Mexican Lace

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On a recent visit to Oceanside, California, I spent some time with a relative affectionately known as Pepita. She moved to the United States from Mexico with her husband, Jim, who is my husband’s grandfather.

Pepita kept a few things from her life in Mexico when they moved, including this piece of lace made by her great grandmother, Paz Pardo, around 1880. It is a sample of the different patterns she learned to make as a young lady.

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This form of lace is called deshilado, which directly translates as “skillfully,’ but it is also referred to as “drawn work,” due to the way it is made. First the person removes threads from the cotton cloth, leaving a row or windowpane of threads. Then they use a needle and thread to weave and gather threads into geometric patterns. It is a combination of needlework and weaving.

This sampler would have been made to demonstrate her mastery of different patterns of deshilado. It reminds me of the typographic specimens made to show off a typeface in many different styles and sizes from the same era.

During the period of time when Paz was alive, women would often make their own lace for dresses, blouses, and shawls. But they also made it for the household in forms like tablecloths and doilies to decorate family spaces. It was an acceptable form of work for women in that time. Christian moralists lauded it as an honorable endeavor for women of all classes.

It is harder to find people making deshilado like this today. It is more of a craft than a major industry. Cheaper forms of machine-made lace and embroidery are more prevalent.

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I have also been given one of her aprons, which is adorned with a different version of her handmade lace. It is more like crochet than the sampler, as the intricate lace appears more additive in its process. Both objects are treasures and the inspiration for a new set of designs.

Sarah JonesComment