Ao po’i is a word in the local language of Paraguay, Guarani, meaning ‘fine cloth or delicate garment’.
More than 50% of the population in this district dedicates to the manufacture of cloths made by old-fashioned looms and skillful hands, which makes for a beautiful, evenly, 100% cotton fabric, though much of the plain textile is produced by factory machinery.
Most of the economy of this district is up to the tailoring of ao po’i clothes. 50% of the total population works on it and almost no one in the district isn’t, even indirectly, related with an ao po’i artisan. Moving along the main roads, through little alleys, past school yards and underneath shady mango trees, women are embroidering.
I am one who sees an embroidered piece, make a photo of it and try to copy it. Or I ask for a brief explanation as I did in Pakistan. But now my husband suggested to place me in a course.
When we try to get me placed into a course for embroidery, we fail 5 times. ‘Come back next week, then there is someone who can talk to you,’ followed by ‘the lady in charge is on holiday,’ to ‘the lady in charge, who was on holiday, is sick now,’ ends in ‘I will teach you,’ and so it happen maestra Emilia is teaching me the techniques of ao po’i. The practice of beautifying hand-woven cotton, without patterns and a lot of counting.
I had three one hour lessons about the basics on how to embroider ao po’i style while I was in Paraguay’s ao po’i capital Yataity. It’s all about counting and keeping concentrated. The photo below shows clearly a very poor remembering of the original.
My teacher Emilia Segova was patient and kind. She did not talk a whole lot but let me practise. Now, being stationed for a while, I strongly suspect that the word ‘ao po’i’ simply means ’embroidery’.
Ao po’i appeared in the 19th century due to the commercial lockout imposed by Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia (dictator who governed Paraguay from 1813 to 1840). The borders were closed to preserve independence, therefore there was no importation of products; women found it necessary to spin the cotton to weave, embroider and make different garments for personal use, this fabric that was made to make garments gave rise to ao po’i. With time it was transforming; patterns of flowers, repetitive designs inspired on nature sprung up. Since the technique evolved around the counting of the threads of fabric, motives remain within a certain structure. Different embroideries and techniques, pulling of threads and meticulous cross stitch were all used. At first the fabric did not have embroidery and was similar to what we know today as canvas.
The course I took was in 2018, Yataity, Paraguay. And I can happily add that we will return to Paraguay, and continue by motorbike to Colombia (if we are granted so). Follow these adventures on Cycling Cindy when you are interested in different ways of travel.