Ali Wilkinson

Handiwork of Cuba

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I’ve been away for the last month and a bit, travelling with Gary, Golden Child and a couple of other families in Cuba. (hope you enjoyed the couple of posts I scheduled to post in my absence) This was an amazing trip in a country that is undergoing profound change that is almost palpable in its speed. I first went to Cuba in 1995 for a few days as a backpacker. In many ways the country is the same, but in so many others it is different; there are more cars now, but even so by Western standards the roads are deserted, and there is certainly more variety of food and items for sale. Cell phones might be widely available but the reality is that the pace and way of life is still very much as it has been for decades. It was quite refreshing not to have any possibility of internet access for the whole time!

Our trip visited much of what the western part of the island has to offer and we were lucky to spend 3 nights in Trinidad, a UNESCO world heritage site and lovely town on the southern central coast. Trinidad is famous for many things, including the needlework method and designs particular to the town.

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Using pencil a design is marked on plain cotton or linen. Individual threads are then removed with a seam ripper to create the holes seen in the photo above.

needledown_nz_Cuban_tablecloths_ 5Then the fabric is stretched on a hoop and embroidery floss or thicker cotton thread is used to sew the stars and other patterns used as both decoration and reinforcement. The stars are a particular feature of the Trinidad handicraft scene.

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Sometimes traditional embroidery was mixed in with the Cuban style.

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The flower made of diamonds is also a particularly Trinidad feature.

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It was a hard decision which tablecloth to buy, especially when they were selling for USD25 each! (I wanted to buy more but it was Sunday and there were no banks open and the only ATM in town was already empty and I was getting low on cash. Such is the way in Cuba where serious cashflow planning was required due to only big hotels accepting credit cards!)

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Trinidad is also famous for crocheted clothing, usually made from cotton or linen in white or natural shades. I had been sure to have photos but it appears I didn’t take any, so maybe go and Google to see the fine work being done there!

Tourist numbers are already increasing to the island and the US has just announced that 110 scheduled (commercial) flights per week will be allowed to go to the country shortly bringing even more tourists. As the numbers grow and free market economics start to come into play I think that not only will prices go up, but a way to mass produce these items will be found. I feel very lucky to have been able to see the ladies at the market doing their handicraft themselves and to have bought my tablecloth when I did.

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One thought on “Handiwork of Cuba

  1. Really great blog. I am a textile designer and work with artisans and just came back from Cuba and this was really helpful to know more about their cutwork and embroidery. If you know of any textile tours of Cuba, I would be delighted to know about them.
    Thank you.

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