My first trip to Mexico finally happened and every second of it was packed with vibrant crafts, unforgettable food, and inspiring architecture. I grew up in South Florida so I have no idea why it took me so long to get there. Luckily we were invited to a wedding in San Miguel de Allende, thus creating the perfect excuse to spend time there and in Mexico City. I would say of all the places I’ve visited, Mexico had the most craft inspiration per square foot and I loved it!
MEXICO CITY: SAN ANGEL
In Mexico it seems that making incredible things by hand is just woven into the fabric of the culture - whether it’s crafts or food, everywhere you turn you see (or taste) something you want to remember. My trip coincided with the release of This Is Mexico City by Abby Clawson Low, a designer I’ve admired for a while, so I was happy to have that as a guide and it served me so well. My cousin also lived in Mexico City for a few years so I had plenty of great recommendations from her too. I tagged all the places that interested me on a Google map to find little clusters of sites to wander. The first one we checked out is the San Angel neighborhood, where we toured Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s studio museum with its insanely smart cacti fencing. Touring Diego’s studio is where I first got obsessed with papier-mâché folk art - he has an excellent collection of the large scale figures, hand painted with playful patterns. Around the corner from there is the best craft market I saw, Bazaar Saturday. If you’re going to be in Mexico City on a Saturday and you love crafts, don’t miss this one. You can start with a romantic brunch at the San Angel Inn which has a glorious courtyard and great pastries, but be sure to make a reservation for an outdoor table.
Bazaar Saturday and the nearby shops held a dizzying amount of handmade goods in a riot of colors. Intricate figurative beading, a waterfall of pom poms, soft sculpture skeletons, brightly painted punched tin ornaments, and of course a horsey piñata were some of my favorites.
I also couldn’t get enough of the miniatures - they’re so clever and intricate. The teeny tiny shadow boxes, each featuring a different profession or famous person, are hilarious and if I had a dollhouse I would have bought a suitcase full of the mini housewares like this splatterware pitcher and cleaning supplies.
MEXICO CITY: CENTRO HISTORICO
We started our day exploring the city center by hitting La Cuidadela, another folk art market, after a perfect breakfast at El 123 which is right around the corner. The crafts on offer there are similar to Bazaar Saturday, although the prices were a little more expensive. I did very much enjoy seeing these woven masks, brightly colored embellished boxes, and an adorable hand stitched zebra.
Next up was the Folk Art museum which a crafter really can’t miss. The examples of traditional crafts are superb. My interest in the use of papier-mâché continued when I saw a row of brightly painted horse busts. I was especially drawn to the crafts made with natural materials, like the whimsical mother of pearl mermaid comb, the most cleverly painted corn husk dolls, and the creatures and figures made with basket weaving techniques. My favorite item was this incredible woven headdress, with concentric rings of colored metallic foil which is absolutely stunning with its shimmering palette and modernist aesthetic. Even their gift shop had some of the best crafts I’ve seen, although weirdly I wasn’t allowed to take photos in there.
Not far from the Folk Art museum is churro heaven, the renowned El Moro. Not only are the churros and dipping chocolate worth every calorie, the packaging design is very very good and I’m a little sad I didn’t buy a coffee mug. There are a few locations of El Moro, like this one where you can see the playful patterns designed by Cadena + Asociados in full force.
Somewhat near the central historic district (which goes on and on and is completely chock full of architectural and historical wonders which isn’t my focus so I’m just highlighting the crafts and design I saw) is the best store I visited in Mexico - Utilitario Mexicano, a curated collection of utilitarian objects sourced from around the country. The objects are simple and well designed, representing how mass produced doesn’t have to mean bad. Function can be beautiful! If you want to stock up on enamelware or rubber alphabet stamps, as I did, this is the place.
MEXICO CITY: LUIS BARRAGÁN
As I’m sure many design focused visitors to Mexico City have figured out, no trip there is complete without a pilgrimage to one of the buildings designed by Luis Barragán, Mexico’s master architect of color and minimalism. Touring one of his projects can impart a whole new understanding of the power of light. To see Casa Gilardi, you need to book a private tour with the family who still lives there and be prepared to be completely awed by the indoor pool and yellow gallery.
His home and studio are also tour-able and near Casa Gilardi (make a day of it and have lunch at the cute pizza spot with a charming garden, Cancino San Miguel), though you need to book a tour in advance there too. I loved the textured white walls and the way the windows could shut out all the noise from the city streets outside. And it goes without saying that he put yellow to use in a way I never would appreciated without seeing the space myself.
The furthest out and the most transformative Barragán site we visited was the San Cristobal stables. After a desperate internet search, I finally was able to contact the current owner of the stables (by emailing Mia at firstname.lastname@example.org) who very generously allowed us to come see it the next day. For most of our time wandering the grounds, we were completely alone except for a friendly cat and some sweet horses. The space has a magical stillness and tranquility. It’s a bit of an Uber ride from the city center but completely worth the trip.
The long rectangles of hot pink are somehow both exhilarating and relaxing. Even though the weather wasn’t as brilliant as it could have been, visiting the stables was my favorite Barragán experience.
MEXICO CITY: FRIDA KAHLO
Finally, a trip to Mexico City definitely isn’t complete without paying respect to Frida at her altar in the Blue House, the museum dedicated to her life (definitely book a ticket there in advance). What an altar! Covered in bright geraniums and some of her favorite crafts, I got some great ideas for my own death display.
Throughout the house there are the best examples of papier-mâché skeletons with the most fun patterns and colors. I’d love to have a coffee table book all about this traditional craft - it seems like Diego and Frida alone had a substantial collection.
There was a great temporary exhibit of Frida’s clothes which were so much a part of her identity. Her style was radical at the time and her way of expressing herself through her clothes still reverberates in fashion today. I love the shapes of the shirts paired with a big patterned skirt - a look I’d wear any day.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
After Mexico City we headed to San Miguel de Allende (SMdA) for a wedding, which is anywhere from 2.5 hours 5 hours away depending on the traffic. The city is supremely picturesque, with its combination of vivid hues and fairytale architecture. The streets are steep and cobblestoned so bring some comfortable shoes because you have to just wander around and get lost. I’d heard about SMdA from my aunt who travels there every year and I can see why she loves it so much.
First all, the wedding was so awesome it would be too hard to describe it all here but by far the highlight for me was getting to participate in the wedding processional. It’s a tradition in San Miguel for the entire wedding party to parade through the streets, following an adorable donkey decked out in flowers, musicians, and most importantly giant papier-mâché mojigangas based on the happy couple. Mojigangas are like way larger than life puppets that dance and twirl and just generally delight. It’s a tradition started in SMdA and the reason a wedding there is so special.
I kept seeing awesome old VW bugs in the streets during my wanders. It’s impossible to take an uninspiring photo there - there’s going to be an insane color palette, a ridiculously detailed door knocker, a charming window tied with ribbons and flowers, something cool.
I stumbled upon this market in front of the Templo del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri and it took me a few minutes to realize all these colorful figures are made of sugar! The church is worth seeing in and of itself as it has a bright pink facade.
I also came across this basket store which really blew my mind - they had so many handwoven critter shaped baskets and I wanted them all (I got a horse one). I can’t find the name of the shop but it is located right around Cjon. de Loreto 9.
This store Colors had some very interesting baskets woven out of brightly colored plastic, sort of like what friendship bracelets are made out of. I guess I’m just very drawn to weaving projects. There’s plenty of it in Mexico, and just generally more craft inspiration than I could ever remember so I’m happy to have documented some of what I saw here.
One more craft I saw a few times throughout the trip to Mexico - these chandeliers would definitely be DIY-able. The first one looks like it was made with leather laces, the second has an indigo tassel situation, and the last one appears to be strips of linen. Thank you Mexico for all the crafting inspiration!