Travel Oaxaca’s Natural Dye Textiles + Weaving Trail: One-Day Study Tour

We introduce you to weavers of wool, cotton and silk who work with organic natural dyes. This one-day educational study tour gives you in-depth knowledge about the artisanal process for making hand-woven cloth using sustainable technologies. We visit home studios and workshops to meet some of Oaxaca’s outstanding weavers in this curated day trip. See the real indigo, cochineal and wild marigold dye process. Meet artisans who create beautiful rugs and clothing.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.

You reserve for the dates you prefer. This  is designed as a private program. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We will do our best to match your travel schedule with our availability.

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Oaxaca has many talented weavers working on different types of looms: the two-harness pedal loom, the flying shuttle loom and the back-strap loom. They create many different types of cloth from wool, cotton and silk – to use, wear and walk on.

Wool Coch Red Bobbins62K

The yarns or threads can be hand-woven and made into tapestry carpets or wall hangings. They might become lighter weight garments such as shawls, ponchos and scarves or fashion accessories and home goods like handbags, travel bags, blankets, throws and pillow covers.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Most weavers dye their material using pre-mixed commercial dyes. Some buy their yarns pre-dyed. This streamlines and simplifies the production process, making the finished piece less costly. Often, there are wide quality differences.

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A growing number of weavers are going back to their indigenous roots and working in natural dyes. They use a time-consuming process to gather the dye materials, prepare them with tested recipes, dye the yarns and then weave them into cloth. These colors are vibrant and long-lasting. There is a premium for this type of hand work.

Dyeing and then weaving can take weeks and months, depending upon the finished size of the textile and type of weaving process used.

Preparing indigo for the dye pot -- first crush it to powder

Preparing indigo for the dye pot — first crush it to powder

For each visit, we will select artisans who live and work in small villages scattered in the countryside around Oaxaca where families have co-created together for generations to prepare the yarn and weave it.

indigo-dye-pot

Natural dyes we will investigate include plant materials like nuts, wild marigold, fruit (pomegranate, persimmon, zapote negro), wood bark and indigo.

Shades of cochineal -- a full range of color

Shades of cochineal — a full range of color

Another important dye source is cochineal, which is the parasite that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. The Spanish kept the cochineal secret well hidden for over 400 years, calling it grana cochineal or grain, so that English and Italian competitors could not detect its source.

Cochineal dye bath -- the most vibrant red of the natural world

Cochineal dye bath — the most vibrant red of the natural world

During this one-day outing, we will visit four weavers, see complete natural demonstrations of yarns and threads, learn about over-dyeing to get a full rainbow of colors, and savor the beautiful results that master weavers create.

We may not always visit the same weavers on each tour, based on their availability. At each home studio you will see some of the steps that go into the completed process. By the end of the day, you will have gained a fuller understanding of the difference between natural and commercial dyed cloth as well as the various weaving techniques. This will help you become a more educated collector, able to discern nuances in fiber and dye quality.

Ikat wool rebozo colored with pomegranate and cochineal

Ikat wool rebozo colored with zapote negro (black persimmon) and cochineal

More than this, you will learn about the local culture, the family enterprise of weaving, how weavers source their materials, the dedication to keeping this ancient practice alive. You will see how using natural dyes is a small-batch, organic and environmentally sustainable process. And, you will try your hand in the dye pot and at the loom, too, if you like.

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath -- turns cochineal bright orange

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath — turns cochineal bright orange

During this complete one-day study tour you will:

  • Meet master weavers and their families in their home workshop/studio
  • See the raw materials used for coloring wool, cotton and silk
  • Watch the weaving process and try your hand (and feet) at the fixed frame 2-harness pedal loom and flying shuttle loom — if you wish
  • Discuss the origin of cochineal, its impact on world trade and its many uses today
  • Learn how to tell the difference between dyed fibers – are they natural or chemical?
  • Observe processes for dyeing with indigo, cochineal, wild marigold and other organic materials
  • Understand quality differences and what makes a superior product
  • Discover the meaning of the various designs, some taken from ancient codices
  • Receive a Resource Guide and Glossary to take with you
  • Have an opportunity to shop, if you choose, at the source
  • Order a customized size, if you prefer

You are under no obligation to buy.

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

This is an educational study tour to give you more in-depth knowledge about the weaving and natural dye process. We offer a stipend to the weavers who take part to compensate them for their knowledge, time and materials. This is included in your tour fee.

Weavers do not pay commissions on any purchases made and 100% of any sales go directly to them.

Also consider these educational options:

About Norma Schafer, your study tour leader

Norma Schafer has organized educational programs and workshops in Oaxaca since 2006 through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She is an educator, not a tour guide, and is recognized for her knowledge about textiles and natural dyes.

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Norma is living in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, since she retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. Before that, she made frequent visits each year beginning in 2005. Norma has access to off-the-tourist-path small production family workshops where the “manufacturing” process is vertical and hand-made.

  • Earned the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge
  • Holds the M.S. in business administration from the University of Notre Dame
  • 30-year career in higher education administration and program development
  • Created/produced international award-winning programs at Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Recognized by the International University Continuing Education Association for outstanding educational program development
  • Founder/creator of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC arts workshops/study tours in 2006
  • Founder/author of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog in 2007
  • Learned to weave and use natural dyes as a graduate student in San Francisco too many years ago to count!
  • Has a personal collection of more than 100 textiles made with natural dyes
  • Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
  • Consultant on tourism/economic development, State of Guanajuato, Mexico Office of Tourism
  • Embedded in the cultural and social history of Oaxaca’s Zapotec village life

IMG_4423 Dolores with Shadows

Note: From time-to-time, we will invite other distinguished and knowledgeable natural dye experts to join us or to substitute for Norma to lead the study tour, based upon schedules and availability. If Norma is not available on the date(s) you request, we will give you the option to take the study tour with another qualified leader.

Pricing is for a 6-7 hour day. Customized programs on request.  The rate constititutes the time you arrive to and depart from Teotitlan del Valle.

  • 1 or 2 people, $200 USD flat rate total, includes lunch
  • 3 to 4 people, $95 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • 5 to 8 people, $90 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • For larger groups, please contact us for special pricing

Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in Teotitlan del Valle, and lunch. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We will pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca). Alcoholic beverages are at your own expense.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. We will do our best to accommodate your requests.

Silk worms dining on mulberry leaves, Oaxaca, Mexico Wool dyed w moss

Reservations and Cancellations

We require a 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve with the balance due on the day of the tour in USD or MXN pesos (at the current conversion rate). The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for.

If you decide to cancel up to 30 days before the study tour, we will refund 50% of your deposit. If you reduce the number of people in your party with 30 days notice, we will pro-rate the deposit and offer a 50% refund for the number of cancelations.

After 30 days before your scheduled study tour, your deposit is not refundable. We will have made transportation arrangements and secured the dates/times with the weavers, plus paid them a stipend in advance for participating. We have learned, living in Mexico, that it is essential to keep commitments to sustain relationships. Thank you for understanding.

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

9 Responses to Travel Oaxaca’s Natural Dye Textiles + Weaving Trail: One-Day Study Tour

  1. Any photography sessions planned for this year; was sorry to miss Chiapas last year

    • Ron, seems like cameras are changing. The mirrorless system is taking hold. I don’t know if we can attract enough participants to focus on using the DSLR. Let me think about how to reframe a photography workshop. I don’t have anything planned yet for 2016-2017, I’m sorry to say.
      Best to you and Katie. -Norma

  2. Norma

    I will be in Oaxaca the month of February. I am interested in such a tour. Please let me know when other people will be going and I will be glad to join along.

    • Sandra, you are welcome to schedule a date with me any time that suits you when I’m available. Please feel free to put together your own small group of 2 or more people. I am doing these study tours on an individualized basis. There are no set dates. Thanks for your interest. Norma

  3. Some years ago I found cochineal living on cactus near O’Neil Park in Orange County. I transferred some cochineal to cactus in pots on my back patio but during the night the local yard snails (similar to the escargo eaten by humans) found and consumed all the cochineal! Later I made a trip from Fresno back down to Orange County, put some new cochineal on protected cactus, which the next day was all washed off by an alert gardener thinking the cactus were infected…end of my attempt to own a sample of cochineal for teaching and other purposes!

    • Dudley, so great to hear from you again. Though we’ve never met, I always find your comments valuable and entertaining! I know how much you must miss Oaxaca. Yes, those little bugs are often seen as culprits of infestation rather than as a source for an incredible, intense red dye. Those blessed gardeners and snails. What do they know? Sending all best wishes, Norma

    • Speaking of Cochineal in Orange County, last year I was amazed to find patches of cochineal bugs on “spineless” Opuntia (prickly pear cactus) on sale at a Home Depot in Lake Forest (south Orange County), CA. This was just after attending the special series of Cochineal events held at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, so I recognized it immediately. I confirmed the identification by squashing a bug on my finger, which produced a surprising amount of dye that ran down onto my hand. I showed this to a Garden Department employee, who panicked, thinking this was the gory evidence I would use to sue the company for being wounded by the cactus. In the end I was disappointed that no one in the Garden Department knew about Cochineal, or was interested in learning.

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