Mario Montoya de la Rosa,
When Mario Montoya de la Rosa was eight-years old, his mother took him to a saddlery workshop to learn the art of piteado. In time, he discovered that piteado would be his vocation and what he is the most passionate about. He has brought new awareness to this craft through his innovation.
Piteado has been passed from father to son through the course of generations, however, in Mario’s case, he is the only one in his family who does this work. He is recognized as a Gran Maestro of this artform, mastering and teaching it. Piteado is sometimes referred to as “The Macho Art of Embroidery”.
Colotlán, Jalisco, where Mario was born, is considered to be the world capital of piteado and has given the town international fame. The work from this village is so well known that several belts from Colotlán are exhibited in the renowned Prado Museum in Madrid.
True piteado which is only worked on leather, is not inexpensive: you'll find less expensive imitation piteado, sewn by machine using cotton thread. The thread used for the piteado embroidery is processed from a bromeliad plant called ixtle. The plant, grown as undergrowth in tropical jungles, eco-forests, or coffee plantations, takes approximately eight years to grow to maturity. Usually the entire plant is harvested, allowing better and faster growth of the young plants, which have sprung up much like baby spider plants. However, only the longest and healthiest leaves of the ixtle plant are used to produce thread.
The preparation of pita, the ixtle thread, is time consuming and arduous. The long leaves are scraped, either manually or using a hand-cranked machine, to free the ixtle fibers. The fibers are then washed several times and hung in the sun to bleach. Once they are bleached, they are combed and braided into bundles called muñecas (bunches), which are sold to talabarterias (saddle makers/artisan leather goods workers).
There are many individual steps that lead to a finished product. It's difficult work to hand embroider a belt. The production of each one takes a single worker a full week to complete. First, the size and shape of each belt are traced onto the leather; then the leather is cut into strips. Each strip is then shaped and polished. The design or drawing for the embroidery is hand-cut into the leather with a chisel. Once the leather is ready, the most difficult part of the work begins: the embroidery. The mesquite wood needle is punched through the leather using a hammer and an awl. Today, many of the designs include Huichol elements due to the influence of that indigenous people in the area of Colotlán.
Using a heavy-duty sewing machine, the embroiderer sews the lining to the back of the belt, cuts it and hand-finishes it. Finally, another person adds the buckle, the closure, and the loops that hold the end of the belt when it's fastened around the buyer's waist. Any leftover leather is used to make brooches, earrings, pins, and other small goods. It's all a question of not wasting any costly materials.
The most difficult work is called alamar doble, a term that has no adequate translation into English. The work is complex and baroque and so specialized that almost no one outside the town of Colotlán tries it. In the rare instances when it's copied, a practiced buyer will recognize that the work is done with cotton thread and is a poor imitation of genuine piteado from Colotlán.
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