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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.