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The Pueblo Stitch

The primary methods of decoration for textiles in the past were embroidery and loom-controlled twills.

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      A variant of the back stitch, the Pueblo stitch is unique to the Pueblo people. The stitch enables the embroiderer cover a large area completely and efficiently with yarn. Using it, the embroiderer can work designs in negative patterning, a longtime hallmark of Pueblo aesthetics. Because it is worked over a predetermined, counted grid (the grid provided by the balanced weave of the fabric), the stitch lends itself to geometric designs, another common feature of Pueblo design sensibility.

Origins of the Pueblo stitch

Where did this stitch come from? Why did the Pueblo people use it used so extensively, not only in the Rio Grande area but also in the more remote western Pueblos of Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi? Unfortunately, historians don’t know the answers to these questions. Some suggest that the Spanish introduced embroidery along with wool and the metal needle. The uniqueness of the Pueblo stitch suggests that it was an indigenous innovation, not a Spanish import.
     But Pueblo embroidery did not flower immediately after the Spanish conquest. The new rulers forced the Pueblos to work in their fields and churches and demanded a tribute of woven mantas. Heavily burdened with procuring subsistence for the Spanish as well as themselves, Pueblos for a time had little time and energy to produce textiles for their own use. As a result, Pueblo weavers lost the elaborate textile techniques of the pre-contact period during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They replaced these decorative arts with embroidery, developing the Pueblo stitch and a design vocabulary that flourishes today.

Lydia Chinana demonstrates the Pueblo stitch.

Sample of the Pueblo stitch   Enlarge
(by Evelyn Quintana)

Variations of the Pueblo Stitch

      Embroiderers execute the Pueblo stitch in a variety of ways. In some of the early nineteenth-century embroidered items, the maker used a doubled strand of single-ply hand-spun yarn. Sometimes this doubled strand was twisted together, but at other times the strands were kept separate. The embroiderer brought the needle up from the underside of the fabric and then back down four (or three, as in the example) or six or eight weft rows away, keeping the same relative position warp-wise. The artist then brought the needle back up through the fabric inside the intersection of the warp and weft one row below and through the doubled yarn without catching or piercing the embroidery yarn itself. These efforts not to pierce either the yarn or the individual warps and wefts of the cloth are most likely holdovers from the period when metal needles were unknown (see Pre-contact sewing). Without the benefit of metal needles to jab and poke, this careful technique was probably the only way to sew.
Spanish Influence  

The Spanish were not without influence, though. Their arrival and the display of lavishly embroidered ecclesiastical goods by the Spanish priests probably encouraged Pueblo artists to use embroidery to a greater degree. Moreover, the Spanish introduced churro sheep to the region, thus offering the Pueblos a new fiber that was easy to process and much easier than cotton to dye.

     The colcha stitch, used by Hispanic embroiderers in the same geographic area during the same time period, is a Spanish import. However, the Pueblo stitch bears very little resemblance to the colcha stitch.
      The colcha stitch belongs to the category of couching stitches widely employed in Europe and Asia. It is more flexible than the Pueblo stitch and allows the artist to create curves and floral forms.

Read more about the colcha stitch.

 School for Advanced Research