I visited the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area Center in Alcalde, NM (outside of Española, NM), to view the 5th Biennial Northern New Mexico Spanish Colonial Colcha Embroidery Exhibit.
A Colcha is a type of Rio Grande textile in which decorative embroidery has been added to Sabanilla cloth. Sabanilla is a utilitarian coarsely woven textile, with yarns handspun from natural white wool, and was made primarily for sheeting. These embroidered textiles were often used as bed coverings.
I met Leland Chapin, co-curator of the exhibit, who showed me around the exhibit, the bulk of which was of contemporary Colcha embroidery work, still made in the traditional manner. The exhibit did include four old large Colcha textiles, dating from circa 1865 to 1885, on loan from Mark and Linda Winter. The Colcha embroidery sometimes takes the form of patterns which cover a portion of the Sabanilla cloth, as in the above floral example.
Colcha embroidery may also completely cover the surface of the cloth, as in the example to the right. This is a detail of a large Colcha that was embroidered with the images of eight saints. In this piece, the texture of the embroidery yarns becomes the surface of the cloth.
A table at the rear of the exhibit held skeins of handspun, natural hand-dyed churro sheep wool in a variety of colors, together with samples of some of the natural plants and minerals from which the dyes are made. The Luther Bean Museum does not own any Colcha textiles, but since these are a form of Rio Grande weaving, a future addition of this type would add to the variety of our Rio Grande textile collection.