Monthly Archives: December 2017

BLUE: Japan Indigo Dye Workshop and Textile Study Tour, November 27 – December 11, 2018

BLUE: Japan Indigo Dye Workshop and Textile Study Tour — immerse yourself in the culture, fiber arts and traditions of Japan.

Arrive Monday, November 27 and depart Tuesday, December 11, 2018. Limited to 9 participants. 14 days!

My dream is to follow the indigo. From Oaxaca to Japan: Let’s dream and travel together to immerse our hands in the blue dye vat. This program is for anyone interested in textiles and natural dyes, or who is a textile maker working in natural dyes. Understanding the process is the best way to appreciate the creative output of those who do this for their life’s work.

You are invited:

  • Come if you have no knowledge or hands-on experience.
  • Come if you have some or more advanced knowledge of indigo dyeing.
  • Come if you are a designer, retailer, a professional textile maker, quilter and stitcher, collector, artist, painter, or someone who loves and appreciates cloth and fine textiles.
  • Come if you want to support people around the world who preserve tradition and culture through ancient practices.
  • Come if you care about environmental integrity, fair trade and natural cloth.
  • Come if you want to learn, explore, try your hand, become a more knowledgeable collector.

Let there be INDIGO. What you could make!

Join me if you love indigo and textile arts!

We have customized this workshop to meet everyone’s individual needs and skill set. We each go along at our own pace. Our instructor and host, Bryan Whitehead, will work with you according to your level. If you know nothing about indigo or dyeing, that’s okay!

We are offering this workshop in collaboration with Bryan and Japanese Textile Workshops.

Fujino, Japan farmhouse where we live and create

Dates and Schedule:

  • 2 days in Tokyo on arrival to acclimate (November 27-28)
  • 10-day indigo dye immersion workshop (November 29-December 8)
  • 1-day post workshop Tokyo textile/cloth/fashion tour (December 9)
  • 1-day post workshop Tokyo to explore on your own (December 10)
  • Depart Tokyo on December 11

We will meet in Tokyo on November 27, take a couple of days to rest and adjust to the time change. On November 29, we will go with Bryan Whitehead, our host and teacher, to Fujino, about an hour-and-a-half drive to our workshop destination. We will settle into his restored 150-year old farmhouse. Our first full workshop day begins on November 30.

Dye Workshop Highlights:

  • Learn the difference in vat making techniques around the world: Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe
  • Use native indigo that Bryan grows and prepares on his property
  • Access two hydro-sulphite vats using natural pigment
  • Dye with madder and gardenia to see the over-dye process to get greens, wine and aubergine (eggplant purple) colors
  • See how soy beans become a binder mixed with madder paste and soot ink
  • Understand and practice traditional Japanese shibori dyeing
  • Make your own dyed cloth!

Indigo dye pot, Japanese style

Trip Highlights:

  • Explore textile shops, including vintage cloth and clothes
  • Stop to ogle contemporary fashion boutiques like Issye Miyake
  • Visit the Japan Folk Craft Museum
  • Discover the Katazome Museum
  • Meet local craftspeople, including a local shibori indigo dyer
  • Enjoy an Ikebana flower arranging demonstration
  • Discover local craft/gallery restaurants
  • Eat well: in home, local restaurants, special Brazilian barbecue
  • Perhaps we may also take an optional very early morning excursion to the Tokyo fish market

Pre-Workshop Shibori Preparation Homework

Workshop time is limited so there will be pre-workshop preparation of cloth for shibori stitching and binding. Bryan will send you a small box five weeks before your arrival with several homework pieces to complete. The box also holds persimmon tannin paper and a special cutter-knife for you to make katazome stencils. Instructions included.

Sleeping and lounging areas

Preliminary Workshop Itinerary:

Bryan says: “Past workshop participants came from all over the world and each has a unique personal interest in indigo and Japanese textiles in general.” He wants each of you to have a memorable and worthwhile experience. As such, he can adjust and focus the activities accordingly, striking a balance between the shibori, stencil dyeing, indigo processing and dyeing, weaving, textile history in Japan and silk processing.

Pre-Workshop, Tuesday-Wednesday, November 27-28: Two days in Tokyo to recover from jet lag. We arrange for lodging. All meals and activities are on your own, at your own expense. Some may want to go out exploring together based on energy level!

Note: For our Tokyo stay, you can select a  shared room or single supplement.

Day One: Thursday, November 29. (Includes lunch and dinner.) We will meet Bryan in the morning at our hotel lobby. From there we will drive to Fujino, an art town and quiet mountain village only 35 miles from Tokyo. After unpacking, you will enjoy a typical Japanese lunch prepared by neighbors and friends.

Note: Workshop lodging in Fujino is all shared bedrooms with two community bathrooms.

Then we go directly to the indigo dye. First, we will set up the indigo vat to get a clear idea of the processes. You will dye Japanese tenugui towels and cotton thread to become familiar with the dye properties.

Welcome dinner will be at a local grilled chicken restaurant.

See Conde Nast Traveler photo gallery for images of what you will experience.

Landscape, Fujino village, Japan, about an hour beyond Tokyo

Each day, we will make small indigo bucket vats to give you confidence to try it on your own when you are back home. The small bucket vats are then added to the large ceramic vats.

Day Two: Friday, November 30. (Includes Breakfast and Lunch. Dinner on your own.)

After breakfast each morning we will take about 30-60 minutes to discuss aspects of Japanese textiles and indigo.

Today, the topic is Japanese shape-resist dyeing, shibori . Then you go back to the indigo vats to try your hand at shibori. For each step of the dyeing process, Bryan will share his 20 years of experience working with indigo. By the end of ten days, you will have a clear understanding of how indigo works with the various additives of different kinds of dye vats and the reaction of indigo with different kinds of fabric.

Lunch will be hand-made (with your hands) udon noodles and seasonal vegetables. You’ll get a noodle-making demonstration from 98-year-old Ogata.

On Day 2 you will also complete the homework you brought with you to prepare it for dyeing.

Working on fiber preparation in the lounge

In the afternoon, we will introduce you katazome stencil dyeing in preparation for Day 3. Before dinner, we will go to a local hot spring for a relaxing outdoor bath. Unfortunately, there is a recent new law that prohibits those with tattoos from entering any Japanese hot spring. Bryan will wait in the lobby while the un-inked among us go in for a bath.

Bathhouse at the farmhouse

Dinner, at your own expense, is at a local pizza place. The owner makes a good Japanese pizza.

Day Three: Saturday, December 1. (Includes Breakfast and Dinner. Lunch on your own.)

The after-breakfast-table-talk cover Japanese stencil dyeing. We will visit Bryan’s katazome teacher at his working studio, where you will witness astounding techniques, skills, values and aesthetics that make Japanese textiles so compelling. This will also be an opportunity to learn more about and use (and smell) naturally fermenting indigo.

Dinner will be Brazilian barbecue.

Day Four: Sunday, December 2. (Includes Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.)

The after-breakfast talk covers local silk producing history and silk in general. We will have a silk thread making (both spun and reeled) demonstration, then make two natural dye baths from gardenia pods and madder to under-dye yellow and red. When combined with indigo, this gives us greens and purples. Today, we will use these dyes for silk scarves. If you decide to use indigo at home, this is a useful skill to expand your color palette.

See Conde Nast Traveler photo gallery for images of what you will experience.

Lunch will be a simple Japanese hot tofu dish. Dinner will be a simple traditional Japanese salmon and rice, ochatsuke. You will have time at the indigo vat to dye scarves and stencil patterns.

Day Five: Monday, December 3. (Includes Breakfast. Lunch and dinner on your own.)

The after-breakfast talk will be on the subject of The Japanese Crafts Movement. Then, we will set off to Tokyo to visit the Japanese Folkcraft Museum. This is the source of everything Japanese. Here you will understand the origins of Japanese crafts, feel and absorb the subtle seasonal nuances to give you further insight into things Japanese. We will also visit several Tokyo antique Japanese textile shops.

Note: This one-day excursion will fit into the schedule as we evolve. Since the schedule is fluid, based on the weather and your progress, this outing may happen on a different day.

Lunch and dinner is at your own expense.

Workshop Day Six: Tuesday, December 4. (Includes Breakfast and Dinner.)

Next two days of activities focus on weaving, stencil dyeing and shibori.

You are welcome to bring a small amount, up to 5 yards of your own cotton or silk cloth to dye. Bryan says, “We never ever run out of things to do and material to dye in the ten days! The indigo vats will be in good condition for you to slip outside and dye to your heart’s content.”

Dinner will be a simple nabe traditional Japanese soup/stew.

Wood pile fuels the fireplace in winter months

Workshop Day Seven: Wednesday, December 5. (Includes Breakfast and Dinner.)

We will spend the day on the same activities as Tuesday: stenciling, shibori and indigo dyeing. In the afternoon we will have a special Japanese flower arrangement lesson. First, we will go for a walk around the village and collect branches and mossy rocks with Hiro sensei, a master ikebana artist. He will guide you through the elementary principles of design. It is always a great time. We will have dinner at home.

Workshop Day Eight: Thursday, December 6.   (Includes Breakfast.)

You will likely want more time at the indigo vat. There are also some local artisans studios to visit, including potters, glass blowers and basket makers who live and work in Fujino. Based on schedule and artisan availability, we can make decisions about where to visit as a group. These final workshop days are more flexible to meet each need and interest.

Workshop Day Nine: Friday, December 7. (Includes breakfast.)

Now that you are comfortable with indigo dyeing, Bryan will give you personal guidance on your projects. You will have time to cut more advanced katazome stencils and try a more elaborate shibori technique. In other workshops, he has taught kumihimo silk braiding techniques and small Japanese bag making, which is an option.

Workshop Day Ten: Saturday, December 8. (Includes Breakfast and Lunch. Dinner on your own.) This is a free day to finish projects, pack, catch-up on your emails and blogging. In the afternoon, a friend will come to the farmhouse to perform a tea ceremony. We then depart to Tokyo, check into our hotel, and enjoy dinner in Tokyo. Your Tokyo hotel accommodations are included in the tour cost.

See Conde Nast Traveler photo gallery for workshop images.

Post Workshop:

Sunday, December 9. (Breakfast and lunch on your own. Grand Finale Dinner Included.)

We will spend the day with Bryan exploring the textile nooks and crannies of Tokyo, visiting some of the major fashion boutiques to see their indigo and natural dye designs. We will explore Nippori Fabric Town, shops where you can buy yard goods, vintage kimono and textile shops, and dine in small, local restaurants noted for their authenticity and innovation. We will celebrate our indigo adventure with a closing group dinner. Overnight in Tokyo.

Note: Hotel includes double occupancy — shared room. You can arrange for a single supplement at an added cost.

Issye Miyake indigo dress, 2017 collection

Monday, December 10. (All meals on your own. Optional No Host Sayonara dinner.) This is a free day to wander and explore on your own, or to go back and pick up that treasure you saw the day before that you’ve been thinking about.

Tuesday, December 11. Depart Tokyo. Transfer from hotel to airport at your own expense.

See Conde Nast Traveler photo gallery for workshop images. 

Schedule Flexibility:

Due to weather fluctuations and adjusting the teaching and coaching approach to each participant’s needs, the workshop schedule may vary from day-to-day. What we offer here is an outline. Please be ready to adjust your own schedule to fit the needs of the group. Thank you.

Short, but steep staircase to sleeping rooms 

About the Farmhouse and Accommodations:

The restored farmhouse, originally a barn, sits on a relatively steep hill with stunning views of surrounding mountains. Bryan remodeled it five years ago to create third floor guest rooms for workshop participants. The rooms sleep two, and are comfortable and cozy.

Note: There are two bathrooms on the first floor and a two showers/bath on the first floor. There are no bathrooms on the sleeping floors. There is a beautiful wood bathtub that looks out onto the mountain.

We get to the sleeping floor via a short, though somewhat vertical, staircase. There is a handrail.

There is WiFi at the farmhouse.

Meals at the Farmhouse:

There are healthy snacks and drinks and fruit in the kitchen at all times. If given notice in advance we can try to accommodate some diet restrictions; we welcome vegetarians. Breakfasts are simple: eggs, toast, cereals, fruits and yoghurt, good coffee and tea. Food is an important part of the workshop. Bryan offers simple food that has not been processed. No smoking in the house itself. Washing machine runs everyday.

We will make a visit to a local ceramics studio, too

Weather: Late November to early December is after the monsoon season with no humidity. It can get a bit chilly, especially at night, so bring along your woolies and silk t-shirts. There are heaters throughout the house. Bryan says we are pretty much guaranteed blue skies.

Activities, Fitness and Group Approach

Please note that there is some walking, that you will need to go up/down the short staircase from the sleeping rooms to the bathrooms, and that we will be walking when we are in Tokyo. If you have physical issues that could prevent you from participating in these activities, please consider that this may not be the trip for you.

We will be a group of 10 people total, including me. The itinerary is an outline of our activities and may change based on several variables – weather, availability of artisans we plan to visit, pace at which we complete dye projects. Flexibility and adaptability are essential for making this a great experience for all.

Indigo fields on the farm that Bryan cultivates

Want to Go? Registration Process and Cost:

You will be making two payments, one to Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC and the other to Bryan Whitehead to confirm your registration. We will each send you a separate PayPal invoice.

Norma’s stepchildren Nick and Rochelle own a ramen shop and izakaya in Durham, NC called Dashi. They have traveled to Tokyo extensively for research. We will get recommendations for where to eat and drink!

The payment to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC includes five nights lodging in Tokyo on the nights of November 27- 28, and December 8-10, with shared room/private bath. Cost is $1,125, in a 4-star hotel centrally located. We will tell you hotel and location after June 1, 2018. Because of high Tokyo hotel costs, we strongly suggest sharing a room. Single supplement will be $500 ($1,625 total). To confirm your registration with Norma, a 50% deposit of $563 is due for shared room or $813 for single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice when you tell us you want to register. Deposit is required to secure your reservation.

The payment to Bryan Whitehead includes all workshop fees and materials, shared lodging (two people to a room) in Fujino, all breakfasts, many meals as specified in the itinerary from November 29-December 8, and transportation to Tokyo mid- workshop week, and on December 8, guided tour services on December 9, and taxis around Fujino for artisan visits, meals. All other meals are at your own expense. Average cost of restaurant meals in Fujino is about $15 USD per person.

Cost of the complete workshop and the one-day guided Tokyo tour with Bryan on December 8 is 337,000 yen or an estimated $3,000 USD based on the exchange rate when I published this. This is due is two 50% installments, the first when you register and the second on or before June 1, 2018.

Please use a conversion table to estimate the cost in USD, as exchange rates fluctuate. I will send Bryan your contact information and Bryan will invoice you with PayPal for $1,500, about 50% of the workshop fee. The balance due will be calculated at the conversion rate that applies on June 1, 2018.

Note: To Register You Will Be Paying a 50% Deposit

  • $563 USD to Norma Schafer for a shared room in Tokyo, 5 nights OR
  • $813 USD to Norma Schafer for a single, private room
  • AND $1,500 USD to Bryan Whitehead for 10-day dye workshop

Note About Registration Process: You send me an email and tell me you want to register. I send you a PayPal invoice for the Tokyo part of the trip. I tell Bryan that you are registering. He sends you the invoice for the workshop part of the trip.

Cancellations and Refunds: This is a customized textile study tour offered by Norma Schafer Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC and Bryan Whitehead for Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC clients and friends. If you cancel on or before September 15, 2018, you will receive a 50% refund for all fees paid. If you cancel on September 16 or later, you may send a substitute in your place and we will apply all fees you have paid to their balance. Otherwise, there are no refunds after September 16.

Required Travel Insurance: Trip Cancellation and Medical Evacuation

You will need to give Norma Schafer Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC proof of international travel insurance one month before departure date. This should include at least $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage.

If you are a US citizen, your Passport should be in effect for at least six months after you plan to return to the USA.

What Bryan Whitehead, Our Instructor and Host, Says …

Savoring and appreciating old Japanese textiles that were made by anonymous craftsmen gives you a glimpse into a distant, rich and unique cultural heritage.  It is a refreshing break from our consumer lives to know that there are people who dedicate their lives to creating these unsigned masterpieces. There have been, and thankfully still are, artisans to whom self-promotion is an unknown practice. It would be wonderful to run the workshop retreat with this spirit.

The workshop is for ten days. Once unpacked at the farmhouse, you will dive in and swim in the deep purple indigo. You’ll be splashing around in the vats until it is time to re-pack your bags. Hands-on, or in this case ‘hands-in,’ is the best way to know what indigo is about.

This workshop is a great introduction to indigo dyeing and Japanese textiles in general.

For those individuals considering setting up an indigo vat at home, this is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics.

The material covered in the workshop is also a hands-on introduction into Japanese culture in general. The ideas and technical approaches to textile work share the same ethics and standards as Japanese artistic disciplines. I’ll share my insights into Japanese culture and history and other wonderful things that have kept me in this country.

Inky-blue Indigo Coat, Issye Miyake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feliz Fiestas and Happy Holidays from Oaxaca, Mexico

It’s a warm, sunny day here in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Temps are in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit and there’s a breeze. It will get down to 52 degrees tonight. A perfect day to welcome Baby Jesus to the world here in the southern part of North America.

Resting on a satin pillow is Baby Jesus, taken from his church altar to the Last Posada

There’s a band playing at the December 23-24 posada house and I can hear it across the village. At unpredictable moments, a firecracker will go skyward to boom in a blast that sounds like one shot has been fired.  Tonight is La Ultima Posada, the last posada for 2017.

Procession of villagers with candles, a church official with copal incense burner

This morning I went to the market early, at 8:30 a.m. Ojala! It was a miracle, since I usually never get out of the house much before 10:00 a.m. Parking was scarce and I could hear a band on the street between the market and the church. It called to me. I hurried. Whenever a band plays here, you know there is something going on.

The band behind the moving altar plays energetic Sousa-style music

Baby Jesus had just been taken from his resting place in the church, an antique carved and gilded wooden figure. He was on a pillow held by a young woman who walked under a portable tent held upright by four stanchions and strong men to hold the posts.

The procession formed to pass through the major streets of Teotitlan del Valle on the way to place Baby Jesus in his birthplace at La Ultima Posada.

Delegation playing solemn music out front, led by wood carved Zapotec flute 

The street was perfumed by copal incense, giving off smoke and a sweet aroma of burning sap, so essential to ancient Zapotec ceremonial tradition.

As the procession descended down Avenida Constitucion from the Zocalo along a steep cobblestone incline, I said to myself that I wish I had worn sturdier shoes. Nevertheless, I was able to keep up to get these photos to share with you.

Important family members of the posada host process with candles

Then, I went back uphill to the market to do my holiday food shopping. Tonight, I’m invited to the home of Hugo and Malena. I’m holding weekly English conversation meetings with their teenage son and daughter. They asked me to join them for Christmas Eve dinner, which usually doesn’t start here until around midnight. Not sure I can stay up that late. It’s pretty quiet around here on Christmas Day.

Back up the hill to the market and church zocalo

Enjoy this time of peace, reflection, calm and tranquility. The winter solstice brings us darkness, where we want to hover close with family and friends, take stock of our year and think about longer, warmer days ahead.  I think of this as a metaphor for all the possibilities that life can bring us.

Blessings to all.

Norma Schafer, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, December 24, 2017

From the village market, a view of the church steeples

Women buy field flowers for their aroma, akin to the past

I take home a bundle of sunflowers in the spirit of joy

Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Nine Days of Awe

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico celebrates the winter holiday with a posada on nine nights before Christmas Day, starting on December 15. Starting yesterday afternoon and going into the night, I participated with a small group of visitors from the USA, Canada and Ireland interested in joining me to explore the history, culture and traditions of this Zapotec-Catholic practice, rooted in Spanish-European practice.

Entering the house where Mary and Joseph will rest, December 22-23

Posada means inn or we might know it better as a roadside tavern where weary travelers take rest for the night. The story of Mary and Joseph as they make their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem to pay the Roman tax is well-known. They find a stable for animals to sleep in on December 24 in Bethlehem when the inn is full. This is where Jesus is born.

The altar room at the December 21-22 Posada

Here in Teotitlan del Valle it is a little more complex, a mix of spiritual seriousness and long-held ceremony.

I went in advance to ask permission of two host families that sponsored the posada on December 22 — the home where Mary and Joseph were brought on the night of December 21 and the home where they would be carried to on the night of December 22.

Procession leaving one house for another

Only family members are usually invited inside the home, although all of us in the village can take part in the candlelight walk when the religious figures are carried from one house to the next.

Piñatas celebrate birthdays, and this one is no exception

There is a posada today and the last one is tomorrow, December 24. The host family for the night of December 24 will go with the Church Committee to the December 23 host and ask for blessings. A string of fragrant jasmine flowers is placed on the litter that carries Mary and Joseph to their next resting place by the head of the village religious committee.

Making the transition from one house to the next, symbolic

This is also symbolic of a smooth transition, expressing care and trust. There is ritual around community trust here that is essential to village survival and well-being. It is not written by codified by behavior over thousands of years.

Church altar boys guide the way with lanterns

You might think the Posada is a purely Catholic tradition inherited from Spaniards, but it incorporates the Zapotec practice of Guelaguetza. This is NOT the July folkloric dance so popular in Oaxaca. It is a way of community and family support to ensure survival and to meet needs and obligations.

Reindeer dancing from rooftops in 60 degree F. weather

The Posada is also adapting to contemporary lifestyles and mass communications. Blinking reindeer dance from rooftops here and blue icicles drip from roof lines. Frosty the snowman has a red nose that glows. Imagines of snowflakes are projected on adobe walls. The United States of America has infiltrated traditional culture.

Icicles aglow illuminate the cobblestone street

We are seamless, we are universal, we are adapting. One Posada host family has a daughter living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and two children. Another Posada host family lives in Moorpark, California, but maintains strong cultural ties to Teotitlan del Valle, where university educated children return regularly to visit grandparents and maintain their heritage.

It takes a village (of family members) to cook, wash, clean, serve

Our group talked with Pedro Montaño about how Christmas has changed in Teotitlan, comparing current practices and the more simple approach of a generation ago, when the crèche assembled with homemade wood figures, forest grasses and moss from the Sierra Juarez mountains nearby.

Learning about posada history from Pedro Montaño

Then, piñatas were filled with fruit and candles were carried to light the path since there was no electricity.

There is no judgment here. Only observation. There is plenty we can observe about traditional practices around the world and how they have changed as people have more disposable income and television teaches and creates aspirations.

Firecrackers and the band draw people out along the way

I always like to ask: What is authenticity? To change and adapt is part of the human experience. To expect that people keep their “authentic” practices is, IMHO, a colonial approach to saying, it’s okay for us to change but let’s keep them the way they are because it’s far more interesting for us.

Getting ready to carry Mary and Joseph to their next posada

Happy Holidays. I hope you come to Teotitlan del Valle this year to experience this remarkable celebration for yourself.  The posada tonight will start aound 6 p.m. at the corner of Pino Suarez and Zaragoza near the new chapel.

Children learn to appreciate their culture with parental help

The sons of Fortino Chavez Bautista, California born, bred and educated

The procession is serious and somber.

We built a Nacimiento (manger) in honor of the old ways of decorating

 

 

 

 

Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat, June 22-29, 2018, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lifting Your Creative Voice Writing and Yoga Retreat

  • When: Arrive Friday, June 22  and Depart Friday, June 29
  • Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is our 8th year for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.  We welcome new, inexperienced writers and those who are more seasoned and want to go to the next level.  Some have published and many dream about it. We may write memoir, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction and fiction. The workshop-conference is a haven for exploration and encouragement. Writers of all genres and ages are invited.

Who Attends? Women with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You write on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper.
  • You dream of writing and never have. Maybe you dabble.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • You want to merge the written word with photos, drawing or collage.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse, and you want renewal and encouragement.
  • You are a writer, and may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

Teotitlan del Valle church built atop Zapotec temple

Friday, June 22 to Friday, June 29, 2018 

  • $895 per person private room with courtyard bath, shared by several
  • $1,195 per person, share a double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
  • Commuter without Lodging or Meals: $650 per person

You arrive by Friday evening, June 22 and leave Friday morning, June 29, 2018. The comprehensive workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging, all breakfasts, all writing instruction and workshop sessions, a personal coaching/feedback session with the instructor, daily afternoon gentle yoga sessions, and a grand finale celebration reading and dinner. You might want to arrive a day early to settle in to avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.

Inside Out: Primer to Buying Mexico Handmade Clothing — Quality Tips

On Friday, I took a 40-minute trip with my friend Laurita to Magdalena Teitepac in the foothills on the other side of the Carretera Nacional Mexico 190 (aka Panamerican Highway) for the purposes of textile shopping, always my favorite past-time.

Magdalena Teitipac church next to the municipal building

The Zapotec village is beyond San Juan Guelavia, the basket-making village. A group of entrepreneurial Magdalena women who do needlework staged this First Annual Embroidery and Weaving Fair, promoted with a banner hanging from the highway overpass. Laurita spotted it coming home one day.

Can you tell if this beautiful embroidery is hand- or machine-stitched?

Spaces Open: Chiapas Textile Study Tour 

  • Study Tour 1 — February 13-22, 2018
  • Study Tour 2 — February 27-March 8, 2018

The visit got me thinking about quality variations in clothing that is sewn, embroidered, woven and crocheted here in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.

Some of the women showing us their needlework blouses.

We are coming into Oaxaca’s peak tourist season when travelers come from all over the world, and many snowbirds plant their wings here from December through March.

Great cut-work and embroidery with unfinished seams

It is particularly challenging for first-time visitors who are blown away by the quantity of blouses, huipils, rebozos and other garments sold by street vendors, in small markets, and in tourist shops throughout the city.

Beaded blouses finished with French seams on 100% cotton, the best

How do you know what to buy and how much to pay for it?

Tip #1: Shop around. Look before buying. Look at lot. Go in and out of stores. Stop and look at the clothing the vendors have for sale. Ask prices. See what you like. Take your time.

Tip #2: Turn the garment inside out. Look at the seam edges of the cloth. Are they finished with a machined zigzag stitch or serger for reinforcement? Has the cloth edge been trimmed with a pinking shears? It is rough and will it unravel after a few washings? How strong are the stitches?

Softest, finest manta cloth, great embroidery, dense pleating

Tip #3: Check out the fabric. Is it populina?  This is what locals call the commercial cloth mix of cotton/polyester blend. Locals like this cloth because it dries much faster than pure cotton. It is also less expensive. Is it manta? This is 100% cotton cloth, more expensive, and preferred by many of us for softness, wearability and comfort.

Populina has a sheen. You can feel the polyester.

Tip #4: Check out the cloth again. If it’s manta, is it a fine, lighter weight weave or it is coarse and scratchy? Is it yellow color or white? What are your preferences?

#whomademyclothes .... is a Fashion Revolution movement dedicated to sourcing textiles direct from makers, awareness for buying disposable clothing made from cheap materials, assembled by underpaid workers.

Tip #5: If the clothing is embroidered, how fine is the embroidery? Is it by hand or machined? Are the stitches dense or loose? What about the crochet edge? Is it tied off or are there loose threads? Is it shiny, synthetic thread, dense/coarse polyester thread or good quality cotton?

Amazing pleated work from the Mixteca, with coarse embroidery yarn

Tip #6: Shop first in some of the better clothing galleries like Los Baules de Juana Cata or Arte de Amusgos to compare what you see on the street. See what the best looks like. Turn these inside out. Look at the finish work. Are the edges straight? What about the stitches that join two lengths of hand-woven cloth together? How is the neckline finished? What about the hem?

Want to buy direct from artisans? Take a study tour!

Tip #7: Price is usually based on quality, but not always. I recently bought a beautiful deshillado and embroidered blusa in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. I paid 2,500 pesos, quite a lot!  The embroidery is exquisite and the crochet edges are fine. The seams are not finished well and I may need to take it under the needle of my sewing machine to reinforce it. But, I knew that when I bought it.

Locals gather for the Magdalena Teitipac Feria

What are you willing to pay? What is it worth to you? Is there a whimsical design you like and you are willing to sacrifice some of the quality issues?

Tip #8: Don’t hesitate to walk away because you notice stains on the cloth, raveling threads or holes in the seams. Work is done quickly and quality can suffer.

I’ve seen excellent work done on very poor cloth.  I’ve seen embroidered, beaded and woven pieces made by one women that are attached to cloth that doesn’t match. Needlework and sewing can often be made by two different people. The sewing can be haphazard. The corners don’t match up and the joining work isn’t good. It is up to us to educate ourselves and to also say in a gracious, caring way, that we would like a better quality product.

We can support artisans and cooperatives who take the time to work on quality improvement.

Banner advertising the event

Tip #9: When is a bargain not a bargain? When the color bleeds. When the seams unravel. When the embroidery stitching loosens. When you get it home and ask, Why did I buy that?

Tip #10: Please know that because you are in Mexico, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BARGAIN. It is not a culture of bargaining, much to the surprise of many. The average daily wage is 150 pesos, or about $8 USD. We have a big advantage. The exchange rate is about 18-19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to create a handmade textile. Let’s pay people a fair wage for their labor and creativity. They will offer a discount because they need to feed their families, not because it is part of the “game.”

On the street, Magdalena Teitipac

Did I buy anything in Magdalena Teitipac? Yes, a lovely, beribboned apron for 100 pesos and some amazing artisan chocolate from Tlacolula, 20 pesos a bag.

Why didn’t I buy a blusa? Because indigenous women here in Oaxaca like their blouses tight across the chest and snug under the arms. Sizes are deceiving and it’s best to try something on first, otherwise you can get it home and find out it doesn’t fit. Nothing fit me!

Basket weavers outside the Magdalena Teitipac market

Cooperatives working with NGOs on product improvement are receiving education about quality control, making finished seams,and patterns to fit women from the U.S.A. and Canada.

If you have any tips you’d like to share, please add them.

Of course, the final caveat is always — if you love it, buy it. You’ll never see the same thing again!