“Huipiles: The Best Craft I Ever Bought” with Karen Karuza

The Craft Show brings some of the country’s most notable craftspeople and their wares to our city. Today, we’re introducing a new blog series that celebrates the power and beauty of handmade objects, called “The Best Craft I Ever Bought.”  In this series, creative and passionate Philadelphians tell us the stories behind the craft objects they’ve welcomed into their lives and what the objects mean to them.

Our first blogger is Karen Karuza, a professor of fashion design who teaches at The Art Institute of Philadelphia and Moore College of Art and Design. She’s worn many (fashionable) hats, teaching ESL in Mexico, working in the fashion industry on New York’s Seventh Avenue, and as an antiques dealer specializing in religious iconography. She is a practitioner of the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga and blogs at Confessions of A Yoga Hussy.

Nearly three decades ago, Oaxaca, Mexico found me. My son was born in Oaxaca,

I taught in a private school. I ran a cafe. But life changed and we returned to the States.

Seven years ago I was on a summer teaching sabbatical in Oaxaca documenting its incredibly rich textile tradition. Huipiles – traditional indigenous garments worn by women — have always been one of my favorite collectibles. In any crowded market, a woman’s huipile identifies what village and indigenous group she is from. Huipiles tell the story of one’s life.

One size fits all. Every woman looks lovely in a huipile. Even so, huipiles had fallen “out of fashion” in the early 21st century. Perhaps Oaxacan women wanted to appear more “North American” and ”modern.”

Wandering through a small specialty shop in the Tourist Corridor one lazy afternoon, I came across the most extraordinary “modern” version of huipiles.  Quality fabrics, scaled slightly smaller, slightly more cropped than the traditional versions, adorned with embroidered images and words.

Oaxacan artist and poet laureate Natalia Toledo, who is also the daughter of noted painter, sculptor and activist Francisco Toledo, had designed and made these huipiles. She writes in Spanish but also in Zapoteca- one of many fading indigenous dialects in Oaxaca.

An inky blue huipile caught my attention. It was embroidered with multicolored words that formed a poem, written by Natalia Toledo, one side in Spanish, one side in Zapoteca:

My house is your house

Fringes they weave on my head

Death is a cricket

That awaits on the leaf of your door

I cherish this huipile -- it reminds me of what I love about Oaxaca: the strength of the women, the lyricism of every day magic realism, the spectrum of color everywhere, the confrontation of life and death.

When I wear this huipile, feel connected to that place of my heart.

Visit 2014 Craft Show Wearable Fiber Art  to see the gorgeous, artist-made, wearable artwork that will be available from our Craft Show artists.

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