Artisans Craft Ribbon Into a Unifying ‘Social Fabric’

A work of crochet that began as a religious offering has put a town in Jalisco, Mexico, on the map, in the Guinness Book of World Records, and center stage at expo events.

Author: Michelle Russell       

woven fabric hangs over streets

The vibrant Cielo Tejido project that started in Etzatlán, Mexico, before going international earned a Guinness World Record for the largest woven pavilion in the world.

In 2015, Lorena Ron and her mother, Paloma, who was in her 80s, began crocheting raffia — a type of ribbon made from recycled plastic bottles — into medallions to create a colorful tapestry to decorate trees in the town of Etzatlán, Mexico. Their idea was to make something special for the feast of the town’s patron saint. The striking religious offering caught the attention of the mayor, who wanted to further the project by paying other women crafters to add to the fabric.

green fabric over pavilion

The Mexican pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai was wrapped in a crochet canopy from Etzatlán representing “Mexican mothers hugging their country.”

Soon, 200 women were working together to expand the canopy, which had grown to more than 32,000 square feet in 2019. Covering the streets of Etzatlán, the project came to be known as “Cielo Tejido,” or woven sky. Ron told Guadalajara Reporter that the idea for stringing the tapestry high above the street was inspired by pictures she had seen of a canopy of umbrellas suspended in the air over a street in Tlaquepaque. That same year, the work of the “ladies of Etzatlán” earned a Guinness World Record for the largest woven pavilion in the world and came to the notice of Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero. Romero had been asked to decorate the Mexican Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai (which was postponed to 2021 because of COVID).

Romero and Ron, according to Guadalajara Reporter, “worked out a plan for the entire Mexican Pavilion building in Dubai to be wrapped in a crochet canopy from Etzatlán, representing ‘Mexican mothers hugging their country.’”

“We never thought that something so small that began by covering trees and then making this beautiful woven sky would reach these extremes,” Ron told La Prensa Latina. “We did not imagine that these hands would turn wonderful things and empower women in our town. The fabric heals your mind and your body because you forget your sorrows, your worries, your stress…. And apart from that it is also a social fabric that unites all social classes for the same goal.”

The tapestry work continues today. Its mission, according to the Cielo Tejido website, “is to transform the social and economic context in Mexico by empowering the artisan hands of our community through the art of weaving. We strive to preserve Mexico’s rich cultural tradition, foster local economic activity, build community ties, and serve as a source of inspiration for a brighter future. At Cielo Tejido, every thread we weave is a contribution to positive social change and the strengthening of our society.”

colorful fabric hangs over street

Cielo Tejido, or woven sky, shades a street in Etzatlán, Mexico.

An Exterior for an Interior Design Firm

Most recently, Liz Muebles, a home accessories and furniture design and production company based in Jalisco, wove Cielo Tejido into the company’s brand identity by commissioning the collective to crochet a loom to drape its massive booth at the International Furniture Exhibition in Guadalajara in February of this year.

Diego Gamboa, Liz Muebles’ creative director, told Convene via email that the initiative was designed to celebrate its brand identity as “a proudly Mexican company of origin in Jalisco.” The Cielo Tejido project began to be developed in 2023 in terms of conceptualization, measurements, colors, and the style “that we wanted to transmit to celebrate our 60th anniversary, which was [related to how] we celebrate our traditions, our colors, and Mexican folklore, inspired by local artists.”

Gamboa said Liz Muebles collaborated with 180 crocheters in the Cielo Tejido collective and several others who tie the medallions together. “Only two men are in charge of assembly” in the group, he noted, and 60 percent of the women artisans “are from the third age.” It took them four months to create a crocheted loom designed specifically for the expo booth, which was brought back to the Cielo Tejido facilities for storage after the event.

colorful fabric over exhibit booth

The furniture design company Liz Muebles’s stand at an international exhibition this year was draped in 600 square meters (more than 6,400 square feet) of the tapestry created in Mexico.

Forklifts were required to lay the heavy fabric over the stand, and it was secured using straps and staples. The on-site installation required the supervision of eight women from the Cielo Tejido project, along with Liz Muebles staff. “For the facade, interior, and poles of the booth, 600 square meters of loom were required — 1,800 crochet rhombuses were used in this project,” Gamboa said.

The colorful installation “generated a great atmosphere. It had a great visual impact on our visitors, who interacted with the loom by taking photos and sharing videos on their social networks,” he said. “We were congratulated by our competitors, suppliers, clients, and visitors for this collaboration made with 100-percent Mexican artists.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.


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