The Spanish word colcha means coverlet or counterpane; however, New Mexicans typically call any bed covering a colcha. Textile enthusiasts use the word colcha to identify an embroidery stitch or a finished piece of embroidery in which the colcha stitch is extensively, if not exclusively, employed. Sabanilla labrada, or wool-on-wool colcha embroidery work, is distinct because it may be one of the few textiles developed and made in New Mexico during the Spanish colonial period.The colcha stitch is similar to the stitich, an embroidery stitch used by Jewish women making fine silk altar cloths, and to the bokhara stitch, an embroidery stitch used in Turkey prior to the Muslim conquest. Roland F. Dickey describes the colcha stitch as:
.a long, coarse stitch in wool yarn, caught in the middle by a short, horizontal ( or diagonal) stitch. The needle is pushed through from the underside of the fabric, passed across the top of the design, and pulled through, leaving a long straight line. Then the needle is brought to the middle of the stitch and passed over it at right angles in a short “step-over” (tie-down stitch) to hold the long stitch flat. Sometimes more than one “step-over” is used to fasten very long stitches.

There are many theories as to how colcha embroidery evolved. The colonists may have been inspired by the flowers and leaves they saw on East Indian chintz, or indianilla. Such was the case in Spain, according to Mildred Stapely, who claims:”The floral designs of almost any Spanish spread can be easily traced to the printed Indian cotton hangings that came into the country in the late seventeenth century.”It is also possible that the Oriental silk shawls imported to isolated outposts of Spain’s new kingdom inspired the settlers to imitate the pretty floral shapes using available, albeit coarser, materials. Many of the designs used in New Mexican colchas, including the double-headed Hapsburg eagle, are found in Spanish and Mexican embroideries. In design and function, the linen and silk embroidery of Spain and Mexico is closely related to the colcha embroidery found in the American Southwest.excerpted from an article by Teresa Archuleta-Sagel inSpanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection

Here is a beautiful video produced by Tu Multimedia narrated by award-winning Spanish Market Artist Julia Gomez.

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