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María Felisa Méndez Rastrojo, almazuela artisan

María Felisa Méndez Rastrojo arrived in Fuerteventura with the 21st century – as the island entered the new millennium. The retired teacher from Madrid, a soul full of energy and positive spirit, settled in Antigua to make handmade crafts as an artisan, with the sole motivation being her passion for doing things well. Her patchwork and crochet creations demonstrate how well she masters those skills and from the way she talks, it becomes apparent how committed she is to Fuerteventura and her craft.

How did you get into patchwork and almazuela?

Well! I began… I made my first crochet cloth at three years old, because my mother taught me. I’d been a high school teacher all my life, then I retired and came to live in Fuerteventura. And someone said, “why not apply for the artisan’s licence card?” after I’d started making these things.

I learned patchwork when I was still in high school – in reality what I do with my creations is called almazuelas. That’s the traditional name for the craft. It is a little different from patchwork. Twenty years or so ago I found out that, at a senior centre in Logroño, where I worked, some old ladies were going to give a course, because they didn’t want this craft to be lost. And there were very few places available. I went and asked about it, and mentioned I was interested. They taught me for the whole course. It was an unforgettable year, also because of everything I experienced there. I then found out that there was a shop that sold fabric for it, when I was starting to understand patchwork better. The owner was a friend of mine, and I also learned what patchwork really is.

As an almazuela, patchwork or crochet artisan, what takes up most of your time?

Right now, I’m into making crochet stuffed toys – amigurumis, they’re called. Dolls made with crochet wool yarn. This is something I learned on my own. I saw a girl at one of the fairs with this, it caught my attention and I said to myself, “I have to learn that”. The first ones turned out badly but now they turn out wonderfully. Spiderman, Batman, PAW Patrol – whatever the trend is, starting with those my granddaughter asks for. The ones I’ve received most orders for have been unicorns, which are tremendously successful. But I’ve also made Master Yoda. Well, Baby Yoda really. And I’ve made Peppa Pig, SpongeBob, Squidward and Patrick.

María Felisa has managed to connect handicrafts with digital culture: “What I’m asked for most are crochet Among Us dolls”

What is the most unique thing you have been asked to make in crochet or patchwork?

Oh, I’ve had some very strange orders. For example, Among Us (the characters of a popular mobile game). I had no idea what that was but, of course, I can always ask my granddaughter. My daughter explained it to me quickly. That might be what I’ve made the most of. The same happened to me with the Minions – I had a large number of orders for them. I also make key rings, larger dolls, smaller dolls, I make headbands, refrigerator magnets – whatever people need!

What is your main motivation for doing all this work?

For me this is not a business. I’m retired, I have my pension. It’s a hobby more than anything else. I charge for the materials, but little more. But I don’t have much more time – my husband tells me I work more now that when I was a teacher and I had to mark exams. But this is more fun than marking exams.

How was your career as a teacher?

I taught in Logroño, firstly mathematics, but then there were some courses for teachers and I qualified in English. In the last years I was teaching English classes. I’m from Madrid and my family is from Extremadura. We have moved 14 times and have lived in many places. I even earned a degree in Catalan, because I’ve worked in Catalonia several times, and there was really no other option. The course was five years and I finished it in four.

How did you end up in Fuerteventura?

I came to Fuerteventura because one of the times my husband was going to be transferred for work, posts were available in Tenerife. I got the job, but then my husband was sent to Cáceres. I was alone in Tenerife with two little girls. That was many years ago. When I was able to, I left. But I cried when I left – I told myself that when I retired I would go to live in the Canary Islands. Then I had a stroke and I retired at 52. By then Tenerife had become very built up. My husband and I had visited all the islands except for Fuerteventura. We came on holiday in 2000. We arrived and I fell in love with the island of Fuerteventura. During 2001 we were looking for a house. In the end we found a traditional Fuerteventura detached house with a small piece of land. It’s true that Fuerteventura has grown too, above all since all the Italians have come over…

It seems that you feel at home on the island – is that so?

I love it! Sometimes when I have to go out, I go and travel around and come home delighted. You have to live life in the moment, I realised this when I was spending my life teaching.

Do you have a relationship with the artisans of Fuerteventura?

I do have a relationship with the artisans, I’m in the Association of Creative Artisans of Fuerteventura and since I began, shortly after arriving, I have been on the Arts and Crafts Committee of the local government for many years. Although I do not make a living from it, it is something I advocate for. I feel very bad about what is happening with traditional handicrafts. They are being lost. My husband and I signed up for a palm crafts course and a weaving course, with a very old lady, just so the knowledge would not be lost.

“Traditions are being lost”

Would you encourage young people to revive this work?

Traditions are being completely lost. There are very few artisans, and the majority are over 80 years old. So… I don’t really know what I would tell young people. It is true that many courses are being given in schools, but very few are on traditional crafts. Leatherwork, woodwork, and silk painting are being taught. This year many courses are being taught, but perhaps there is a lack of variety.

How would you define your artisanal style?

My style? It’s completely creative: my crocheting is not the usual type. Although I don’t know why it is not considered traditional, because the fact is that my grandmother did it this way. They say what I do is very different.

It seems that it isn’t so easy to acquire something of yours, do you also take orders?

It’s true, I work to orders and little things like that, and at fairs, of course. In truth, I only do it for the large fairs, in Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Antigua, in my town. No, it’s not easy to get something I’ve made.

Unique and specific in her  crocheting style, this retired teacher from Madrid now living in Antigua offers an essential lesson: “You have to live life in each moment”

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