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Design &

How To





Mabel Fragua
Jemez Pueblo

Transcript of  an Interview conducted 1/24/03 at Jemez Pueblo by Dolly Naranjo- Neikrug.

[The interviewers questions and remarks are in red italics.]

Embroidery Artists

Lydia Chinana

Mabel Fragua
Isabel Gonzales
Evelyn Bird Quintana
Romancita Sandoval
Shawn Tafoya

Tell me about your family just to start....

First, I started just like we used to go to class at the community center, this one lady used to come around, this white lady, and then she told us that we could make stuff that we want to make, dresses and aprons, and well, Lydia’s mother in law her name is Rias Chinana...she’s the one who taught us stuff like that. And that’s where we learned it at first, me and my mom. There were a lot of people who went there...this lady bought material like this for us. That’s how we started.

Do you remember her name?

Mrs. Johnson.

Do you remember where she was from?


Was she working in the program?

Yes, she was hired to work up here and teach ladies how to do crochet and stuff like that. That’s what we started from, crochet, and then cross stitch and all that.

And Lydia was telling me that her mother in law taught you to sew.


So your mom didn’t?

Yeah, and now my daughter I’m trying to teach her how to do, so she knows now.

And how old is your daughter?

24. She knows how to make kilts and I haven’t really showed her how to start on the manta.

What was your first piece that was traditional?

Manta. I start that first, and then I was making it for five years, my first one. It took me a long time to finish that one.

Did you keep it?

Yes. It’s kind of old now. It shrunk..

When you were younger, before you started making your own things. Where did Santa Clara, when feast day comes around, we’re borrowing things. Where did you get the things you needed for dancing.

I guess we had things already, like, maybe when we were kids my mom bought stuff for us already. We never did borrow anything.

Then you were lucky.

Yeah, we had our stuff, we hardly borrowed anything.

How many of your things go to people who use them in ceremony, and what percentage of things do you sell to collectors or people who aren’t going to wear them?

Like $1500, I’ll sell it outside for that much. But in the pueblo, I’ll go like $800.

For a manta?


Do you have a lot of people from the pueblo who ask you to make things.

Yes. I make quite a few mantas for here, and kilts, and sashes.

Do you do other things, like weaving or ..

That part I don’t. No.

And you finish your pieces with the black thread around them, because some of the ladies do the finger weaving along the bottom.

That, I used to know how to do that, the fingerweaving crochet, but I forgot how it starts, so I really don’t know how to start that again. Sometimes I ask my sister in law to do the black, because she does the crochet. So I ask her to do it for me.

Do you think your daughter will continue to embroider?


And make a living at it?

Yeah. Cuz that’s what she was saying too, because she likes to learn things too.

Do you make pottery too?


I make pots and both my kids, who are 34 and 25, do pottery too. And it’s really nice, because you feel like you’ve given them a way to make a living.It makes me feel good. Let me look at my questions.

How about the colors you use, are they always traditional?

Yes. I don’t change them. I just use what I use them.

And if you do aprons or tablerunners, do you use different colors?

Yeah, if they want different colors, I’ll do that. If I do it my way, I just stick to the red, green, and black.

Mabel, why do you think we use the purple for the sashes?

Oh, I don’t know. I guess just because those others are just like that.

The red, green. and black are colors for pueblo people, and I was thinking why do we use the purple. And the brocade, with the sashes, somebody told me what that was called. You go over and do you know what that stitch is called? I forgot.

Me too.

Where do you get your material?

Bonanza, that’s the only place I can find it. But I’ve been checking around but they haven’t really gotten the material yet. But there’s one that’s off white, but people here don’t like that one. They like the white. Certain people like it and I’ll get it for them

And the yarn?

Wal Mart.

And you use the acrylic or the wool?


And the patterns, are they traditional?

Yes.Just mostly my patterns.

Where did you get your patterns in the first place?

Or I’ll make my own, I’ll see it in a book, and I’ll change it, I’ll start it off and see, how will this turn out and then I’ll change it, it’s not going to be like this, I’ll do my own.

And the kilts, do you use the same patterns with the rain and the clouds?


Can you sew a little bit for us? And mostly you use that pueblo stitch where you go eight?

Yes, that’s what I do.

When you were at the convocation at the school, which one is your piece?

The manta. The red.

I’m going to tell you a secret. When I first started working at the School 2 years ago, when I opened the drawer where the mantas and kilts were from the convocation, and I saw that manta with the red and black, and I just fell in love with it, I think it’s my favorite thing of the whole place.

I think it has on the bottom sorta like, a thing like that.

It’s beautiful.

The other, what’s her name, that Pino, she did that cross stitch.

It’s beautiful. You do very beautiful work.

The only thing, I don’t like to work on the right side, I don’t know why. I always work on the back, and people always ask me, why do you work from the back? and I don’t know. I hate to be going like this and then [flips fabric], sew again, so I just keep going like this. Even my daughter, she asked me why do I like to sew backwards, and I say I don’t know, it’s just a habit I guess.

And how do you begin? Shawn was showing us how he locks these stitches in and it was really different from everybody else.

I start mine from the middle too. They used to tell us to count our stitches, oh but that takes time, takes forever to do that, so in order for me to start I just go like this, and then like this, and then I’ll know where the center is, then I’ll start, this side first and then...

Then you just go equal distance, and then come out at the right..and how to finish, after your material is finished, how do you set it? Wash and iron?

Yes, when I’m done I’ll wash it first and then iron it and then fold it. then whoever it belongs to comes by and picks it up.

We were talking about the red green and black, I was wondering where do you think those colors come from? Just colors that we liked or the earth or what?

Probably just the colors that we liked, that were traditional.

and when you’re watching the dancers, even if its here or one of the other pueblos, if a manta or kilt goes by that’s yours, can you tell?

Yeah, uh huh. I’ll tell my daughter, There’s one of my kilts. Or that’s one of my mantas. This Christmas I saw three or four of mine in the plaza. Other times, I’ll sell it to outside.

Same at Santa Clara...I bet you always recognize them.

Yes, because I know my patterns, that’s mine and all that, you know... My sisters, two of my sisters, they do that too, they make kilts. And my other sister from Acoma she makes these kind.

She married into there?


And who are your mom and your dad?

My mom is Josephine Loretto, and my dad is ....Loretto.

Then are you related to Glenda, and her sister, who does the sculpture?

Yes. Well, their dad is my dad’s first cousin. So I guess we’re not that close.

Estella came to SAR to the school as one of the film fellow, as one of the artists in residents, for three months.

I got a thing from there when she was supposed to be there, her open house, but I didn’t make it because people were doing something that day too. I wanted to go but...

Well, any time you want to come and visit, just call me. And bring your family.

My daughter, she wants to see the manta that I made.

Will you come visit? I’m there all the time. We can go into the vault, and we can see anything you want to see. And there’s many old old pieces.

And pottery and baskets.

Yes, but also some old mantas that you can take pictures of them, to use the patterns?

Oh really? Okay. That sounds good.

what else do you want to tell us?

I make dresses, Indian dresses too.

The ribbon dresses?


Can we see some?


[Get the sash with the purple]

0:22:00 [close up]

[Get her sewing from the back because it is unique to her]

This is the one that I made for five years.

It’s beautiful. Let’s hold it so that... I can see how it would take five years, it’s gorgeous, but it must have been for a small person.

It was big, but when you wash it, it gets smaller.

But it’s big this way, but I was thinking it’s for a short person.

This was my other one that I made after that one. This is the kind of pattern that was on there, that I made.

Beautiful, I like the butterfly. This I hadn’t seen, where you outline this? And where does this pattern come from?

From my mind.

Really? Do you graph them?

No, I don’t do that. That’s the only thing I can’t do, I say to myself, I wish I do, all the patterns that I have. But I’m going to ask all the people I make mantas for, if I can have those patterns back.

[Close-ups of designs]
You know I’ve started to put patterns on the computer. If you want to, I can do that. You just click the boxes with the right color...and it comes out really clearly....what I do is...[etc]

So if you want me to do any of those I can do it on the computer.

This is my new one now.

This is very different. I haven’t seen this before. Is this your pattern too?


My brother was using this one.

If they get used, they get dirty.

0:26:26 [That diamond is pretty that jaggedy one....]

Do you go to Bonanza to get the material? Yes.

My daughter did this one.

This small section here....

[looking at dresses]

This is the ribbon dress.

That’s nice.

Where did you learn to sew?

Through that class.

I would love to learn how to sew.

[purple dress]

You know how the ladies from Taos wear their....a long time ago a lady made my mother a dress....when I saw this it reminded me of that dress.

Could Jean take a picture of you sewing upside down? Wrongside up way?


Because we haven’t seen anybody do that.

0:30:00 [demo]

I can feel it when I poke it, and that’s how I know. I really don’t like it when I’m sewing it on the right side.

And when you were taught, it was on the right side?

Yes, but I think it’s more comfortable, than going like this, and then go like this and then, pull lit and all that, so I just said to myself, I’ll see if I can sew this way and that way I won’t have to be going in here and go out again, and go through the other end again. So. This is how I sew my stuff. My mother used to tell me, I don’t know why you want to sew like that on the wrong side. Then she said, how do you know where to poke it? And I said, just by going like this, just by feeling it I know where to go, where to poke, you know.

And you know your pattern well enough.

[more demo]

That’s really nice. Thanks for letting us come over.

Thank you for coming.

When you’re ready to come to the School, just tell me. And I’ll take you for lunch too, and bring your family.

[Showing the back and the front]

And then the last thing you do is put in your, the last thing is put in the design in the center?

After you’re done right here, and then come in this way, you start from here, and then go up and then finish this part.

And then when you finish the whole thing, do you put in this part?

No I’ll do this part first, and then finish with this one here. and then go up here, and start on that side, on the top.

So in the meantime, when you first start the manta and you’ve decided about the pattern, do you also know what you’re going to put in the triangle?

Yes. I know. I’m going to put butterflies in.

Because I’m working on a manta, and I didn’t know what I’m going to put in there...

Sometimes I’ll do that to but in the meantime, I know what I’m going to do here.

Time-consuming, huh? When I was about 24, I decided to make my own manta, and like you, it took me years. And now when I look at it, yours is beautiful...and my stitches were so big, and every which way. But that’s what you do you learn something.

I just go like once, let me show you this one. On this one, up and down the back, see how it is.

But it’s still very clean. But I can see what you mean.

This other one....

See on the back one, much later, and then this one the first one...that’s really neat. Mine is not even that nice, all over the place.

What do you consider is the sign of a really good embroiderer? What would you say? If you saw a piece that’s really special, how do you tell if it’s somebody really knows what she’s doing?

I’ll say I guess this person really knows how to sew. And the other ones I’ll say, she’s probably just learning how.

But a lot of it comes from looking at the back.

I always want to enter something like this in the fair. But I was thinking of doing it this year. But I think I haven’t been on time.

You’re entered? You’re already in market? The deadline’s already past for this year.

I know. They always tell me that, won’t you enter your stuff? Yeah, but...

My son who is making pottery, I said get your slides together, because the deadline is the 15th of January...

But you’ve sewn the sides already, huh?

So I have this one to do too, so...

That’ll keep you busy. How long does it take you?

Sometimes it’ll take me about two months by sewing it everyday.

And a kilt?

A day. A day on one side, and a day on the other.

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