Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
The scent of wildflowers mingles with ripe mango as a black and white dog runs his snout across the leg of one of our tour participants like a cartoon cat eyeing a giant tuna fish. A quick shushing sound comes from the house, and with that, the dog scurries off to lounge alongside a red truck with his face raised to the sun.
It’s 10:30am on a Saturday and our group has recently arrived in San Miguel del Valle – a Zapotec community of roughly 1,500 people in the state of Oaxaca. We are at the home of Martha, who is dressed in the traditional attire for the local women, complete with a cornflower blue dress and a heavily embroidered apron.
Martha started sewing at the age of 16. She is self-taught, and her business is mainly focused around the creation of beautifully embroidered aprons, tablecloths and sheets to cover tortillas. Being that these aprons are a staple in the local community, she often sees custom orders, especially around holidays and special events. The work is time-consuming, given that the more intricate designs take 3 – 4 days to complete.
Both Martha and her mother Margarita are active borrowers in the interest-free microloan program with Fundación En Vía. They are also group members, along with one other woman to form their group of three. Martha and Margarita collaborate as seamstresses on local wares.
The En Vía loan payments were used by Martha to purchase thread, needles, and fabric to make the colorful slips that the women of San Miguel wear under their dresses. The loans have improved her income, as she is able to buy the fabric and thread in bulk, which allows for extra savings during the making process. These embroidered works are sold locally, along with in the markets in both Tlacolula and the city of Oaxaca.
Martha threads the sewing machine and smiles in our direction as her mother calls to the dog in Zapotec. Soon, the dog is standing beside Margarita as she rinses off a bucket of fresh mango fruit, plucked directly from a tree on their property. Back at the sewing machine, Martha moves the needle slowly over a blue floral design, adding in hues of pink and crimson so that the petals come to life before us.
Soon, it’s time to move onto the home of another borrower, and Margarita and Martha bid us farewell in a flurry of hugs and ripe mango. Peeling back the skin of the newly acquired fruit, we move along the dirt driveway and make our way back to the van. As we pull out into a landscape comprised of hues of emerald and tan, the dog shakes his tail in our direction and resumes his position by the red truck, ready for the next group of visitors.