Cartago, Colombia – Cartago, in the department of Valle del Cauca, is undoubtedly one of the world’s prolific embroidery cradles. This Colombian area about 180 miles southwest from the capital city of Bogotá, exemplifies the rural simplicity, beauty, and fun rhythm of Colombia. The town is known nationally and internationally for its excellent embroidered textiles and apparel by artists who are true maestros of thread and needle.
Embroidery in the Valle del Cauca has developed from generation to generation to the point of making it a much appreciated regional tradition. Entire families in Cartago are devoted to this craft, dividing design and embroidery tasks among family members who embellish blouses, skirts, headbands, ruanas (poncho-like coats), guayaberas (traditional tropical shirts), bed and table linens, and more.
History of Cartago Embroidery– Spanish conquistadors brought the first hand-embroidered items to Cartago—a city they founded in 1540.
Hand embroidery became an institution since 1890 when the Vincentine sisters began to teach it in the school they ran. At the beginning, in colonial times, Spanish women were responsible for continuing the art of embroidery. Later on, mestizo women adopted the tradition and established small family enterprises that gradually obtained national and international acknowledgement and fame.
Characteristics of “Cartagüeno”
(carta/weh/no) Hand Embroidery
Cartago embroidery uses the floral and geometric design that characterizes Andalusian embroidery.
Four basic stitches are prominent: flat, crossed, looped, and knotted. Almost a hundred stitches are derived from the above, among which the best known are: cross stitch, stem stitch, cord stitch, relief stitch, flat-pass stitch, sand stitch, double Bastille, crow’s foot stitch, arrow stitch, star stitch, and angel stitch, among others.
Lately, natural materials from the Colombian flora—mainly banana leaf fibers and fique sisal (a xerophytic monocot native to the Andean regions of Colombia) are being added to traditional embroidery and have become fashionable in the textile industry.
I leave you with this fun Colombian cumbia video of Cartago so you can chair dance!
—Silvia Piza-Tandlich, translation