Dressing a Table

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 6.04.13 PMBy Brooke Gazer

During the opening
credits of the series
“Downton Abbey”,
 Carson is seen
measuring the
 distance of each place setting from the
 edge of the table. All that perfectly
 aligned silver, sparkling crystal and 
glistening china makes me think,
“Those were the days” – at least if you
 lived “above stairs”. This kind of
opulence might be out of place in
Huatulco, but setting the table here
can still demonstrate elegance and your own personal flair.

Like the canvas of a painting, table setting begins with its covering and Oaxaca is famous for its woven goods, including tablecloths, placemats and napkins. Huatulco is fortunate to have a few places in La Crucecita that weave distinctively Mexican linens on site. Two larger ones are: Textilarte on Calle Flamboyan and “Mantelería Escobar” on Calle Cocotillo. These 100% cotton products are informal, durable, and reasonably priced. A set of six place mats cost 150 pesos and a cloth large enough to cover a rectangular table for six runs about 350 pesos.

Both shops have a large selection, but if you don’t see what you want, they will weave one to your specifications within a few days, providing they have the right colors of thread in stock. One limitation is that the colors are mostly pastel, since the “warp” is almost always white, or off white. These are the long treads that are rolled onto the loom running vertically. The “weft” are the threads running horizontally creating a rainbow of colors and a variety of textures and patterns. The men working the looms appear to be dancing, as they develop a rhythm between their feet working the warp, and their arms controlling the weft. How they are able to keep track of so many colored spools is a mystery, but watching them is fascinating.

If you are looking for bolder colors, they also sell slightly smaller placemats from Ocotlan woven by women with black straplooms. Be careful because some of the colors bleed; pieces with two colors may run together, dulling the overall effect. I have a set in bright yellow and although they bleed when washed, after 15 years the color is still vibrant.

A second option for vivid colors is to purchase a few rebozos, which are available in a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues. When not adorning a lady’s shoulders, they make great table runners. These are sold in lengths of 120 cm long for 180 pesos, but can be special ordered to the length of your choice with some flexibility regarding the width. The staff will happily run a hem along the edges if they are too wide. Allow two to four weeks for a special order since these are not made onsite.

For practical purposes I prefer placemats or runners, either alone or on top of a plain cloth, since it is easier to launder a few mats with wine or gravy stains than an entre cloth. It’s also easier to mix and match boldly patterned dishes on top of solid shades than over a multi-colored cloth. If you are setting a poolside table however, Soriana currently has lots of brilliantly colored plastic dishes. Over a multi-colored cloth, these would set a dramatic table.

Both “Soriana” and “Super Che” have some interesting stoneware in deep tones and glass in various shapes that could also be set onto a multi hued background. The weavers in La Crucecita will give you small swatches with any of the colors you might be planning to purchase so that you can match it when shopping for dinner wear. Ask them for a “muestra de colores”.

Super Che and Soriana didn’t exist when we were furnishing our place, so we went to the Abasto’s Market in Oaxaca City, where I bought hand-painted dishes with a bold cobalt blue pattern. These inexpensive clay dishes have with stood fifteen years of wear and tear, although I do not have an electric dishwasher. Abasto’s market can be rather daunting to negotiate, but, for the cost of a taxi, they will pack up your dishes and deliver them to wherever you are staying. Mexico City’s Centro de Artesanías La Ciudadela, near Metro Baldaras, has a good selection of pottery, including dinner wear, and it is also a good place to buy hand blown glass at reasonable prices. Did you know that this glass wear is made from recycled bottles? If you really want to splurge, make a trip to Puebla for a set of Talavera dinnerwear. Six five-piece place settings will set you back about 12,000 pesos, but with their intricate designs, they are worth the investment!

Finding good quality flat wear in Huatulco is a challenge, but Jessic Toys on Avenida Oaxaca near the Pemex station, sells a range of quality in open stock. The salt air of Huatulco does not agree with sterling silver or silver plate. If you have any keep it securely stored in air tight plastic or it will pit. I wish someone had given me this advice when we moved here because my silver trays and stem ware have pitted beyond recognition.

Whether or not you have a garden, flowers are so readily available and inexpensive in Huatulco that they make an easy choice for a centerpiece. With the fans running keeping tapers lit can be tricky. Votive candles or hurricane shades over tapers solves the problem. You don’t need a butler, sterling or fine cut crystal to have a well -dressed table, just a little bit of whimsy. Go ahead, dive in and have fun with it.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, a bed and breakfast in Huatulco www.bbaguaazul.com