The Otomi people were pushed out of the valley of Mexico by the Aztecs in the 13th century and took refuge in remote surrounding areas. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, they aligned themselves with Cortez to fight the Aztecs. Because of their geographical isolation, along with their cultural marginalisation, they have been able to maintain their language and religious beliefs largely until the present day.
Otomi embroidery is referred to as “Tenango” as, in its present form, it originates from Tenango de Doria in the state of Hidalgo. This style of embroidery was originally used by Otomi women to adorn their tops, and its unique nature of the imagery probably owes much to the geographical and social isolation of the Otomi overall. However, in the 1960s, in response to a severe drought and failing crops, there was a big push to commercialise this style of embroidery beyond the Otomi region. It was at this time that the Otomi first started to decorate flat cotton cloth with their distinctive style. The images are derived from a mixture of sources including local cave paintings and curandero books (made of cut amate paper), farm livestock, and local flora and fauna.
The Otomi fabrics have been commissioned from one Otomi family, part of which now lives outside the State of Hidalgo in order to better sell their work.