First, just what is embroidery? It can be defined as a decorative technique done on previously-woven cloth in which the artist uses a needle to carry a thread or yarn in and out of the cloth to produce a design. The art has existed for millenia and examples occur throughout the world. But when did the people of the Southwest begin to embroider? Unfortunately, this is a question without a precise answer.
Brocade or Embroidery
Other Pre-contact Evidence
Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish explorers in the Southwest sometimes described the clothing of the people they encountered. In the 1580s, Espejo reported that the indigenous men wore shirts and small pieces of colored cotton cloth, and the women wore cotton skirts embroidered with cotton thread. In the same decade, Gallegos wrote of the painted and embroidered clothing that the southern Tiwa wore, “...for barbarians, it is the best that has been found.”
Castano’s report from Pecos (c. 1590) detailed the residents’ winter clothing: “We noted that most of the men, if not all, wore cotton blankets and over these a buffalo skin, since this was the cold season; some covered their privy parts with small pieces of cloth, very elegant and elaborately decorated. The women wear a blanket tied over the shoulder and left open on one side, with a sash the width of a span wrapped around the waist. Over this blanket they wear another, nicely decorated and very fancy, or a kind of robe made of turkey feathers, as well as many other novel adornments, all of which is quite remarkable for barbarians...”
Don Diego de Vargas
Obviously, the Spanish conquistadors were impressed by the clothing they saw. But how accurate are they in their descriptions of the clothing being “embroidered” and “painted”? Some archaeological evidence of pre-contact sewing and brocade or embroidery techniques exists.
School for Advanced Research