Colcha embroidery

Recently I discovered another style of embroidery: Colcha embroidery is a traditional New Mexican wool-on-wool embroidery using the colcha stitch. It dates to the Spanish colonial era (colcha is also Spanish for quilt). When I investigated further, I discovered the work of colcha artist Julia Gomez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA (left, standing in front of her work).

Colcha stitch is done with two strands of wool, irregularly couched down. Ms. Gomez’s What is Colcha? page says “The colcha stitch is a long stitch caught in the middle by a short diagonal stitch. It is a yarn saving stitch, very little yarn shows on the bottom of the cloth. No knots are used on the surface or underside of the fabric.”

This produces an interesting, almost woven texture, as you can see in the closeup of her colcha work to the right. Needlework Tips and Techniques has an article on it, including stitch diagrams (I found it through I Am Not a Handbag’s story of learning colcha).

As described in her What is Colcha? page, Ms. Gomez both spins her own thread from churro wool and weaves the fabric for her work (a textile called Sabanilla). The morning glory below is hers, and is from a short article about her artwork and teaching. I have also included a photo of someone working with colcha stitch:

Finally, here are two more pictures of colcha work (from the Museum of New Mexico and the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center):

This entry was posted in Colcha embroidery, Embroidery around the world, Free resources online, Surface embroidery, tutorials and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Colcha embroidery

  1. Hello,
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful resources and information about embroidery..i never heard about colcha embroidery it called as kulcha too??..
    I love to visit your blog regularly..


    • Hannah says:

      I don’t think it’s called kulcha. Spanish usually doesn’t use “k,” and “colcha” is a Spanish word. Also, I tried searching just now for “kulcha” and Google doesn’t find anything.

      I’m glad you like my blog.

  2. Thanks for linking to my article. When I found colcha I was fascinated – isn’t it lovely?

    I have been enjoying your blog – I adore historical and unusual forms of embroidery and we seem to think along the same lines! 🙂

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for your lovely blog! I have started a special folder where I keep pictures of your embroidery Experts and their techniques, so that I can be inspired whenever I’m not tethered to the laptop. I feel like I have found Aladdin’s Embroidery Cave!

  4. GrannySue says:

    What beautiful work! Amazing.

  5. meri says:

    Hannah – I found this post just beautiful!
    Colcha is a Portuguese word too! It means bedspread in English.
    But what I found absolutely fascinating is the fact of here in Portugal we have the Castelo Branco embroidery wellknown by its rich bedspreads(!) made in old days. The motives are similar but here that embroidery is made with silks (not wool) on linen or silk fabrics. I’ve followed your links and found the colcha stitch similar (not equal) to Castelo Branco stitch (here also called frouxo stitch)
    Mary Corbet wrote about it when I sent her a little magazine about this embroidery here
    I’m so sorry not having the skills, age and health enough to do a deep and serious research about it – there is so few things written and we are loosing this old traditional embroidery…
    Thanks for all the information you give in your blog! Thank you,

    • Monique says:

      Hello Meri,
      yes, the designs of the Castelo Branco embroidery are so similar to the New Mexico colcha. As I mentioned in another post, Portugal was under the dominion of Spain when Philip II of Spain entered Portugal in 1580. It was not till 1640 that Portugal regained its independence. However, during this time of expansion and flourishing trade, goods made their way to Mexico and on to New Mexico. When Alfonso de Albuquerque ( also the name of our biggest city in NM). conquered Goa, he opened a trade route to Europe. Coverlets ( colcha) were viewed as exotic luxuries. According to the author Nicolau de Oliveira 9 1566-16340 ” there were no ship from India that does not bring at four hundred” 400 coverlets!!!it is a lot of colchas!!
      By the way, I embroidered a colcha ( modified design) from Belas Ideais –bordados de Castelo Branco.

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  7. Monique says:

    Your post is very interesting. I have been embroidering the “colcha stitch” for a very long time. Meri is correct..the designs are similar to the colchas of Castelo Branco in Portugal. In my opinion, it was the Portuguese who introduced the designs to the new world. There was a period of time when Portugal was under the dominion of Spain, thus the accomplishemts of the Portugal were overlooked. The Portugueses where the masters of the seas. Alfonso de Albuquerque ( Albuquerque is also the name of the biggest city in New Mexico) a Portuguese navigator and explorer was sent to India in 1508. He conquered the island of Goa in 1511 thus establishing a trade route. Among the imports were magnificent bed covers, coverlets with the similar design as the one in Castelo Branco and also northern New Mexico.

  8. Monique says:

    Thanks. I will in the future. I do not always use the plain weave wool “sabanilla” . if you visit some of the museums in Santa Fe, you will see colcha with various background fabric…linen, cotton, twill weave or completely cover with the stitch. Also, name of the sheep is Churra. It is still called churra in Spain but the name was mispronouced and changed by the Americans who came to the southwest. Churro is now the accepted name. Actually, it is called Navajo-churro because the Navajo or Dine(accent on the e) as they prefer to be called saved the breed from extension. It is still considered a rare breed.

  9. Pingback: On Colcha Embroidery and Portugal | enbrouderie

  10. Tanvel says:

    The word in Spanish for Quilt is Colchoneta – due to the fact that it is sandwiched with a batting, a Colcha is just a Bedspread.

    • Hannah says:

      Thank you for the translation! I know some spanish but I am by no means fluent.

    • Monique says:

      I always thought that a Colchoneta was a padded piece of cloth to put on a bench or furniture and not a coverlet or bedspread. Learning something new everyday!! Here in New Mexcio they call a quilt a “cuilta”.

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  12. Camille says:

    I do Colcha, but I don’t know how to do it without knotting the thread on the backside of my fabric. Please help! I would really like to know. Thanks!


  13. Rosalina Hundley says:

    In response to post from Portugal. Colcha means bedspread in Spanish too, not quilt. The stitch was used to decorate bedspreads…so colcha. It is basically the Romanian stitch, but in NM wool was used for the coverlet and the embroidery thread. Also, the patterns are handed down through generations. Rosalina

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