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El Stitch y Bitch Creates Altar for Day of the Dead Exhibition

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The National Museum of Mexican Art's Day of the Dead exhibition, Dia de los muertos: La Vida Breve, opened last week. It's the largest annual exhibition of its kind in the nation. This year, the show is dedicated to the people of Haiti and Chile. And for WBEZ, Catalina Maria Johnson has the story of one of the altars.

For the last few months, every Thursday, in the corners of small cafes in Pilsen, Bridgeport, even Berwyn, a young group of Latinas has been getting together to furiously knit and crochet.

Ambi: knitting noises...Laughter

They´re not working on socks or scarves or hats. They're creating skulls and flowers and candles. It´s EL Stitch y Bitch collective and they're working on an altar which will be exhibited at the National Museum of Mexican Art's Day of the Dead exhibit. Thelma Uranga, one of the collective´s co-founders, says the group was founded in part to recover a sense of community crafts.

URANGA: Culture and DIY – Do it Yourself – and handmade has really made a comeback. I often find myself having a conversation with friends about this return of vinyl and records, board games. It seems like it's a reaction to this digital culture, that yes, we´re a part of, we´re all a part of it. And especially knitting and crocheting, it´s a reaction to mass production, for me it was about making something with my own hands.

Uranga says El Stitch y Bitch began to gain recognition in the Pilsen arts community with their spontaneous displays of textile art in the streets.

URANGA: We did it at a Café we knit at. For us, we used it for craft culture, that it was really making a resurgence, that it wasn´t just about grandmother´s doing it anyomore, that a younger culture was doing it.

The Stitch y Bitch´s knit graffiti got the attention of art gallery owners. This has now resulted in their current project which will be exhibited as part the National Museum of Mexican Art´s annual show. Uranga translates the name.

URANGA: The working title is, 'Entre estrambres y tejidos, recordamos los muertitos' it actually loosely translates to, Within yarn and knitting we remember those who have past.'

Co-founder Stephanie Manriquez says there are different elements in a traditional altar for the Day of the Dead.

MANRIQUEZ: In the altar, you put offers, you put food, typical food, you put, liquor or water for kids, you put the sugar calaveras, the day of the dead bread, typical bread made specially for that, its round has little skeletons. Somehow in mexico we traditionally venerate the dead somehow, its in our culture, so we have this characters la Catrina, the lady of the dead.

Uranga says another traditional element in Day of the Dead altars is the photographs of the dead.

URANGA: The photos are of anybody that used to knit or crochet or was working in fiber arts, that you´d want to remember in the altar. Diana Pando´s mother passed away when she was kind of young, and one of the things that she kept was her knitting. So she showed up to the knitting circle one day and she brought her mother´s project that was still on the needle. And so this altar is a way of honoring our ancestors, our crafty ancestors as I like to call them.

Uranga describes the a space for the ancestors to visit, as is often the case in traditional altars.

JOHNSON: Now here in the design that you´re showing me, I see two chairs, the chairs are empty in the design, they will be empty with a basket with kneedles and yarn, and all that?

URANGA: I started to have a few converstations with Adriana Baltasar, an artist in the Pilsen community, she came up with the idea of it representing or resembling a little knitters´corner or little knitters nook, somewhere where you would come and sit down with your projects. Let´s say our crafty ancestors wanted to come back and knit, well they´d find their tools there! But then in the opening, we´ll have live knitters doing performance knitting, represent Stitch y Bitch and what we currently do with all these photographs in the background of our ancestors.

Manriquez says it´s all about honoring the connection to the traditions of your home and your ancestors by carrying on their art and craft.

MANRIQUEZ: In the part of its made with you hands, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, it´s a connection between two different generations

So an altar for the deceased, evidence of a living connection between women and family, past and present, as heard in the fragment of a poem by Irasema Gonzalez that will also be part of the altar


Hand remember, heart invokes
Hook and pull, hook and pull
This is the chain that joins Hook and pull you to your sister
Hook and pull you to your niece
Hook and pull you to me

Arturo en el Barco performing "Hello Beth" (Balun remix) from the release Music for Students and Friends

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