was a mere one hundred. Originally, traditional resources were used such as cotton and llama and alpaca wool to create complicated brocades, tapestries, double cloth and gauze. However, with the arrival of the Spanish in the mid 1500’s, new resources were introduced, such as silk embroidery yarns.
The Zuleteña women quickly incorporated these yarns into their weavings, and centuries later they are now renowned for their hand embroidery expertise, unique designs and colours. Zuleteño embroidery was originally used to decorate the Zuleteña women’s clothing. The style was so unique it actually became a form of cultural identification and it has persisted to the present day, when so many folk arts are being lost. Without doubt, this is in part due to former Ecuadorian president Galo Plaza Lasso and his wife Doña Rosario, owners of Hacienda Zuleta from the 1940’s. Doña Rosario was inspired during one of her trips to Italy and Spain where in small villages she saw women embroidering on their doorsteps. On her return to Hacienda Zuleta, she proposed creating a workshop that would take advantage of the Zuleteña women’s embroidery skills and produce articles for sale, as well as provide an additional income for the Zuleteño homes.
This marked the beginning of the Zuleta Embroidery Workshop and the revitalization of hand-embroidered Zuleteño textiles. Children at the Galo Plaza Lasso School began receiving embroidery classes. Simultaneously, a group of women started working together at the Hacienda’s workshop. The result was hugely successful: the women created exquisitely embroidered tablecloths, blouses, placemats and towels, and family incomes were significantly increased. Less obvious, but of great cultural significance, the Zuleteño people reaffirmed a true sense of community pride and realized the importance of preserving their unique craft. In the early 1960’s Sr.Plaza obtained technical assistance from the Peace Corps to organize the workshop. Today there is a large group of women that earn a living from Zuleta Embroidery, some of who have independent workshops.
Over the years the distinct Zuleteño style hasn’t changed. However, colors and applications have manifested themselves in new ways, thus providing a modern context for an ancient artform. The aim of the workshops continues to be to supplement the basic agrarian income of the people in the surrounding communities, as well as to preserve the cultural tradition of the Zuleta Embroidery and Dress. The workshop and its stores have been managed under the auspices of the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation as a social project benefiting over one hundred families in the Zuleta region until 2005.
Nowadays the Foundation only provides a place for merchandising. In the shop “El Taller” at the hacienda the women have a place to exhibit and sell their embroidery, self managed, but supported by the hacienda´s increasing tourism. All the products are still completely hand-made in an effort to preserve the meaning “Cultural Heritage”. Zuleta Embroidery is indeed a tribute to the artistic talent of these women. Today, the Zuleta embroideries can be found in many stores throughout Ecuador. Custom-orders are also available upon request.You can for example visit the Foundation´s shop in Quito (Veintemilla y 6 de Diciembre). Bring the beauty of Zuleta emboidery into your own home!