Oaxaca Mourns Mexico Dreamweavers Cooperative Founder and President Margarita Avedano Lopez

Oh, where to start … or continue.

As if it weren’t enough to lose El Maestro Francisco Toledo this week, news comes this morning from dear friend Patrice Perillie that Margarita Avedano Lopez, founder and president of Tixinda Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, has died.

The cooperative, one of the most famous on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, is in the Mixtec weaving and dyeing village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, about an hour up the mountain from the Pacific Ocean.

Margarita’s brother, Don Habacuc Avedano, is one of the few remaining men who harvest the rare caracol purpura snail for its incredible purple dye, which Margarita used in her weavings.

We know this village intimately because we visit it as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. We know Margarita for her outstanding collection of regional textiles that she sold in the village market, and for her extraordinary prowess as a back-strap loom weaver and dyer.

True, there are others to carry on. Yet, recognizing women in this region who preserve culture and tradition through artisan craft is essential. The work of Margarita, known as Tia Tere, deserves special acknowledgement because of her dedication to traditional methods: weaving the posahuanco (wrap-around skirt) using natural dyes such as indigo, caracol purpura and cochineal, and carding and hand-spinning (with the drop spindle) native coyuchi and white cotton into the finest threads.

Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative — Margarita, comadres and family

As the generations age and pass from us, how do we keep their memory and their talent alive, going forward? To honor Margarita, it is imperative that our appreciation for Oaxaca traditions carry forward. It is essential that we continue to support handcraft. I feel privileged to have known her and to have acquired cloth that she wove and fashioned into fine garments.

Descanse bien, Margarita Avedano Lopez. We will miss you immensely.

My treasured fuchsine dress from Margarita’s market puesto

Japan Textile Study Tour: November 2020

Japan Textile Study Tour, November 6 – 19, 2020, 12 nights, 13 days, start in Kyoto and end in Tokyo — 7 spaces open

We take you on a textile adventure of a lifetime to the land of the Rising Sun. Japanese style elevates textiles to a fine art form. We go deep into the culture of hand-weaving and indigo dyeing, high fashion and simple garment construction, venturing into old mercantile shops, contemporary design studios and temple markets to discover how cloth defines a people. Along the way, we discover historical sites, eat traditional foods that have ceremonial significance, visit museums and immerse ourselves into a modern Japan that is underpinned with ancient tradition.

Geisha life on the streets of Gion, Kyoto

Japan is an amalgam of ancient craft wisdom that is translated into art as a metaphor for life – from pottery to textiles to knife-making to humble and refined cuisine to garden landscape. We visit craftsmen who were provisioners to emperors. Throughout our travels, we touch on the philosophy that girds the culture – aesthetic sensibility, wabi-sabi (perfection in imperfection), and iki (simplicity, originality, sophistication, spontaneity, refinement).

Vintage indigo stamped cloth, Kyoto antique textile shop
Bolts of beautiful cloth, Nuno Works, Tokyo

You will travel with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC director, writer, producer and photographer. Our co-leader is Nathan Somers, textile artist, collector, indigo dyer and historian. You will visit many sites Norma and Nathan know from personal and professional experience.

Vintage indigo textile samples

This is a hands-on, slow-savor, deep cultural immersion travel experience for up to 12 active textile lovers. Three people have already registered. There are 9 spaces open.

Handmade, hand-hammered kitchen knives, Tsukiji market

Our itinerary concentrates on the textile culture of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, and Tokyo, once known as Edo, where day-glow neon and phantasmagorical skyscrapers cast a futuristic glow over the old Tokugawa Shogunate. 

Vintage Boro patchwork textiles using sashiko stitching

In Kyoto and Tokyo, we will navigate the city and reach our local destinations using outstanding public transportation – faster and more reliable than private services. Bus and Metro service is punctual, frequent, safe and reliable. This gives us an opportunity to travel with the locals and familiarize ourselves with neighborhoods and the ease of travel in Japan.

Indigo dye vats where the plant ferments

Who goes on the Textile Study Tour to Japan? Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, textile lovers, historians, photographers and those wanting to learn more about Japan, weaving and natural dyeing there.   

Preliminary Itinerary

F-11/6:   Depart your home city and travel to Kyoto, Japan           

Sa-11/7:    Arrive Kyoto in late afternoon. If you are up to it, join us in the hotel lobby to meet up for an optional group dinner (cost is OYO)

Su-11/8:    Meet at 1 PM for a Welcome Lunch, stroll the Imperial Palace, visit a traditional miso shop and confectionary maker (B, L)

In Gion, Kyoto, naturally dyed silk, linen and cotton — persimmon and cochineal
Satoshi holding court at his Tokyo izakaya

M-11/9:     After breakfast, we will set out to explore the Nishiki Market, meandering the famed fish and food stalls, have lunch, then stroll Teramachi Street where we will visit vintage textile galleries, then transition to the Geisha neighborhood of Gion for more! (B, L) Dinner OYO

Street food at a temple market, Kyoto
Time and space for meditative moments

Tu-11/10:   Shibori Workshop and Shibori Museum. Hands-on session to make your own shibori-designed textile with indigo dye. (B, L)

W-11/11:  Our focus today is on the old weaving center of Kyoto with a visit to Nishijin Textile Center and several shops that dye and make indigo garments.  Afternoon OYO (B, L)

Arashiyama river scene, Kyoto
In the Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Th-11/12:  It’s important to have choices! Take the day to create your own itinerary or come with us to visit Arashiyama where we will stroll the famed Bamboo Forest. You have the option to take a rickshaw ride and meander sacred temples in this more rural Kyoto neighborhood, with optional and traditional keiseki multi-course lunch  (B)

Norma’s boro and sashiko project — in progress

 F-11/13:  Travel to Kawaguchi Lake, overnight at resort hotel with spa (B, D)

Sa-11/14:  Morning natural dye demonstration with renowned indigo dyer in the mountains of  Yamanashi. We will take a tour of her studio, where she will demonstrate indigo dyeing methods, and present a private showing and sale of her work. Travel to Tokyo in late afternoon. (B, L)

Geisha in training at the Bamboo Forest

 Sa-11/14:   We love markets and the most famed in Japan is Tokyo’s Tsukiji  Market where we will to early in the morning to take in splendid company of super-fresh oysters the size of fists, sushi and sashimi bites, sake sips, and crispy tempura rolls. Then we are off to Nippori Fabric Town to shop for yardage, with a stop at Kata-Kata or Gallery Kawano (B, L)

Buddhist monk stamps a Goshuin with a calligraphy message
Silk, hemp, linen and cotton shawls with natural dyes

 Su-11/15:   Attend two major Temple Markets — Takahata Market and Oedo International Forum — where you will find old kimono, pieces of vintage cloth including silks, natural dyes and hand-weaving, vintage collectibles such as ceramics, carved wood, figurines, jewelry, art and much more. (B)

Temple altar with prayers and incense

 M-11/16:    We set you loose in Ginza — high fashion center of Japan — for Department Store Shopping and to explore the Basement Food Courts. Department stores feature unparalleled designer boutiques and food treasures. If you prefer, you might like to go to Nuno Works in Roppongi and peek into the upmarket world of Akasaka boutiques. (B)

Bolt of vintage indigo-dyed cotton cloth, once intended to become a kimono

 Tu-11/17:       We discovered Yu Office Design during a no-particular-destination afternoon. They are a new, innovative design studio working in hand-woven cotton, silk and hemp with indigo dyes. We will visit their studio or invite them to our hotel for a show and sale.  (B, L)

 W-11/18:    After breakfast, set out on your own to chart your own course. You might like to visit the Imperial Palace, the National Museum or retrace steps to go back for a treasure that passed you by. We will meet again for our grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. Dinner (B, D)

Th-11/19    Tour ends and participants depart (B)

*Travel Note: You can arrive to Osaka Kansai International Airport which is 40 minutes from Kyoto and depart from Tokyo Narita Airport.  You might also find more favorable airfares flying to/from Tokyo. Check www.skyscanner.com for schedules and airfares. If you fly to Tokyo, you will take the Shinkansen bullet train (2 hours, 15 minutes) to Kyoto to meet up with the group on November 6. Rail tickets can be purchased in advance online. We will send more detailed information to the group after our travel cohort is formed. You can choose to arrive earlier or stay later at your own expense.

Yep, I ate the whole thing — but not in one gulp!

Your Guides are Norma Schafer and Nathan Somers

Norma Schafer is director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, writer, blogger, photographer and food aficionado. Her love of indigo has taken her to Mexico, India and Japan to explore the culture of weaving and natural dyes. On this return visit to Japan, she takes you to her favorite textile haunts to meet makers and collectors.

Vintage peasant coat, indigo with sashiko stitching, sourced in Kyoto

Nathan Somers is an educator, textile artist and vintage Japanese fabric collector who lives in Durham, NC. Nathan teaches indigo resist throughout the southeast United States, and making guest presentations at spinning an weavers’ guilds. His primary area of study is Japanese textile traditions.

Nathan Somers with a textile from his collection, found at a temple market

In 2016, Nathan was the subject of a Japanese television show that came to Durham to film his collection. The producers then tansported him to the Island of Amami Oshima, Japan, to study with an indigo dyer. 

How did it all begin for Nathan?

In 2007, Nathan found himself rummaging through a box of Japanese textile scraps at a Portland, Oregon, antique sale. The fabric, with its hand spun threads, uneven selvedges, complex patterns, and deep indigo inspired him, but at the time he didn’t understand the techniques that had been used to make the textiles.

Hand-spun, hand-woven Japanese cloth, textural beauty

Nathan began to study all he could about how these fabrics were produced and what their designs were meant to convey. Nathan’s textile collection comes from Japan’s temple and shrine markets and through contacts with dealers. The collection spans the late Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. He focuses on Tsutsugami (freehand paste resist), Katazome (stencil paste resist), Sashiko (mending or reinforcing stitch), Zanshi (waste thread fabrics) and Boro, (repeatedly mended and patched textiles). These textiles heavily inspired Nathan’s own work, which focuses on the Katazome stencil paste resist technique.

Fresh grilled octopus — skewered for eating while strolling

            In the years since first finding that box of fabric scraps, Nathan has researched traditional Japanese fabrics to best understand their production and design. He has traveled to China and Japan to deepen his knowledge about dyeing and weaving. Nathan experiments extensively, grows cotton in his home garden that he weaves and dyes, and also works with foraged fibers like Kudzu, wisteria and hemp – all essential parts of fabric production in Old Japan. 

            Nathan is an outstanding resource to guide us on this textile adventure, explaining dyeing, weaving and design processes as we travel, helping us to identify cloth origins, quality and value.

What is included?

  • A total of 12 nights accommodation
  • 12  breakfasts, 6 lunches and 2 dinners as outlined in the itinerary
  • Hands-on indigo dye workshop
  • Textile fabric shopping – vintage and new
  • Natural dye, weaving and stitching demonstrations
  • Market and gallery tours that encompass textiles, food, culture
  • Visits to cultural and historic sites
  • Shinkansen Bullet Train tickets or luxury van transportation from Kyoto to Tokyo
  • Intra-city metro and bus tickets
  • Entry fees to museums and galleries as part of the itinerary
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning guide
  • Knowledgeable tour leaders – Norma and Nathan
Shark skin wasabi grater, of course

What Nathan says:

            I am so excited to have this opportunity to co-lead this tour.  Japan is an amazing country and regardless of where you travel you have a strong connection to the past and to the Japanese concepts of mottainai (make the best of what you have) and wabi sabi (beauty through imperfection). I am excited to share with others my love and appreciation of Japan and its traditional textiles. The beauty and simplicity of the fabric is plain to see, but by learning about the complex way in which they are made offers a greater appreciation for the intricacies and aesthetics of this textile tradition.

You can see Nathan’s work on Instagram: @nsomersnc  and on his website: www.nathansomerstextiles.com

What is NOT included:

  • Round-trip international airfare from your home country to Japan
  • Gratuities, taxes
  • Travel insurance
  • Meals not included in the itinerary
  • Local transport you may take OYO, such as taxis
  • Personal supplies and incidentals
  • Alcoholic beverages at group meals
  • Airport transfers (transport from airport to/from hotels)

Check Skyscanner.com for best schedules and fares.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $5,895 per person double room with private bath (sleeps 2) in top-rated deluxe accommodations • add $985 for a single supplement

Hand-woven ikat with indigo dye

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $750 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in four equal payments – on December 22, 2019; March 22, May 22, August 22, 2020.  We accept payment using online e-commerce only.  If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be made.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before August 22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $750 non-refundable deposit). After August 22, 2020, there are no refunds.

If you register after December 22, 2019, you will owe $750 plus 1/4 of the balance due. If you register after March 22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 fee plus 1/2 of the balance due. If you register after May 22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 plus ¾ of the balance due. If you register after August 22, you will owe 100% of the balance due (if there are openings).

Old Japan is still very much present and alive

How to Register: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room (single supplement). We will send you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend: Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, textile lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Japanese art, textiles, culture and history.   If you love First World Exotic Travel and the inspiration of the best of Asia influences, this trip is for you.

Selection of sake at a Tsukiji market tasting stand

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Chef’s choice — this array of dinner selection is not unusual

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Fitness Level – Moderate Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy:  Tour participants must be able to walk two miles, board buses and trains, carry their own luggage unaided, and navigate uneven surfaces including stairs. We may walk more on some days. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on! If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

On a rickshaw ride through the Bamboo Forest

Honoring the Life, Marking the Death of Francisco Toledo

News came in this morning that Francisco Toledo died last night at age 79, a number I no longer consider to be relevant. He was an iconic figure in Oaxaca and Mexico. Maestro Toledo was a champion for human rights and righteousness, for all the goodness in people, for the aesthetic beauty of our city and our nation. He fought vocally and fiercely, without reservation or equivocation, for First Peoples and native species, for indigenous corn. He stood in the way of Monsanto as it threatened eradication of our cultural heritage. Today, I speak as a permanent resident of Mexico. The loss is enormous.

Francisco Toledo, d. September 5, 2019

Who will step in for him? His memory is a sacred honor to peace and justice. You are a blessing to us, Maestro Toledo. Your incredible art is only a fraction of who you are and the legacy you leave us. I can’t think of a person who has the profound impact of your voice and your pen, the courage and the fortitude to step in and be heard. You leave us with dignity and the memory to keep doing what is necessary to counter the evils of our time. You leave us with a void. Let us hope that in the void, voices rise to equal yours.

Rest In Peace, Francisco Toledo. Descansé bien.

As close as I got. An honor to know you.

Tribal Art and Georgia O’Keeffe: New Mexico Study Tour

Tuesday, September 1 – Wednesday, September 9, 2020 – 8 nights, 9 days

New Mexico was originally part of the Spanish land grant known as New Spain. It calls to me in a way that reminds me of Oaxaca: Vast vistas of mountains and desert punctuated by red and purple skies, stately organ-pipe cactus and gnarly mesquite, Rio Grande River oases lined with scrub oak, and unparalleled art and craft made by indigenous peoples.

Ubiquitious adobe bricks, New Mexico desert
Lapidary work by Kewa pueblo master

Colonized by the Spanish in 1598 and referred to as New Mexico by them after the Aztec Valley of Mexico, the territory was integrated into a new nation after 1821 Independence from Spain. Mexico was forced to cede its northern territories to the US in 1848 in a period of political vulnerability. Deeply rooted locals identify more with Spanish or indigenous ancestry.

Today, New Mexico has the largest percentage of Latino and Hispanic Americans in the USA. America’s First Peoples lived here for thousands of years before European occupation. Anglos, the trappers, merchants and adventurers, arrived much later. This sequence of settlement is important for showing respect and appreciation.

Sheri Brautigam, textile author and operator of Living Textiles of Mexico, and I join together again to bring you this program that starts in Santa Fe, the state capitol and heart of Colonial New Mexico.  Sheri lives in Santa Fe and I visit periodically. Our love of place is defined by the majestic natural world, exquisite art, textiles, jewelry and pottery created by Native American people, and a deep appreciation for cultural history.

Iconic skull, O’Keeffe house
Abiquiu, New Mexico landscape

On many levels, it seems only natural to add New Mexico to our travel repertoire. Here political borders give way to the shared cultural and aesthetic history of Mexico and the American Southwest.

We take you to Native American pueblos to meet favorite weavers and jewelry makers, and to galleries and public spaces where world-class examples are displayed.  We introduce you to collectors and purveyors of folk art and craft who will talk about quality, authenticity, craftsmanship and style. We go deep rather than wide to offer insight and perspective.

Georgia O’Keeffe treasure at the La Fonda Hotel

Any exploration of New Mexico must include a look into the life of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Our study tour takes you to her summer residence at Ghost Ranch where we spend the night and enjoy a morning walking tour of her favorite painting sites. We visit her Abiquiu winter home where her minimalist style shaped future generations.

Kewa pueblo jewelry artist Mary L. Tafoya
Mezcal laced Smoky Rosa at the Secreto Lounge, Hotel San Francisco

We invite you to join us to explore and discover:

  • An O’Keeffe landscape of the White Place and the Pedernal
  • Westward migration and the lure of the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66
  • Ancient indigenous Native American Pueblos nestled along the Rio Grande River banks
  • Colonial Spanish and Mexican history, architecture and cultural influences
  • Sumptuous food spiked with rare New Mexico red Chimayo chile and green Hatch chile — try the Hatch flavored pozole or a green chile cheeseburger or buy a ristra to take home
  • Mezcal infused beverages that transcend Oaxaca origins
Inlay stone work, Thunderbirds: turquoise, mother-of-pearl, apple coral, gaspeite
Vintage tin mirror, La Fonda Hotel collection

Here is the Preliminary Itinerary: Arrive September 1 and depart September 9, including Labor Day Weekend.

Tues, 9//1: Arrive and check in to hotel, welcome cocktail reception (R)

Wed. 9/2:  Breakfast with art and cultural history talk, walking tour of Santa Fe galleries, the Governor’s Palace Portal and historic sites, welcome lunch.  Presentations by noted experts and collectors. Dinner OYO.  (B, L)

Finest heishi bead work, Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa)

Thurs. 9/3: After breakfast, depart for Rio Grande River Kewa/Santo Domingo pueblo to meet Native American craftspeople where we will have private demonstrations of stone inlay and metal smithing, and a home-style lunch. We visit award-winners who exhibit at prestigious galleries and participate in the International Folk Art Market. (B, L) Dinner OYO

Friday. 9/4: After breakfast, we will take a private La Fonda Hotel art history tour, with lunch at the historic Fred Harvey restaurant, followed by a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (B, L) Dinner OYO

Vintage Navajo rug with churro sheep wool
Bumble bee painting at La Fonda Hotel

Sat, 9/5: After breakfast, we will return to the Kewa pueblo to attend the big Labor Day Weekend Artisan Fair, an all Native American traditional arts and craft event that includes artisans from throughout New Mexico. (B) Lunch and dinner OYO.

Sun. 9/6: After breakfast, depart for Ghost Ranch with a stop in Sanctuario de Chimayo a famous shrine of miracles and Hispanic faith. We will visit the Rio Grande style weavers of the Chimayo region and have lunch at Rancho de Chimayo, overnight at Ghost Ranch (B, L)

O’Keeffe wall, subject of numerous paintings
Rudy Coriz feather motif inlay stone work

Mon. 9/7: After breakfast, morning Art Walk at Ghost Ranch to see the locales where Georgia O’Keeffe painted. After lunch at the Inn at Abiquiu, we will tour O’Keeffe’s winter home in Abiquiu, then return to Santa Fe. (B, L) Dinner OYO.

Tues., 9/8: Breakfast and day on your own. Grand finale dinner. (D) Breakfast and lunch OYO.

Wed. 9/9: Depart

Painting, Native American festival dances
Colonial furniture, hand-carved wood

You may wish to arrive early or stay later to add a visit to Taos, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, or Santa Clara or San Ildefonso pottery villages.  So many places to visit, so much to see and do.

What Is Included

  • 8 nights lodging at a top-rated Santa Fe historic center property within walking distance to the Plaza
  • 6 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 1 dinner
  • 1 cocktail reception
  • a curated itinerary with introductions to some of the region’s finest artisans
  • museum and other entry fees, as specified in itinerary
  • private demonstrations, presentations and lectures
  • private coach and chauffeur to/from pueblos and O’Keeffe sites
  • outstanding and personal guide services with Norma Schafer and Sheri Brautigam
Inlay pin by Mary Tafoya
Exterior landscape, O’Keeffe in Abiquiu

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation that is not specified in the itinerary.

You can fly in/out of either Albuquerque (ABQ) or Santa Fe (SAF), New Mexico. Check Skyscanner.com for best schedules and fares.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $3,845 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,435  single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Important Note: All rooms at Ghost Ranch for one night on Sunday, September 6, are shared accommodations. 

Native American Feast Day Mask

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $750 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in three equal payments – on January 22, April 22, July 22, 2020.  We accept payment using online e-commerce only.  If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be made.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before July 22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After July 22, 2020, there are no refunds.

If you register after January 22, you will owe $750 plus 1/3 of the balance due. If you register after April 22, you will owe $750 plus 2/3 of the balance due. If you register after July 22, you will owe 100% (if there are openings).

How to Register: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend: Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, jewelry and textile lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Native American art, culture and history.   If you love off-the-beaten path adventure, the great outdoors, and the inspiration of the great Southwest as seen by Georgia O’Keeffe, this trip is for you.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Work in progress, Warren Nieto

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy:  We may walk a lot on some days.  — up to 10,000 steps. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on!

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Warren Nieto with sacred corn pendant, inlay stones and sterling silver

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Old West hand-carved lamp base, La Fonda Hotel

Indigo Blue: Old Japanese Cloth–Shuko’s Gift

Shuko Clouse went to Japan to visit family in early summer. She travels with me in Mexico. We have a cross-cultural appreciation for cloth. When I saw her at her Los Angeles home in July, she presented me with a treasure — a piece of old indigo cloth she had picked up along the way. It was brittle. It was minimally repaired in two areas with sashiko stitches and boro patches.

My first pass at the repair work to save the missing threads

There were holes and tears. One corner had totally degraded and looked as if it had been chewed by mice. The cloth had turned transparent and white where it must have been kept folded and stored away for years. There were stains, perhaps the sweat of toil or perhaps used to wipe an oil spill. It was the discoloration of life.

Original repair on Shuko’s gift of old indigo cloth

This is the Japanese meditation of Wabi-Sabi, that nothing is perfect and in this imperfection is the most sublime beauty. The minimalist aesthetic of this philosophy resonates. In Abiquiu, Georgia O’Keeffe practiced less is more with the absence of collections, focusing on emptiness, light, space and landscape.

I thanked Shuko for this amazing gift of ancient culture, history and textile reverence. I fingered the threads and then wrapped the cloth gently to tuck away into my luggage to carry with me to North Carolina.

What I have to work with — indigo scraps and yarn

At the end of my first week of being here, being quiet and introspective, I pull out the cloth and begin to let it speak to me. What shall I do to resuscitate it? What will it take to bring it back to life? In thinking about the repairing of what is fragile, I pull out my small stash of Japanese indigo scraps I bought in Kyoto in May. Now, I think, I should have gotten more. I have indigo-dyed 4-ply hand-spun Oaxaca cotton yarn to work with, too.

I think about the boro cloth I saw in Tokyo and examine the few sashiko stitches of repair on what lays before me. I’ve watched YouTube videos and did a minor knee patch on a pair of jeans last year. Maybe I can make this up as I go along, following the primitive, beautiful inspiration of the Aomori Prefecture in the northernmost region of Japan.

Amuse Museum boro exhibition, layers of repaired cloth added to over generations

Is it ethical to use anything else except Japanese indigo-dyed cotton or hemp scraps? I have leftovers from an African tie-dye dressmaking project. I’m still debating as I use up the few Japanese pieces I have. I’m not a certified textile restoration expert, so perhaps, in the end it doesn’t matter. But I want to respect the origins of this cloth.

The underside of the patch — or boroboro — considered a Japanese art form now

My friend, Sheri Brautigam who operates Living Textiles of Mexico and sells indigo-dyed Oaxaca textiles on her Etsy shop, tells me that all things indigo are flying out the door. Remigio Mestas, our well-respected curator of Oaxaca and Mexican-made indigenous clothing, recently opened Los Baules Remigio in San Miguel de Allende where indigo plays front and center. Many of you know his Oaxaca shop, Los Baules de Juana Cata.

Holes and frayed warp/weft. My first stitches to hold the repair together.

My 4-ply yarn is too thick for the delicate fabric and I separate it into 2-ply lengths. I carefully iron the textile to smooth out the folds and bunched up frayed edges. It is a reverent act of appreciation. I choose my patching pieces and set needle and thread to the rhythm of a running stitch. Even though I mark the cloth with tailor chalk, my spacing isn’t perfect. That is okay. We are making art, here. We are saving something worthwhile.

The underbelly of the original repair. Who did this work, when and why?

The work is painstakingly slow. I converted the loft bedroom into the project space and moved sleeping area to the main level. Upstairs, I hunch over an old, 1930’s era large oak kitchen table I bought in western Pennsylvania almost fifty years ago. An overhead fan moves the still air. I take a break in the cane rocker I bought when my 46-year old son was born. Memory is important.

Is this brittle old cloth worth salvaging in our disposable, replaceable lifestyle?

This is a project to savor, to approach with intention, to consider which direction the stitches will lay. They form a quilt and a patchwork. I think about the clothing of necessity, the repeated repairs to keep people clothed and warm in climates of serve deprivation.

Oaxaca hand-spun indigo dyed cotton, with cochineal + coyuchi, size S-M, $350 USD, + mailing

In this process, I think about the women I know in remote Oaxaca villages who card and spin, then dye cotton with indigo. I appreciate the labor it takes to make beauty and what we share across cultures. When my Oaxaca indigo wears thin, I intend to repair it, too.

A few pieces of old Japanese indigo cloth I have to work with

In my own closet I am noticing a preponderance of blue as I turn to the natural dye that guides me through Oaxaca and around the world. To follow the indigo trail is to discover how humans adapted and applied color to brighten their lives.

New indigo and red oak dyed shawl, Oaxaca’s, Mixteca region, from Remigio Mestas

What will I do with this piece of cloth when it is finished? Perhaps it will be worthy of hanging, worthy of occupying scarce space.

Making a patchwork of stitches