Why I Make: Embroidery in Mexico with Gabriela Martínez Ortiz

We catch up with Mexican designer and textile artist Gabriela Martínez Ortiz, who we have featured as part of our Crafting Futures programme, to find out how she’s keeping creative amid the challenges that Covid-19 has brought.

Tell us about your work and practice

I’m the creator of Ofelia & Antelmo -- a textile art project that revolves around hand embroidered clothing and textiles. Named in honour of my maternal grandparents, the project was born in 2017. Ofelia represents the community where women create handmade outfits to be one-size-fits-all, reversible and timeless. Antelmo represents my personal work -- the canvases with my creative exploration of techniques, fabrics, textures and colours. Together they form a family of unique textile pieces.

Inspired by nature, I use organic textures and patterns in my work. I revive traditional techniques and translate them into contemporary designs, focusing on the time artisanal processes take. I want to create unique designs that last, pieces that could be inherited and therefore act as a protest against the speed in which we move and consume today. Embroidery has been the vehicle for new opportunities that have helped me find my creative voice. Ofelia & Antelmo is more than a brand – it is a lifestyle that invites me each day to choose to live slower and witness the power of what is made by hand.

How has Covid 19 affected your daily working routine?

My lifestyle is a bit like a quarantine. I work at home, so I am quite used to being indoors for extended periods and normally I spend a lot of time working alone, so it has not been so challenging from that perspective. I have fewer jobs because all the projects I was developing have stopped. So right now, I am taking advantage of this time to continue with embroidery or developing personal projects. My exercise routine has changed too. In addition to embroidery, swimming is a very important therapeutic activity for me. Now I am unable to swim, I’ve felt the impact on my state of mind and in my productivity.

It has been hard for me to stay focused on what my priorities are. There are many things that are happening on a personal level, with the people that matter to me, with my country and globally, that I find myself overwhelmed. I am very distracted, and I’m finding it hard to sleep. I feel tired and my moods constantly shift.

One of the unexpected positives is that I’ve found that my following has grown remarkably during the quarantine. I have an online embroidery course with Doméstika for free, with the hope of offering a tool that can help with anxiety while people are at home. The positive response it’s had has been a real surprise. People from around the world have taken the course (it is subtitled) and I’ve had so many people write to me saying lovely things which lifts me up and motivates me.

Once things begin to open up again, I look forward to going out for dinner and dancing with my friends!

Have you learnt anything new about yourself and your country during this time?

I am extremely privileged to be able to stay at home to protect myself and those I love. Unfortunately, in Mexico, there is a disproportionate percentage of people who cannot do this. I think this time is an opportunity to be more empathetic with other people, when we become aware of our privileges and see how we can share them, because in a crisis like this it becomes visible how there are enough resources but they are very, very badly distributed. This situation makes us understand that we are connected to each other; what happens to one person also happens to me and that we will not heal until we all heal together.

Could you recommend 3 artists in your country that we should check out?

Sofía Fernández DíazDaniel Villela  and Olivia León

What is one piece of advice would you give other artists in this difficult and uncertain time?

Take one day at a time, so be patient and most importantly be kind to yourself. Keep showing up (imperfectly) because art can and will save us. 

Gabriela is a textile artist and designer and founder of her label, Ofelia & Antelmo. She creates contemporary designs using traditional techniques, specialising in hand embroidery to create graphic patterns on her fabrics. She invites us to slow down and consider the pace and importance of what can be made by our own hands.

Want to know more about Gabriela?

You can see Gabriela at work in our Crafting Futures film series ‘Why I Make’, which celebrates craft and shares maker's stories from around the globe. Watch Gabriela’s’s film here. And find out more about the film series here.

Crafting Futures is our global programme, building a positive future by unlocking craft’s unique potential to inspire people around the globe. The programme celebrates the value of craft in our history, culture and world today.

Worried about Covid-19 and your practice? We've pulled together the latest advice, funding, resources, and tips from across the sector for staying creative.