Monthly Archives: January 2018

Feria del Carrizo, San Juan Guelavia — Sunday, February 4, 2018 — Don’t Miss It!

Carrizo is hand-woven river reed. It’s another form of artisan weaving here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. The village most well-known for their baskets made from this plant material that is similar to bamboo is San Juan Guelavia. It’s just across MEX 190 Carretera Nacional from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, about 40 minutes outside Oaxaca City on the road to Tlacolula.

Jessica and the ladies shopping for handmade river reed baskets

The Basket Festival runs two Sundays each year, the last Sunday in January and the first Sunday in February. It has grown to become an extravaganza, complete with a mini-Guelaguetza style dance festival, amazing homemade food including barbecue lamb, hot-off-the griddle tortillas, quesadillas, memelitas, fresh fruit waters, beer and mezcal.

This was a mini-Guelaguetza with lots of dancing

In fact, these local festivals bring out artisanal mezcal distillers who do not export but have managed to bottle and label their elixir. After sharing an agua miel, the first juice of the pulque cactus before it begins to ferment into pulque,  and after lunch on our way out, Jessica and I decided to stop for a mezcal tasting along the roadside.

This giant balloon is not easy to twirl while walking

The 200 peso bottle of local Madrecuishe was every bit as good as those I have bought and tasted from brands that are marked with a fancy art label and exported to the USA where you can buy it for $200 USD. Two hundred pesos, my friends, is $11 USD.

A prayer at the altar with mezcal toast signals that the festival can begin

Some say Oaxaca is changing because of the mezcal craze. Foodies and beverage hounds are arriving by the plane full to frequent mezcal bars and upscale restaurants.

Young children learn the dance traditions early

But, life in our pueblos continue as it has over time with just a few modifications.

The Feria del Carrizo something I always look forward to and I’m very happy when I am here at the end of January to savor the experience. I’ve attended this fair since 2013, its second year.

Barbacoa de borrego (lamb BBQ)–served with fresh squeezed lime & shredded cabbage

Early on, the fair featured the basket makers who sold their craft from the raised platform surrounding the zocalo. Perhaps a few hundred people attended.

Do you see the guajalote feet? Part of the offering to the mayordomos.

Now, the basket vendors line the main street along with carnival rides, pulque and mezcal sellers, and red clay potters from neighboring San Marcos Tlapazola. The raised platform is filled with people eating on portable tables and folding chairs. The zocalo is a constant flow of performers, the periphery is lined with food stalls. Thousands were enjoying a sunny Oaxaca day.

Opening ceremonies featured a group honoring the mayordomos

If you want a taste of village life, spend Sunday, February 4 in San Juan Guelavia. Sip agua miel for 15 pesos. Get a bowl full of barbacoa for 70 pesos. Drink a beer for 20 pesos. Buy a beautiful basket for 150 pesos. Enjoy the dancing and music, and people-watching. It’s free.


A Journey of Cloth: Amuzgo Weaving on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica

San Pedro Amuzgos is an Amuzgos village nestled in a mountain valley seven hours by winding road from the capital city of Oaxaca. It is closest to Tlaxiaco, but not really. You can get there following MEX 125 by private car or on a regional bus from Oaxaca (or you can come with us).

The road is a ribbon through mountain passes. Here, women have woven on back strap looms for centuries, long before Mexico’s conquest by the Spanish.

Birds and flower in brilliant colors are incorporated into the supplementary weft

Their themes are birds, flowers, vines, trees, the stories of creation, fertility, birth, marriage and rebirth after death. Life here is a continuum. Cloth is a covering but also a journey. Women will be buried in their wedding huipiles. Many of the designs span the Oaxaca-Guerrero border where Amuzgos live.

Odilon Merino Morales’ aunt wears her wedding huipil for us

At the northern border of Oaxaca and Guerrero, San Pedro Amuzgos is not easy to get to. We take the coastal route from Puerto Escondido, diverting northeast from Pinotepa Nacional through hills dotted with banana palms and dusty arteries. In bigger towns along the way, regional schools and rural health clinics offer local services just steps from the main paved highway. We are a good three hours from Puerto Escondido as the ribbon curls. The road narrows as we travel further. You don’t get anywhere fast here.

Odilon’s two aunts consult on weaving and embroidery work

Huipil is three lengths of loomed cotton, joined with a randa/needlework

Our destination is the cooperative Arte Amuzgos founded by Odilon Merino Morales.  He is an innovative organizer and promoter of traditional weavers who work in the highest quality materials, including natural dyes and native cotton.

We are returning in 2019. Want to go? Email us.

An all indigo huipil embellished with caracol purpura

It is not unusual to find blusas (blouses) and huipiles (dresses) woven with native green, coyuche and cream cotton. Cotton dyed with caracol purpura purple, cochineal red, indigo, nanche (a fruit), pericone (wild marigold) and nuez (pecan shells) are staples of the palette here.

Odilon has attended the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for many years. With proceeds from sales there, he reinvested in his community by building a cultural center in San Pedro Amuzgos. It includes three guest rooms and a bath, exhibition and dining space. There are plans for more. He receives visitors for demonstrations, exhibitions and meals.

An array of hand-woven huipiles created on the back strap loom

I know Odilon from Oaxaca city, where his gallery Arte Amuzgos holds beautiful textiles woven by women in the cooperative. They include his mother, sisters, aunts, cousins and nieces. The men in the family are farmers who also raise the local cotton, prized for its rarity and natural beauty. I’ve always wanted to make a pilgrimage to his village and made sure to include it on our Oaxaca Costa Chica Natural Dye Textile Study Tour.

Flowers and animal life adorn this huipil. This is not embroidered!

During our visit, Odilon tells us that years ago before the cooperative was formed, traders came to town to source the most beautiful garments for sale in the city. They bargained hard, offered women a pittance for their labor. An intricate huipil can take six to twelve months to weave. That does not include the time to grow, beat and dye the cotton.

Odilon talks about his passion, preservation of his weaving culture

If the trader bought a garment for 1,000 pesos, they would sell it for 2,000 pesos, then the Oaxaca retailer would mark it up to 6,000 pesos. Fair trade was not a concept then and there was no opportunity for villagers to directly reach consumers. Language was a barrier, too. The grandmothers spoke Amuzgo. Business was conducted in Spanish. They made do with what was offered them.

Our visit includes a natural dye demonstration with indigo and nanche

No more for the women and men of Arte Amuzgos.

An array of natural dyes used to weave some huipiles

Direct markets, from maker to consumer, are difficult to develop for most Oaxaca artisans. They rely on people to represent them and the cost is dear. As a result, the artisanry is either dying out or the quality of materials deteriorates as people look to cutting costs.

Thankfully, Odilon Merino Morales and his wife Laura, have created a market for their people who receive a fair and living wage for their work.

  • Arte Amuzgo, Armenta y Lopez #110-F, in front of Teatro Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Tel: 951-514-0566

Lengths of cloth woven on the back strap loom, joined with intricate needlework

Panorama of Arte Amuzgos Cultural Center


Posahuancos and San Sebastian Fiesta, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca

After we visited San Juan Colorado, we made a stop in nearby Pinotepa de Don Luis. This is a village famed for its unusual striped posahuanco wrap around skirt and gorgeous huipiles.

Wearing the posahuanco, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Not too long ago, because of the very hot, humid climate, the skirt and a gauzy shoulder scarf was a woman’s only covering. These she usually made herself on a back strap loom, beautiful and strong enough to last a lifetime.

Interested in coming with me in 2019? Send an email.

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Back strap loomed cloth is distinguished by hand-spun cotton threads dyed with purple from the caracol purpura snail, cochineal red from the prickly pear cactus parasite, and the indigo plant carefully prepared in a fermentation bath. The cotton is spun using a malacate or drop spindle.

The designs are not embroidered. They are created by a technique called supplementary weft, often called brocade. The threads are counted and added to the warp as the weaver creates the cloth.

Supplementary weft weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Hand-embroidered collars with sea life and flora add interest to huipiles

It happened to be January 20, the day of the Fiesta de San Sebastian, the martyred patron saint of Pinotepa de Don Luis. We were on our way to the Mixtec village of San Pedro Amuzgos to visit Odilon Merino Morales and the cooperative Arte Amuagos. But we had to make a stop to see the festivities!

Procession for Fiesta de San Sebastian, Pinotepa de Don Luis

We could not pass up the pilgrimage of people carrying their saint up the hill, or the Carnival dancers in the Zocalo, or the mayordomos of the village dressed in white who sat in the patio of the municipal building sheltered from the 90 degree Fahrenheit heat.

Getting ready for the fiesta dances, Pinotepa de Don Luis

We were to return to Puerto Escondido for the annual Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative Expoventa early on January 21, so we decided to not visit these weavers in their Pinotepa de Don Luis homes. But, the fiesta drew weavers from the village who set up shop on the zocalo, where a few of us found treasures — coyuche and hand-spun cotton with natural dyes.

Treasure hunting in Pinotepa de Don Luis at the special market

In addition to hand-woven textiles, this woman is selling earring, necklaces and bracelets made from gourds, painted and carved with sea and nature motifs, lightweight and easy to wear.

Men plant the cotton, women weave. On feast days, no one works.

After another hour and a half on the road toward the State of Guerrero border, we were greeted by Odilon at the Arte Amuzgos cultural center he established in his home town of San Pedro Amuzgos. It was well into mid-afternoon and we sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by the women: beef soup with a rich, spicy tomato broth; comal made organic tortillas; flavorful black beans, locally raised; fruit water of fresh squeezed lime juice and hisbiscus.

A good time to catch up on news.

Next installment to come!

Dressed in drag for the carnival dance, typical in many pueblos

I think his feet must hurt in those high heels

The man to the far right below is wearing a typical shirt from the region, woven with native coyuche cotton — a natural caramel color that is delicious to look at. The word origin is Nahuatl, from the Aztec language, and means coyote because the color resembles the fur of the animal.

Standing proud and waiting for the ceremonies to begin


Beating Wild Cotton on the Oaxaca Costa Chica

We’ve been traveling on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica for the past four days. This is the stretch of territory that starts at Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Ocean and goes north to Acapulco along Mexico’s Highway 200.

Women of the Jini Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado, wear posahuanco skirts

A highlight of our 12-day Oaxaca Textile Study Tour that started in the central valleys of Oaxaca, was a visit to San Juan Colorado, a remote Mixtec village at the end of the road in the fold of a mountain above Oaxaca’s coast.

Taking the seeds out of the coyuchi native brown cotton

In this weaving village, women work with three varieties of native cotton: coyuchi, natural and green. They use natural dyes from tree bark, flowers, indigo and cochineal.

Native Oaxaca pre-Hispanic cotton, coyuchi brown and green

Interested in going in 2019? Send me an email.

Our breakfast at the cooperative–sopes, eggs with hierba santa

On occasion, they will insert thread dyed with purple that comes from the caracol púrpura snail, endangered and harvested from ocean outcroppings of rock. Legally, only a few indigenous men are licensed to harvest the snail. They gently squeeze the ink onto cotton or silk and return the live snail to its home.  Poachers threaten its existence.

Zenobia Zenaida beats cotton to soften and lengthen the fibers

They weave geometric designs on back-strap looms using a supplementary weft technique of counting and adding threads to the cloth. Their work is prized and many whom we met are featured on posters that hang on the walls of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department.

Cloth woven on back strap loom with supplemental weft

Cotton is prepared by first washing it, drying it and removing the seeds.  A woven palm leaf mat, called a petate, is draped over a roll of corn husks that is tied with a long palm frond.  Everyone here knows how to clean, wash and beat cotton.  Not everyone spins using the drop spindle malacate. It is a special skill.

Detail of weft thread counting to add supplemental weft design

Seventy-five year old Zenobia Zenaida Lorenzo is the cotton beating expert  her cotton is the softest and easiest to spin, all the women agree. Beating the cotton achieves the same result as using a carder for wool.

Dale tries her hand at cotton beating–force and rhythm

Work is differentiated by gender.  The men grow and harvest cotton, planting in August and harvesting in December.  They make the wood tools and parts for the back strap loom.  Women weave in between cooking, cleaning and caring for children.

Spinning and cleaning wool in San Juan Colorado

Identity is interwoven with cloth here. Women imbed ancient symbols of fertility and images of the natural world into the cloth. Each adapts a uniform design to make her own fabric unique.

Welcome to the Jini Nuu Cooperative of 300 women, existing since1990

Traditional traje, or dress, consisted of a back strap loomed skirt woven with cotton dyed with cochineal (red), indigo (blue), and purple (caracol purpura). The weather is hot and steamy.

Corn husk roll, cover it with a petate for beating cotton

Marsha tries the back strap loom, leans back against the strap, comfortable

This is a traditional topless culture. Today, in the regional market, we see a few older women covered with gauze transparent shawls, doubled and draped over their bosom.

Now, it’s time to shop. Denise has her hand on a huipil with all natural dyes

Remote villages throughout Mexico have been able to keep their traditions and identity because of their isolation from the contemporary world. Now, very few places are inaccessible and the pressure to conform with western clothing is intense.

I get in on it, too, with help from Zenobia Zenaida


Sunset in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

My internet connection is funky and while I wanted to publish a post today about our Oaxaca Textile Study Tour trip to the mountain village of San Juan Colorado, it may not happen. The photo download is not cooperating.

Sunset at Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

So in lieu of hand-spun green, brown coyuche and creamy white native cotton, I’m going to tell you about our first night in Puerto Escondido on the beach after flying in the AeroTucan 13-passenger single engine Cessna Grand Caravan skirting 12,000 foot mountains and not going higher than 9,300 feet altitude.

Patrice Petrillie tells us about the endangered caracol purpura snail

How do we know? We could all see the altimeter. The pilot sat a mere eight feet in front of me!

Patrice Patrillie, director of Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative invited our group to the home of a supporter for sunset on the beach, a presentation about the purpose of Dreamweavers to sustain indigenous textile craft, and to participate in a release of endangered baby sea turtles.

Barbara and Sandi enjoying appetizers before the turtle release

Dreamweavers was having an expoventa on Sunday, January 21, and our itinerary dovetailed so that we would return for the event from our wanderings along the coast and in the mountains discovering textile villages in time for the 10:00 a.m. opening.

Being here in time for the expoventa was planned as part of the itinerary for the Oaxaca Textile Study Tour.

I’m accepting names now for people interested in our 2019 trip.

Please send an email.

We put the sea turtles on the sand to make their way to the ocean

Before touching the turtles, we were asked by our host to wash our hands in sand and sea water to eliminate any odors.

The sea turtles are a food staple for indigenous people who live in coastal towns along the Pacific. There is a rescue operation in place to protect them from poachers.

Along the Puerto Escondido coast where we learned about the caracol purpura

The tension is always about honoring the cultural traditions of native people who rely on sea animals to survive and wildlife preservationists who want the species to survive. With global warming, survival is becoming a more difficult challenge for all of us.

As I held this turtle, its flippers were strong, eager to escape

As with the turtles, the caracol purpura, a snail that lives on the rocky coastline of Oaxaca, is at risk of extinction. Mixtec people have used the snail ink for millenia to dye their clothing a brilliant purple, just as the Romans harvested the snail along the coast of Morocco to color the senators’ robes. But, this creature is also endangered and caracol threads incorporated into clothing drives the price up. Yet, this, too, is part of the regional culture as humans interpret their lives through the garments they wear.

The last bit of sunset before we return to town