The origin of Zuleta’s elegance in dress is a question that many studies have failed to answer. No matter the origins, however, the women of the community are recognized nationwide for their fine embroidery in bright colors that matches their traditional knee-high pleated skirts.
While women from neighboring communities use embroidered blouses with slight variations (in Angochagua, for example, the collars used to be interchangeable), the style is so widespread in Zuleta it is now a symbol of national pride. Even ex-president of Ecuador Rafael Correa Delgado would regularly appear with a Zuleteño-style embroidered shirt (although the men of the community never used them in this way).
Some sources state that embroidery was first introduced into the area during the late nineteenth century. But its status as a true profession in the community, with its application to clothes, only arises with the Zuleta Embroidery Workshop, created by Rosario Pallares, wife of former Ecuadorian President Galo Plaza Lasso.
His daughter, Elsa Plaza, says that “embroidery had long been a tradition amongst the locals” and recalls that her grandmother Avelina Lasso commissioned a wool embroidered tablecloth as a gift in the 1930s. The workshop began operating regularly in the early 1960s, aiming to help women working the land to generate additional income for their families.
Galo Plaza Lasso would subsequently bring six indigenous women to the Hotel Quito in the capital. The success of their elegance and presentation gave the entire embroidery market a sense of ‘chic’, present even today in the wide variety of products sold in independent stores (such as Bordados Fanny and Bordados Estela on the road leading to the Hacienda, the Hacienda’s on-site craft store, or at its shop in Quito).
The Galo Plaza Foundation and the La Casa Aliso museum feature embroidery collections which reflect the changes in techniques, designs and motifs down the years. These antique pieces display all sorts of incongruous curiosities, from fruit from other regions, such as pineapples and cherries, through to Ecuador’s coat of arms!
Main photo: Cristina Guerrero