Friday, October 5, 2012

Creating Embroidered Ex-votos

Many are familiar with Mexican retablos - folk-art images painted on tin or wood thanking god, the virgin, or one of many saints for a miracle related to surviving a health crisis, accident, natural hazard, animal attack, or other misfortune. During a recent visit to San Miguel de Allende I encountered the regional custom of embroidering rather than painting these ex-votos (offerings of gratitude), which are called milagros. While I normally think of milagros as small tin depictions of body parts, people, and possessions that the devout buy and pin to the garments of statues of holy figures in the church, in this case the term is being used to refer to these embroidered pieces.

Two examples of these ex-votos, on display in the house where I was staying, are shown below.

Thanks to the virgin (senorita) for assistance in an encounter with a coyote

Thanks to the Virgin of Guadalupe for watching over the sewer's mother

Itchy fingers and an urge to create my own ex-voto led to a trip to a fabric store for supplies (always an adventure in Mexico involving a somewhat baffling, multi-step  purchasing process). As for the miracle, no problem; one was delivered right to the tranquil little plaza of San Antonio where we enjoyed hanging out in the evening. One night a throng of people were on the steps of the church of San Antonio, surrounding a couple who were dishing up ice cream. A little kid I'd made friends with came up, cone in hand, and told us we should go and get some ice cream for free. I asked why it was free and he said it was a gift from the virgin (or for the virgin?). We got our two, free, absolutely delicious lime ice cream cones. Later investigation led to the finding that the ice cream incident coincided with citywide celebrations to commemorate the day of Our Lady of Loreto, one of the patron deities of San Miguel de Allende.

Images of the Our Lady of Loreto appear throughout San Miguel de Allende. She is intriguing because she has no arms, though there is some dispute about just why she has no arms. More about her and how and why San Miguel celebrates her can be found in the local paper, Atencion.

Statue of Lady of Loreto over doorway

Lady of Loreto above Institute de Allende

Note how, because she has no arms, Jesus sort of sticks out of her side or rides on her shoulder. In my embroidered ex-voto, I thanked the Virgin of Loreto for her gift of lime ice cream.

Offering of thanks to the Lady of Loreto

Thanks to the Virgin of Loreto (without arms) for the lime ice cream.

Go back to the photos of the statues above and note how Our Lady of Loreto resembles an upside-down ice cream cone.

Lady of Loreto (shown upside down to reveal startling resemblance to ice cream cone)

I found the stone patterns in some of the walls in San Miguel de Allende intriguing and replicated that pattern in the Lady's ice cream cone garment.

Wall of the Institute de Allende

Replicating the stone pattern in the ice cream cone

Because the Lady of Loreto has no arms, I decided to embroider some floating alongside her. They look like the little tin charms most of us think of when we hear the word "milagro."

 And finally, a little detail from the ex-voto:

Inspired? Go out and make an ex-voto of your own.


  1. Everything is adorable. I love all of these ex-votos embroidery! Keep sharing..

    embroidery on t shirt

  2. I'm a fan of floating arms and stone patterned ice cream cones.

  3. fabulous! what a great way to interpret the ex-voto into cloth. And I LOVE San Miguel.


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