Monthly Archives: February 2013

Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival in San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

San Martin Tilcajete is best known for its woodcarvings.  Whimsical figures — human, animal, and anthropomorphic — are painstakingly whittled from copal wood and then painted in bright, magical colors by talented artisans.

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Often, the designs are intricate patterns that derive from Zapotec symbology or represent scenes from every day village life–a band of musicians, a farmer driving an oxen cart, an armadillo or a mezcal toting devil.  The main street is lined with houses selling the figures.  Go back deeper into the village and you will find more alebrijes made and sold by nearly every home.

Shuckiing Corn Mezcal Devil

San Martin Tilcajete is a farming community where organic maize is still grown.  Behind the alebrije store front we found an elderly couple shucking corn — small ears with huge kernels — that would feed both animals and people.  Monsanto has not yet completely intruded here with its genetically modified, perfect, added-sugar, large kernel/large cob corn — thank goodness!  We jumped right in to lend a hand separating hard kernel from the cob.

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But on February 12, we didn’t go there to look at or buy alebrijes!  We were there on Fat Tuesday for Carnival, when the pueblo becomes a revelry of cross-dressers, dancers, greased young men brandishing spears and wearing masks, and a host of village onlookers and parade-goers.

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Tradition has it that Fat Tuesday is the last time to celebrate before the Lenten season of austerity and ritual fasting begins.  Food and drink flow, music pierces the air, and imaginative costumes become living figures of whimsical carvings.

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At the end of the parade through the mostly dusty dirt streets of San Martin Tilcajete, the troupe and entourage assemble in front of the village municipal building where the president and master of ceremonies pay homage to the tradition and the participants.

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Then, the honorary bride and groom of the parade go to the village church where there is a mock wedding ceremony that culminates the festivities.

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We got there early in the morning and left by 1 p.m. before we withered in the hot Oaxaca sun. After trailing the desfila (procession) through the streets of the village we were ready for a bougainvillea covered arbor of shade.  Even on February 12, it was a really hot day.  We heard the revelry will continue well into the night.

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We found respite, a beer, and lunch at Azucena Zapoteca restaurant at the intersection of the road to Ocotlan and San Martin Tilcajete.  Operated by famed carver Jacobo Angeles Ojeda and his wife Maria, the food and service are both outstanding.  Then, we caught a local Ocotlan bus right out front for 15 pesos (12 cents) that took us to Oaxaca, in time to buy bus tickets to Chiapas at the end of the week.

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Felted Fabric Fashion Oaxaca Style

Making felt is one of the oldest forms of fabric known to humankind–a process more than 6,000 years old.   Felt happens when sheep wool is moistened, heated and agitated.  

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For our Felted Fashion Workshop with Jessica de Haas in Oaxaca this week, we used merino wool dyed with natural plant materials — pericone and indigo, and the cochineal insect.   At the end of the week, we had collectively created shawls, scarves, rebozos, wall hangings, pillow covers and enough ideas to feed our creative energy for some time to come. 

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We gathered in the pomegranate tree-shaded courtyard, first to see examples of great garments, including published examples of Jessica’s.  Then, we jumped into two days of preparing sample fabric swatches to experiment with the colors and materials we brought.  Jessica warned us: always make samples first to see how the fabric will look before you make a larger piece.

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On day three, we jumped into tuk-tuks to have lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant.  (Can you see five of us packed into that little electric go-cart?)

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Afterward, I commandeered a pick-up truck to take us up the hill to see examples of indigenous clothing made by Arte y Seda.  We were ready to delve into the process of making felted yardage that could become a garment.

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Here in Teotitlan del Valle, people weave with wool every day, but using roving (wool that is not spun) for making felt is not familiar.  Zapotec  women who came into our workspace during the week were fascinated with the process.  I am hoping to give a demonstration of the process to local women later this spring.

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Some who participated were accomplished artists, like Linda Jacque, who paints guitars for famous rock musicians.  Her colorful vision was immediately evident in the pieces she created.

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Most of us were novices or beginners to the felt making process, so the experience was both instructive and fun.

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Working with bubble wrap, soap, water, plastic baggies, and lots of elbow (and sometimes foot) grease, we rolled, pressed, and agitated the wool until it began to felt.  The fibers of the wool move together and interlock.  Our instructor, felt fashion designer Jessica  checked, demonstrated, and encouraged us every step of the way.

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By the end of each day we were ready for a TMM.  Some of us chose to keep going even after dark.

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The local color inspired us!  Oaxaca’s great food gave us sustenance. The camaraderie kept us motivated.  We learned from and supported each other.  It was a fantastic experience.

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We hope you will join us next time!

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Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom, August 2-8, 2013

Imagine! A 4-day hands-on weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, plus a 1-day cooking class, for a total of 5 days and 6 nights!   For beginners and experienced textile and fiber artists and designers, or anyone who wants to know more about tapestry weaving. 

Includes 22 hours of instruction, 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, AND a traditional Zapotec cooking class with lunch.  Perfect for fiber artists, weavers, knitters, natural dye aficionados, artists, teachers.  A great shared experience for parents and children.

  • Arrive Friday, August 2 —  participate in the weaving workshop from Saturday, August 3 through Tuesday, August 6, with master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas.

Then, take a traditional Zapotec cooking class with one of Oaxaca’s premiere cooking teachers — fun, flavorful and hands-on!

  • Cooking Class, Wednesday, August 7.
  • Depart Thursday, August 8.
  • The workshop was an incredible program. I have enjoyed the process! Thank you very much for your hospitality and for sharing your talent, knowledge and wonderful teaching.  I would recommend this program to any friend.  This has been an unforgettable week.” –Giovanna Balarezo, New York City

Tuition is $995 per person, including lodging (double occupancy), most meals, and cooking class.  Workshop is limited to 6 participants. For a single room with private bath, add $150 for a total of $1,145.

Dancing on the Loom” was a marvelous experience; not only did I learn the essentials of weaving and dyeing, but I have the opportunity to see people engaging in the building of a sustainable production.” — Akilah Zuberi, Philadelphia

Not only will you learn the way Zapotecs have been weaving for over 500 years, and dyeing for millenia, you will be experiencing village life through a very unique and personal perspective.

The Chavez Santiago Family Weavers has traveled and exhibited throughout the United States, are in the permanent collections of galleries, museums and artists, including the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. They have exhibited and lectured widely, including at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the San Jose (CA) Quilt and Textile Museum, the American Tapestry Alliance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Purdue University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Who Should Attend: Weavers, artists, knitters, textile designers, teachers, university students, anyone interested in weaving and natural dyeing techniques, and sustaining indigenous art forms using traditional methods.

Level of Experience Necessary: These are small group, hands-on workshops that can accommodate varying levels of ability, from beginner to advanced student. Because the size of each group is limited, you will receive individualized instruction and coaching from the master weaving family of Federico Chavez Sosa. More experienced weavers can create more complex projects.

Participants will have a personal loom for the session. The loom will be dressed (warped) and ready for you to begin weaving upon arrival. Materials include your choice of naturally dyed wool yarn from which you will weave a sampler textile that can be used as a wall hanging, pillow cover, or form the body of a purse or shoulder bag. You will select the wool from colors dyed with pomegranates, pecans, mosses, indigo, and cochineal.  Our participants have created amazing textiles that range from 18 inches to 30 inches in length.

What You Will Learn:

  • Traditional Zapotec weaving techniques, patterns and motifs that produce squares, stripes, diagonals, circles and color gradations;
  • Use of the two-harness pedal loom and shuttles;
  • Practice weaving simple or more complex patterns, depending upon your level of experience;
  • The cultural history of rug weaving in Teotitlan, ancient wool preparation techniques, natural dyeing methods, and how to discern synthetic dye use
  • Participate in natural dyeing demonstrations to see how the range and variety of color comes from native plant materials;
  • Complete a finished textile: cut the sample tapestry from the loom, clean the wool tapestry, twist and tie the fringes; and
  • Work under the expert guidance of weavers who have created extraordinary textiles for generations.

Day 1:  Arrive and settle in to your Bed and Breakfast lodge. Light supper included.

Weaving Workshop: Days 2-5, 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Day 2: Arrive at the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers for an orientation and demonstration of Zapotec weaving patterns and techniques to create squares, stripes, diagonals and circles. Choose your loom and select the colors for your tapestry. Prepare the bobbins. Begin your project. (Breakfast and dinner included.  Lunch on your own.)

Days 3-4-5: Participate in demonstrations and then practice using the two-harness pedal loom using a variety of shuttles to make more complex patterns and greater variety of colors, experiment with using the equipment on your own, see dyeing demonstration using cochineal, indigo, and wild marigold (pericone). Learn how to count threads to create a circle or square within the overall design. Finish off your piece by cutting it off the loom, rolling and tying fringes.

Day 6:  After breakfast, walk around the block to the kitchen of the famed cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza Ruiz.  You’ll go to the market with her, select the food you will prepare, join her in her kitchen for all the preparations, then enjoy what you have cooked for comida!

Day 7:  Depart for the airport and home after breakfast, or extend your stay in Teotitlan del Valle or Oaxaca city.

What Is Included:

  • All weaving equipment and supplies to create a finished wool tapestry sampler that is approximately 18” wide by 24” long
  • 22+ hours of supervised instruction in English
  • An educational reference notebook of workshop materials
  • 6 nights lodging (double occupancy) with daily breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle at family-operated posada/bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of the weaving studio

Cost for the 6 Night/7-Day Program is $995 USD per person, double occupancy.  Add $150 for single room with private bath, for $1,145.

Option 1:  Add-on pre- or post-workshop nights.  $55 per night per person in Teotitlan del Valle.  $125 per night per person per night in Oaxaca city  (includes breakfast).

How to Register: A $500 USD deposit is required to reserve your space.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you a PayPal invoice.  Payment is only accepted with PayPal.

Final payment of the balance is due 45 days before the start day of the workshop. If the final balance is not paid by then, we reserve the right to treat the reservation as cancelled and no refunds are offered. Any registrations made within 60 days of the workshop start date must be paid in full at the time of registration.

Cancellations and Refunds

If cancellation is necessary, deposits are refundable, as follows:cancellations must be made in writing by email.

Deposits may be refunded:

  • up to 60 days before the workshop start date, 50% of the deposit will be refunded.
  • After that, deposits are not refundable.
  • If cancellation is necessary, you may apply the deposit to a future workshop scheduled in the same calendar year or transfer your registration to another person.
  • We reserve the right to cancel or reschedule workshops, in which case you may choose a 100% refund or to apply the tuition to a future workshop.

We prefer payment with PayPal.  See “Register Today” for form and procedures.  We will send you a PayPal invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.

What Is NOT Included:

  • Transportation in/to Mexico, Oaxaca and Teotitlan
  • Local transportation costs (bus, taxi, collectivo)
  • Gratuities and fees
  • Trip insurance, medical expenses, hospitalization, and other fees
  • Lunches and dinners (unless noted in the itinerary), snacks, liquor/alcoholic beverages
  • Optional afternoon side trips and excursions

Upon registration for the workshop, we will provide you with:

  • Transportation options to get from the Oaxaca airport to the city and to Teotitlan del Valle and your bed and breakfast
  • A self-guided tour map of Teotitlan del Valle
  • How to get from the airport to the village
  • A seasonal packing list, and travel tips to make your journey easier and fun

Note: Zapotec weavers use the pedal loom, which they stand at to work. People who have difficulty standing for any period of time, or who have back problems are discouraged from attending. Many of Teotitlan’s streets and alleyways are cobblestone and/or dirt, with many uneven surfaces. It is a several block walk between lodging options and the weaving workshop. Please bring sturdy, comfortable walking shoes.


U.S. Citizens traveling to Mexico are required to carry a current passport, valid for at least three months after your re-entry to the U.S. It is your responsibility to obtain proper documentation. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, contact the Mexican embassy, consulate or national airline of Mexico for entry requirements.

Trip Insurance

Please consider purchasing travel insurance.  We can arrange to purchase trip insurance for you and include this in your final statement.  Let us know if you would like a quote.  The price is based on your age and length of stay in Mexico.  In the event of an emergency or natural disaster caused beyond our control, trip insurance will cover any unexpected expenses.

Questions? Contact

Workshop To Dye For: Cochineal, Indigo, Wild Marigold

It is a 10-hour day working together to dye the merino wool roving we are using for our Felted Fashion Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Long, but satisfying.   Our textile dye master is Eric Chavez Santiago who is also the education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.   The colors we get are magnificent.


We gather first to talk about the history of cochineal and indigo, where it is grown now, how it is prepared for dyeing, and the chemistry of natural dye mixing.  Eric uses a mordant on the wool first before dyeing with  cochineal and wild marigold, called pericone here, to fix the color.  The pericone is gathered from the countryside.  Indigo, which comes from the coast of Oaxaca, needs no mordanting.

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First, we remove the merino wool roving from the mordant bath, squeeze it, and make 2 lb. bundles.  All hands together!  A great team building experience for our first day together, one of the participants says later. The dye formula is calculated based upon the weight of the fiber.

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After calculating the weight of fiber, Eric measures the cochineal, dilutes it and adds it to the warm water, which must be held at a specific temperature.  Bella brought a digital thermometer from the U.S.A. that goes between centigrade and fahrenheit to translate the heat for us.

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We carefully immerse the wool into the dye bath to insure an evenly saturated color.

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We are in the home of the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.  They only work with natural dyes, an important ingredient for sustainability that achieves glorious color.  Eric’s mother, Dolores Santiago Arrellanas, gives us a hand to check the color of the wool.  And we stir, and stir some more.

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Next, we move on to preparing indigo.  It’s a family affair, and Eric’s dad Federico Chavez Sosa, also checks out the dye baths, while youngest brother Omar helps move the giant dye pots, which must be either enamel coated or stainless steel.

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Eric adds the powdered indigo to a glass jar filled with marbles.  He shakes the jar to disburse the dye particles and oxygenate it.  He then pours this carefully into the dye pot and stirs from the center.

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Your fingers can’t do anything else but turn blue.  Eric says that indigo is not really a dye, but rather is a stain that coats the surface of the fiber rather than saturating it.

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We use the indigo to over dye some of the cochineal and pericone to get various shades of red, coral, pink, and green.  And we leave some of the pericone and cochineal in its original color.

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After removing the dyed roving from the pots, we rinse and then begin separating the fibers to fluff them.  This makes it easier to pull apart later to start the felting process.

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Lunch is delivered by La Tierra Antigua Restaurant — host Carina Santiago makes delicious tacos dorados with guacamole and fresh fruit. We are finished by 7 p.m. after starting at 9:30 a.m. and walk back to our bed and breakfast completely satisfied with the day.   

Candelaria and Tamales Go Together in Oaxaca

Candelaria means tamales in Oaxaca, Mexico. Here in Mexico, tradition dictates that the person who gets the plastic baby Jesus imbedded in the Rosca de Reyes on Three Kings Day, January 6, gets to offer tamales on Candelaria, February 2.  Nearly everyone gets the baby and everyone eats tamales.

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And, it’s not just one type of tamale but two:  One version is a traditional soft masa tortilla stuffed with mole amarillo and chicken wrapped in a green corn husk.

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The second version originates from the tropical coast of Oaxaca where banana trees are plentiful.  The leaf is smeared with the masa paste and stuffed with mole negro and chicken.  Both are then steamed for 30 minutes until cooked.

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The flavors are definitely distinctive, not only because of the different moles.  Each type of exterior package imparts a unique flavor to the ground corn (masa) interior.  Not all make them as good as Reyna!

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A few of us gathered before the Felted Fashion Workshop started for a cooking class with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz.  We happened to schedule it on Candelaria (lucky us), known as Candlemas in England, the interval holiday between winter solstice and spring equinox.

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Of course, we prepared the mole amarillo on the traditional metate from scratch with expert guidance from cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza Ruiz.  This mole is a favorite of Teotitlan del Valle and made for all the fiestas.


As a consequence, we ate these tasty packages for both lunch and dinner on February 2.  So, who’s complaining?

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The rest of the menu included a nopal salad with avocado dressing served in little corn husk boats that we learned to tie ourselves.


A salsa with comal toasted tomatillos and poblano chiles, prepared with a granite mortar and pestle a la rustica — fantastic on crunchy tortillas.

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As we left the kitchen to sit down at the al fresco dining table, each place was set with a small gourd into which was poured a shot of mezcal.  We picked up a lime slice, dipped it in gusano salt, sucked and then sipped.  For chasers, a hibiscus juice or a little Coronita.

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For a look at dessert, a boysenberry sorbet flavored with goat milk caramel, see my Facebook page.

El Sabor Zapoteco — cooking with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz, who offers traditional Zapotec style classes at in Teotitlan del Valle with recipes in English.  Wonderful!