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Snake yarn painting
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Mexican Yarn Painting

What you will make:

The crafts of Mexico are renowned for bright colors and bold designs, especially the nierika, or sacred yarn paintings, made by the Huichol people. In this project, learn how to do Huichol-inspired yarn paintings, then use the technique to make decorative plaques or to enliven the surfaces of boxes, cards, notebooks, and more. Start with the printed patterns in this project, look for inspiration on the Web or create a design of your own.

At the end of this project page, read a brief note about the Huichol people of Mexico and nierika, and find links to other sites with more information about the Huichol people.

Here's what you need:
  • Cardstock or paper
  • Stiff cardboard
  • Yarn in several colors
  • White (PVA) glue with applicator tip
  • Optional: Markers, brayer
  • Wax paper
  • Toothpick
  • Paper towels
  • Scissors

This project is rated AVERAGE to do.

How to Make a Mexican Yarn Painting

Read all of the steps before starting.
Step 1: Choose a Pattern and Print It

Choose a design for your yarn painting. Download and print the pattern on cardstock, or print on paper and transfer the design to stiff cardboard. If you want to use your own design, draw it on cardstock or stiff cardboard with a black permanent marker.

For a quick yarn painting craft, print one of the Yarn Snake Card patterns to cardstock. Use markers, crayons, or colored pencils to add "yarn" to the color or black and white patterns, and then cut out and fold the card. Or simply print, cut and fold the yarn-filled pattern for an even quicker card.

Snake Symbols
Printable pattern for Huichol snake symbol
Corn Symbols
Printable pattern for Huichol corn symbol
Sun Symbols
Printable pattern for Huichol sun symbol
Yarn Snake Card
Printable pattern for yarn painting snake greeting card
Color - B&W - Yarn

Patterns are Adobe PDF files. The Adobe Reader is available for free.

All of Aunt Annie's project patterns are designed to be printed on standard letter-size paper (8.5"x11" or A4). When printing from Adobe Reader, you may need to select Auto-Rotate and Center or Choose paper source by PDF page size to ensure the best fit.

Cut printed pattern Step 2: Cut Symbol

Choose the size symbol to make from the printed pattern. The largest symbol is the easiest to make if you are new to yarn painting. The smallest designs work best with thin yarn or string. Cut the symbol out roughly, leaving a border. You will trim the symbol more closely later.

Step 3: Outline in Yarn

Cut a piece of wax paper to protect the table and place the cut symbol on it. Dampen a paper towel and lay it nearby to keep your fingers clean. Yarn painting with sticky fingers is very hard.

Apply a thin bead of glue on the outline of the symbol—work in sections. Using black or other dark colored yarn, lay the yarn in the glue bead. If you are right-handed, place the yarn ball or skein on the right side of the cut symbol. Guide the yarn with your left hand, and press the yarn into the glue with the toothpick in your right hand. Reverse this if you are left-handed. Rotate the symbol as you work, so the yarn doesn't drape over the wet glue. Try to work cleanly, or you'll have a mess in no time!

Outline symbol in black yarn

Cut the yarn when the outline is complete. Go around the outline and use the toothpick to push the yarn into place. Place a second sheet of wax paper on top of the design, and press it briefly with a book, or go over it with a brayer.

Tip: Set the yarn painting aside and let the glue dry for at least one hour or overnight. It's much easier to do the next step if the outline yarn is firmly in place.

Step 4: Fill with Yarn
Fill symbol with rounds of yarn

Using a variety of brightly colored yarns, fill the outlined symbol with yarn. Start from the outside, drawing a line of glue and laying the yarn in it. Go around as often as needed to fill the entire symbol. Change colors of yarn as you like.

As you work, periodically stop to press the yarn in place as before, using a book or a brayer. Once the symbol is completely filled with rows of yarn, place a new sheet of wax paper on top and weigh down the project with a book. After 5 or 10 minutes, check to be sure that the wax paper isn't sticking to the yarn painting. If it is, change the wax paper. Leave the yarn painting with the book on top to dry. It will take several hours or overnight.

Step 5: Mount Yarn Painting
Mount yarn painting on cardboard

To make a plaque to hang on the wall, cut a square or rectangle of heavy cardboard to fit your yarn painting. Cover the cardboard with coordinating paper. Trim the yarn-filled symbol to the edges of the yarn outline, then glue the symbol on the cardboard. Press with a book until the glue is dry. Optionally, place the mounted yarn drawing on a mat or in a frame.

That's it! Try some designs of your own creation!
Snake yarn painting

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About the Huichol culture and yarn painting

Gifts to the gods are an important part of many cultures. The Huichol people of Mexico's Sierra Madre live in small communities, each with a house for its deities. There are also sacred caves where gods reside. Pilgrims bring flowers, arrows, feathers, prayer bowls, god's eyes (tsikuri), and other symbolic gifts to these deities in the hope of the return of favor and protection. The symbolism of each gift is important, and they are often decorated with symbols of forces and beings around the Huichol.

A nierika, which means "face" or "countenance," is a favorite symbolic gift with designs made of yarn. These yarn paintings are done on flat surfaces covered with beeswax. Typical surfaces include flat stones, reeds woven with thread, or wooden boards. The yarn pictures often depict the "faces" of the wind, ripe corn, or other important symbols. Nierika with yarn designs of serpents, waves, or water gourds express a wish for rain. Pictures of corn and the Sun are offered in hopes of a good harvest.

The Huichol yarn paintings of today are done on wooden boards coated with a layer of smooth beeswax. Designs are scratched into the surface of sun-softened wax with a sharp tool. Outlines are laid down in yarn, and then all spaces are filled in. It's somewhat like a yarn mosaic.

Before you start:
  • Make a place to work.
  • Read all of the directions.
  • Gather everything you need to do the project.
  • Think about the project. Imagine how it will look and what you will do with it.

Are you ready?
Okay, get started!!!

ePaper Extra

Huichol-inspired ePaper

Tip: Use Aunt Annie's Huichol-inspired ePapers in blue, green and orange to add a yarn painting look to your crafts.

Matted corn yarn painting

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Tip: For more impact, double-mat your yarn painting on solid-colored cardstock and decorative paper.

This plaque uses Aunt Annie's Huichol-inspired ePaper in blue with an orange cardstock mat.

Quick yarn painting greeting cards with stickers

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Tip: For a quick Mexican yarn painting craft, print one of the Yarn Snake Card patterns to cardstock and use markers, crayons, or colored pencils to add "yarn" to the Huichol-inspired snake design. Choose from three printable patterns—black and white, plain colored, or colored with yarn-fill. Each pattern also includes four yarn painting stickers.

Two God's Eyes in green

Related project: The Huichol also make God's Eyes by wrapping colorful yarn around sticks.

Greeting card with sun yarn painting done with markers

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Tip: The smallest-size symbol on each pattern is sized for a greeting card.

Greeting card with snake yarn painting done with markers

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Tip: Use markers to make yarn-like patterns.

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