Evelyn Bird Quintana
My mother used to tell me, ‘I don’t know why you want to sew like that on the wrong side.’ I think it’s more comfortable.
Unlike most Pueblo embroiderers, Mabel Fragua works from the back side of the design, or “wrongside up.” “I really don’t like it when I’m sewing on the right side,” she said, explaining that she didn’t like constantly having to flip the material from front to back. When asked how she learned this unusual technique, Fragua recalled that “I just said to myself, I’ll see if I can sew this way.” Her mother, who learned to embroider and sew at the same time as her daughter, wondered how she knew where to insert the needle. “Just by feeling it, I know where to go, where to poke,” Fragua said. The result is embroidery with flawless execution on both sides, and many pieces that are as beautiful on the back as they are on the front.
Fragua has lived at Jemez Pueblo all her life, and has been embroidering for twenty-five years, having learned to sew and embroider through classes at the pueblo’s community center. Fragua and her mother, Josephine Loretto, took these classes together, and Fragua has in turn taught her sister and daughter. Her first traditional piece was a manta. “I was making it for five years,” she remembered. “It took me a long time to finish that first one.”
Working in both wool and acrylic, Fragua adapts old designs and creates new ones.
School for Advanced Research