Vallero Star Blankets

These cherished textiles are intertwined with a colorful oral history.

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During the mid to late 1800s, a distinctive eight-pointed star design began appearing in Mexican, Navajo and Rio Grande weavings. In the Hispanic weaving tradition, these unique and vibrant weavings became known as the "Vallero Star blankets." Part of the lore of these particular weavings was the name of a weaver from El Valle, a small mountain village located east of Truchas, New Mexico. According to the popular legend, Patricia Montoya was a crippled woman who wove all of these impressive and ornate weavings on a special loom equipped with hand pedals. Research now shows that this is no more than an impractical myth. Patricia, a weaver from a well-known weaving family, was not the originator of the Vallero Star blankets, nor was she the sole weaver of these varied and remarkable weavings. Furthermore, she did not suffer any physical limitations other than perhaps a broken nose!

In 1979, when I first met Juanita Jaramillo-Lavadie, a respected weaver from Taos, New Mexico, we were both fascinated with the eight-pointed star design and its origins. Juanita, being a direct descendant from the Montoya family, permitted us exceptional and privileged access to her family connections. For the next two years we began a joint venture in an attempt to ravel the mysterious history of the vibrant northern New Mexico star weavings. We began our research with a fanciful myth most likely originated by William Shupe, a Singer sewing machine salesman who bartered traditional Hispanic crafts for resale.

35 Mexican Stars

Teresa Archuleta-Sagel
"Thirty-five Mexican Stars"
Rio Grande-Vallero style
1983   68" x 44"
Private Collection

We followed the trail from northern New Mexican blankets, through Mexican weaving and ended up in the fifteenth century Spanish carpet trade. Throughout our quest, our most valuable and immediate source of information was the community of ancianos who had either practiced the craft of weaving, or had a direct memory of an ancestor who had. There stories chronicled a way of life which personified the Vallero weavings as nothing else could. When word got around that we were studying old blankets, friends and community members ardently came forth with treasured weavings that had been stored in trunks for years. Blanket by blanket, we learned about how these weavings had been bought, traded or handed down. These cherished textiles were intertwined with a colorful oral history. Each had a remarkable story: some were land-trades or goat-swaps, while others had been given by beloved grandmothers or aunts to a favorite relative. These precious weavings were kindly loaned to us to analyze and photograph for our comparative research.

As we studied these textiles, we began to discern certain stylistic techniques. We learned, through Juanita's ancestral ties, that Patricia Montoya came from a typically large family, and that there were six Montoya sisters, five of whom were involved with the family weaving trade: Patricia, Doloritas and Martina who wove, and Ptrita and Juanita who helped with yarn preparation. We discovered that the eight-pointed star weavings that were woven by the Montoya family between the late 1860s and on into the early twentieth century, had the familiar five star placement known today as the Trampas-Vallero. This five-star placement features one star in each corner and one large central star encased in a diamond. The yarns utilized in these weavings are generally hand spun and home dyed with colorful commercial dyes. The weavers were explicit in their color and design combinations, producing myriad and explosive weaving statements. With each blanket that we studied we found common characteristics; however, each weaver emerged with a distinct style which we learned to recognize.

Vallero weavings come in all sizes, styles and colors. Some of the more distinguishable characteristics are broad and full borders, and a complex background composed of concentric diamonds. Among the favorite design motifs are the hourglass, the half-leaf, or manitas design, and the zig-zag or culebrias. These same design motifs are also found in the much older Rio Grande Saltillo style weavings (c. 1820s to 1860s), as well as in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Mexican Saltillo blankets. The similarity between the early Vallero star weavings and the Rio Grande Saltillo is unmistakable—both have borders and full backgrounds, and in the early eight-pointed star blankets, the central motif remained a diamond. However, as the weaving style evolved, the middle diamond motif became more simplified, and was eventually displaced by a central star. The design source could have been inspired by the American pioneer star quilt as has been suggested by some scholars, but Juanita and I believe that it is more likely that the design had its origin in oriental textiles, the eight-pointed star being a frequent motif in these weavings.

The Islamic weaving tradition in Spain is renown. Mudéjars, or Moslems, who had been allowed to remain after the Christian conquest, manned the carpet looms of Spain. A well-known design favored by the weavers was the "Spanish wheel." This was a motif comprised of intertwined patterns, which created a large central eight-pointed star. The Hispano-Morisque weavers were also known to copy the patterns of silk textiles, as well as various types of rugs imported from Anatolian Turkey. Examples of the exemplary carpet art from the fifteenth and sixteenth century show a network of polygons in which fields of stars are contained by distinctive borders. Two unusually beautiful antique Mexican weavings collected in the 1940s by a private collector also display a similar field of stars.

Our quest for the origins of the Vallero star weavings led us to far deeper roots than either of us imagined, yet Juanita and I are confident that the source originated in Spain and was brought to New Spain by our forefathers via Mexico. Weavers today enjoy working with this world-known eight-pointed star pattern and are making fanciful statements much like the Trampas-Vallero weavers did, as well as their colonial predecessors and the Moorish weavers of Spain.

Photograph courtesy of Teresa Archuleta-Sagel.

"During my research, I came across a weaving with 35 eight-pointed stars . . . I was captivated by its imaginative elegance. I knew instantly that I wanted to attempt something that I never do—to try and reproduce those 35 blue stars framed in rays of variegated indigo blue."

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 9

Related Pages

Santos of New Mexico: A 400-Year Tradition article
Textiles as Art article
Three Hispanic New Mexico Metal Traditions article

The Thread of New Mexico article
Traditional New Mexican Hispanic Crafts article
Straw Art in New Mexico article

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