Mexican cuisine and its textiles: napkins for tortillas

Such is the importance of tortillas in Mexican cuisine that even the napkins to keep them warm are a work of art.

By Cocina Cinco Fuegos

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 21 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Beautifying traditions

In 2010 Mexican gastronomy was considered as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. However, this distinction refers only to traditional cuisine because of the importance of indigenous peoples in culinary knowledge.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 3 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The textiles surrounding food preparation in indigenous and rural populations in Mexico play a major role.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 6 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

This can be seen in the use of the apron inside the kitchen for food preparation, the tablecloth to place the dishes on the table and the napkins to wrap the tortillas when the food is to be served. 

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 16 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

In states such as Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán and other populations of central Mexico, these garments are as elaborate as the dishes and also exhibit a degree of colorfulness that does not devalue the preparation and presentation of the food.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 13 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

At the tables of the indigenous and rural populations, kitchen napkins occupy an important place during the meal because they serve to store the tortillas that have just come out of the comal (griddle), carry them to the table and keep their heat during the meal time.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 10 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

While napkins can vary in dimensions, shapes and materials used to make them, the designs embroidered on the linen and the finishing of the napkin's edge are undoubtedly their main appeal.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 7 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Napkins of all styles

Napkins are made from cotton, blanket or commercial fabrics such as poplin and check. The linen of the napkin can be embroidered using different techniques such as cross-stitch, basting, filling embroidery and edging stitching, among others.

For example, this checked cloth napkin shows flowers embroidered using cross-stitch technique and colored in two colors. The beautiful lace of the napkin is woven in crochet and recalls the European designs introduced to Mexico during the 19th century.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 5 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Some napkins are made in a circular shape to hold tortillas more naturally.

In this case, the napkin is a cloth embroidered using the basting technique and with traditional designs of the Nahuatl culture of the Northern mountain range of Puebla. The edge of the napkin is finished with a hand stitch. 

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 8 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The decoration on the edge is usually finished with crochet cloth work whose designs may vary in the different places around the country. The napkin's decoration or lace may include very colorful designs of flowers, arches, half shells and others.

Here, for example, we see a round napkin of tortillas with traditional motifs from the Nahuatl region of Chachahuantla in the Northern mountain range of Puebla. 

The fabric is a cloth with flowers embroidered in two colors: yellow with black and green for the leaves. The edge of the napkin is simple but fine hand-finished.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

In this other case, we see a square napkin in poplin with a scene of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, an identity for our Mexican culture.

Flower designs complement the scene. In addition, we can see that the edge is woven in crochet with a single color design.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 17 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

In this example, "Dream with you" is the motto of this napkin that is completed with a beautiful working guide of flowers in two colors. The edge of the napkin is finished with a crochet fabric with single-color floral lace.  

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 4 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Napkins for every occasion

Sometimes, napkins are made for a specific purpose in addition to containing tortillas.  For example, to place them on the altars of the dead or as a memory of a specific celebration.

In some towns, it is customary to embroider napkins with a special inscription and to give to guests at weddings, baptisms and quinceañera celebrations (15th birthday) as a memory of the occasion. Here we see the inscription "Sleep my angel" on linen held by angels, using the edging stitching technique.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 20 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Beauty and practicality

In some populations it is still possible to see how tortillas, already inside the napkin, are placed in small baskets, chiquihuites or tortilleros made with vegetable fibers such as reed or palm, to bring them to the table and to preserve their temperature better during the meal.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 9 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

In this case, we can see tortillas wrapped in a cotton napkin with a beautiful design of flowers and leaves embroidered with a two-color outline.  

The edging is woven in crochet with a very common design on kitchen napkins. The palm basket containing the tortillas is used to hold them and serve them at the table.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 18 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

These baskets or tortilleros can even be made in locations outside the community and bought in markets and artisan markets.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 22 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

This selection of photographs is a sample of the variety of work carried out in making the napkins that embellish the tables and traditional Mexican kitchens, intangible heritage of humanity.

La cocina mexicana y sus textiles: servilletas para tortillas 12 by Ana Carolina Díaz RodríguezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Credits: Story

Curator: Raymundo Fraga
Photographer / Creator: Ana Carolina Díaz Rodríguez
Tortillas: Molino Macuitl 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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