Embroidery from Zuleta: traditional art in a modern world

Embroidery by hand has been an important part of artistic expression in the Andean community of Zuleta for centuries.  The Andean Pre-Columbian cultures had a long tradition of weaving, making thread and embroidering.

Traditional materials – cotton, llama wool and alpaca – were originally used to make complicated brocades and tapestries.  With the arrival of the Spanish in the fifteen hundreds, came new materials like silk and embroidery thread.  The Zuleta women quickly incorporated these in their designs and centuries later are now recognised for their beautiful hand embroidery, skill, unique designs and colours. 

Zuleta embroidery was originally used to decorate the clothes of the women of Zuleta.  Its unique style forms part of their cultural identity and has persisted until today, when much other folk art is being lost.  Without a doubt, this is due to ex President Galo Plaza Lasso and his wife, Doña Rosario, owners of Hacienda Zuleta since 1940.   Doña Rosario was inspired by her journeys to Italy and Spain, seeing women embroidering in the doorways of little villages.  Returning to Zuleta, she suggested creating a workshop to make the most of the embroidery skills of the Zuleta women and to produce articles for sale, creating extra income for homes in Zuleta.  This marked the start of the revival of Zuleta hand embroidery.

The children of the Galo Plaza Lasso school started to take embroidery classes.  Simultaneously, a group of women started working together in the store at the hacienda.  The results were a great success.  The women created exquisite embroidered tablecloths, blouses, mats and towels.  Zuleta family incomes increased significantly.  The Zuleteños reaffirmed their pride in their community and understood the importance of conserving their unique handicraft.   In the 1960s, Mr. Plaza obtained technical assistance from the Peace Corps, to organize the workshop.  Today a large group of women earn their living by producing Zuleta embroidery and some even have their own shops.

The distinguished Zuleta style has not changed over the years.  The colours and designs have been combined in new forms to give a modern context to an ancient art.  The embroidery shops continue to be the main source of income for the people of the area, who also maintain their cultural tradition of Zuleta embroidery and costume.

The embroidery workshops and shops have been maintained through the support of the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation as a social development project benefitting more than 100 families in the Zuleta region until 2005.  Today the Foundation just provides space for marketing the embroidery.  All the products are still completely handmade with the goal of conserving the cultural heritage of the famous Zuleta embroidery.

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