In 10 days I’ll be returning to Oaxaca from North Carolina. In the meantime, I’m going through my collection and will offer pieces to you for sale for the next few days. Please make your purchase before May 7. I will mail before May 10, 2019. Thank you.
How to Buy: Send me an email. It needs to include your name and your mailing address, plus the item number(s) you want to order. I will send you an invoice. As soon as I receive payment, I will put in the mail — USPS. Invoice will include item cost plus $8 USPS Priority Mail. Thank you.
#1 above is 7” x 10” and is a new reproduction from Mexico City by Rafael Rodriguez. It is $110. plus $8 shipping. Translation: Rufina Estrada dedicates this exvoto for saving her from the bony monster. San Luis. January 11, 1939.
Mexico’s Ex-Votos are collectible naive folk art that tell a story of thanksgiving for being saved from near-death or disaster. Yes, it was a miracle to survive. Usually, the person who escaped tragedy would hire a local artist to paint a tin square depicting the scene. The message of thanks may have included many misspellings, as the painters were not educated. They often include depictions of the saint to whom the supplicant is sending prayers of thanks.
#2 above is vintage, at least 85 years old, is 8-1/2” x 10-1/3” and the price is $585 plus $8 shipping. Translation: Thanks to the Virgin and her Son for saving my son from typhoid sickness at the point of death. I am infinitely grateful. Lupe Maria Miraflores Lopez, Chapala, Jalisco.
#3 is also by Rafael Rodriguez, a new reproduction from Mexico City, measures 14” x 10” and is priced at $145. Translation: Roberta Lara gives thanks with this lamina (exvoto) that the skeletons didn’t attack me and my old mother.
This is #4, a reproduction by Rafael Rodriguez, measures 11-3/4” x 9-1/2”, and is priced at $125 plus $8 shipping. Translation: I’m telling people that a there is a snake woman who takes men into her cave and eats them up, including their shoes and hat. Jalisco, July 5, 1933
It’s the end of #fashionrevolution week. It begs us to ask the question: #whomademyclothes What do we wear and how does what we wear make us feel … or do we even think about it? Some of us, me included, choose to wear clothing designed and made by indigenous women.
These are ancient designs, considered part of cultural heritage. These are styles that come with creativity, innovation, dedicated work, long hours bent over dye baths and back-strap looms, from regions of isolation and impoverishment. Most are not copyright protected. Some are lost art resuscitated by a new generation of sewists and designers.
Some of us want to believe that we are part of a socially responsible fashion movement. Many of us want to meet the maker or at least know who made our clothes. We read labels to know fiber content and country of origin. We buy at consignment and thrift shops to reuse the perfectly discarded.
Why do I buy and wear clothes from other cultures? Am I playing dress-up, just like I did as a young girl, fantasizing about being different or noticed? Do I have the right (and privilege) as a first-world Anglo to don the clothing of an indigenous culture far from my own roots? Is this colonial behavior, admiration … or something else? Must I conform to wearing socially and politically correct cloth by adhering to Western style?
In this era of fast and disposable fashion, where we have thousands of choices, I think these are questions worth examining. Perhaps the answers are justifications for how we dress. Perhaps the answers dig deeper into our own values and motivations. Perhaps its a simple answer: It is just beautiful.
I think it’s important to be aware of fashion that borrows or combines style elements from one or several indigenous cultures. We see designs digitally copied or cut from whole cloth, applied to machine woven material, then sewn into a tailored dress. They become the hem or the bodice or collar, far from their origins. Renown designers do this. So do mass marketers. The original versions would have been squares or rectangles woven on back-strap looms, joined with embroidery, complete garments loose and comfortable.
Which is why I like to wear indigenous cloth. The reasons are practical. They are made with natural fibers — cotton or silk. They are easy to wear and are usually washable by hand with mild soap and cool water, so taking care of them is easier (and cheaper). In hot North Carolina and Oaxaca summers, and warm Oaxaca winters, loose weaves keep me cool.
There are emotional reasons, too. My grandfather was a tailor. He made all my mother’s clothes by hand. He knew the importance of fine detail. My mother taught me to make small, almost invisible stitches on hems and seams, the clothes I continue to make and repair. I think of the labor-intensity of a hand-made piece of cloth and I think of the generations of makers, women and men, who came before me, and I think of my family.
How I feel when I wear a huipil from Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, for example, is more complex.
The cloth is made by women and men from a different culture from my own. This offers me a chance to honor what they do and to create connection between us. To see the similarities instead of paying attention to differences. In the buying of what they make, I contribute to their ability to sustain their culture, their craft, and their families. This is intimate and personal and gives me a great deal of satisfaction. This, I believe, is cultural appreciation. I have a chance in the act of wearing, I think, to narrow the divide.
In wearing these clothes, do I say I want to be different from who I am? That I want to take on the persona of another. I think not. What I want to communicate is that I am a woman beyond borders, where clothing tells a story of unlimited possibility. For me, it is a subtle statement that we share more in common than not and serves to tell the world a little about me — albeit unspoken.
By now, most of us know ourselves, our personalities, what we like, what looks good on us, what we are comfortable with. Identity is conveyed by clothing choices. Mine say: I am free, independent and strong. I like quirky style, I like color, I like cultural variation and respect diversity, conventions be damned.
So, I admit it. I am respectfully appropriating the culture of Mexico or Japan or India or Guatemala, where I have traveled and shopped in remote corners where talented people in humble circumstances create beauty. It is not offensive to me to wear these garments because I believe I understand their origins, the political and social struggles of marginalized makers. I do not live their lives, yet I sympathize by wearing their cloth.
Your thoughts and responses are welcome.
Recently, I was invited by Selvedge Magazine, London, United Kingdom, to contribute an article about Chiapas textiles. It will be published soon. They asked about what inspires me to work with artisans in Mexico and introduce people to the makers. I’ll be writing more about that here, too.
After I wrote about and linked Alex Szerlip’s comprehensive article, Vintage Tech–Tyrian Purple, I asked immigration attorney Patrice Perillie how the fundraising effort to get the Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative to the Santa Fe Folk Art Market this summer was going.
Patrice is the advocate for Mexican Dreamweavers and has set up a USA non-profit organization to accept tax-deductible donations.
Why Mexican Dreamweavers needs your help:
Mexican Dreamweavers supports the indigenous Mixtec women and men of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, to preserve their cultural heritage of back-strap loom weaving, harvesting and applying purple shell dye to native-grown cotton. This gift helps transport them to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market to sell their work on a global scale. So important for survival and continuity.
What is most important to Oaxaca’s weavers and dyers?
To bring what they make to market. Without buyers, artisan craft will not survive. Artisans tell me this wherever we travel in Mexico. They ask, help us sell our work. Bring us to the USA. Bring people to visit us. Often, they do not speak Spanish and cannot communicate their needs beyond their indigenous language of Mixtec, or Zapotec or Ikoots without translation.
In this case, the Cooperative demonstrated their amazing talent by being accepted into the highly competitive Santa Fe International Folk Art Market — a juried show. We can help them get there. They must fund their own travel expenses that includes hotel, food and transportation for several people.
Writer Alex Szerlip came with us on the 2019 Oaxaca Coast textile tour to investigate and write about the purple snail dye that is on the verge of extinction. While she already knew so much in advance, we took her to the source: the Mixtec village of Pinotepa de Don Luis to meet the few remaining dyers who hunt the snails and color native cotton and silk.
Caracol purpura is also called tixinda in the Mixtec native language. Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, a not-for-profit organization started by immigration attorney Patrice Perillie, helps support the tixinda dyers and weavers. Patrice has started a GoFundMe effort to help with expenses to get the cooperative to the famed Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July 2019. Groups are juried for acceptance and competition is stiff.
Help Mexican Dreamweavers raise $4,000 USD to attend the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Can you help? Contact Patrice Perillie. Mexican Dreamweavers is a USA non-profit, so your gift is tax-deductible.
This is the most enjoyable and enlightening article on tixinda I have ever read. Thank you for mentioning our work from the bottom of my purple heart…. I will personally read it to Habacuc and Rafael when I see them this weekend! They will be thrilled!
Habacuc and his son Rafael are just a few of the dyers remaining who make the journey and climb the treacherous rocks of Huatulco to harvest the purple snail. Their technique preserves snail life and habitat.
What I appreciate about this article is it’s first person narrative, sensitivity and understanding of the work of indigenous people on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. With environmental and aesthetic perception, Alex Szerlip conveys the cultural and historic importance that purple dye has to the Mixtecs on Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.
Of course, the color purple has been regaled by emperors and kings for centuries, rare and beautiful. Now, nearly extinct around the world, Oaxaca is one of the last bastions for preservation and hope, thanks to applied anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace. This post is a tribute to her and the people of Oaxaca who are dedicated to sustaining this living tradition.
Note: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, January 18-27, 2020, is almost sold-out. We have two spaces open. Don’t hesitate if you have been thinking about this! We visit the Dreamweavers Cooperative in Pinotepa de Don Luis as part of this adventure. Special thanks to cultural anthropologist Denise Lechner who guides us into remote villages to meet the makers.
While these are sake cups, they can also be used for mezcal or any sipping liquor or cordial. That’s what I had in mind (mezcal) when I bought them.
This first group includes three hand-wrought pewter sake cups bought in Kyoto, Japan from Seikado Studio, the venerable workshop making these things since the Imperial Edo Period (1838). The studio is located on Teramachi street, close to the original Imperial Palace.
It was their hand-made-ness that captivated me. Each piece is original and hand-hammered, true to the Japanese wabi-sabi life. There are slight differences between the matched pair. The upright cup is a one-off. Each comes in its own handmade box personally calligraphied by the maker.
The two on the left are sold as a pair for $265 plus $8 mailing. The one piece on the right is $145 plus $8 mailing. I will ship USPS Priority Mail.
Send me an email if you want to purchase along with your mailing address. I will send you an invoice.
The two cups below are hand-blown studio glass that I bought in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Perfect for mezcal or sake, or any sipping liquor or cordial.
Wouldn’t any of these also make a terrific wedding or housewarming gift?
Send me an email if you want to purchase along with your mailing address. I’ll send you an invoice by email to pay with a credit card. Thank you.
Zayzelle: Dress Simply is our new clothing line, one dress, one-of-a-kind, one size fits many, imaginative cloth. Plus, jewelry and an easy-to-wear pullover scarf. Keep checking back for What’s New.
Norma Writes for Selvedge Latin Issue
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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