Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Videos–A World of Makers in One T-Shirt: #whomademyclothes

Today, I’m setting out to take visitors from Australia to meet some of the Oaxaca weavers of fine textiles who work in natural dyes. They make the finished product. But it gets me to thinking about all the people who were part of the creation process.

I think, today, I will ask our weavers, Where does the dye come from? Where does the wool come from? Who spins it? What about the cotton? Is it imported? Grown in Mexico? Commercially spun? This whole discussion makes me more curious!

Here is a short, one-minute + video from NPR sent to me by Judi Ross. It’s beautiful and personal. It’s a visual story worth taking time out to see.

 

#whomademyclothes

I think its fascinating to think about all the people in the world whose hands have touched what we wear.

Saludos,
Norma

https://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/you

Oaxaca #DAYOFDINNERS Raises Funds for MALDEF

Twenty-two Oaxaca, Mexico, residents and visitors came together yesterday in Teotitlan del Valle to share food and community, think and talk about injustice, what being “the other” means, our vision of hope for the future, and what divides us and brings us together as human beings.

Our Oaxaca, Mexico #DayofDinners Group

The #DAYOFDINNERS was organized in the United States as a way to address the polarity and viciousness that has taken hold of the nation.

Welcome to Oaxaca Day of Dinners

Partners included Women’s March on Washington, People’s Supper, Take on Hate, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, I am an Immigrant, United We Dream, The Movement for Black Lives.

Our clean-up crew: Jacki, Merry and Roberta

Jacki Cooper Gordon and I chose to co-host this potluck supper as a fundraiser for MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. We raised over $200 USD. I am certain they would welcome your donation, too, and it’s tax deductible (USA).

Yummy food, great company, conversation

A discussion guide was sent to me by the Day of Dinners organizers, and we used some of the questions as a launching pad for conversation. We were urged to keep our conversations personal, to share our individual stories, provide space for each of us to speak and be heard, to curtail the rant about dysfunctional political leadership.

We raised over $200 for MALDEF

For me, it was a wonderful time to better know friends and acquaintances who make Oaxaca home, and welcome visitors.  I was especially grateful that we had a mix of men and women, native and foreign-born, to gain perspective about culture, tradition, politics and privilege. Can we reconcile differences? How?

Teotitlan del Valle tamales with chicken, mole amarillo, made by Ernestina Chavez

Guiding principles and conversation teasers: Give us your life story in 1-minute!

Hosted by Norma and Jacki in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Pineapple white mousse cake to finish it off!

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Invited: Oaxaca Day of Dinners, June 25–Support Human Rights

Jacki Cooper Gordon and I have teamed up to host Oaxaca Day of Dinners, June 25.  It will be held at my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, casita, from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.  This is a Potluck Dinner. Please bring a dish to share and a minimum suggestion contribution of $10 USD or 200 pesos to support MALDEF.   Checks drafted on U.S. banks welcome!

When you register, we will send you a map with directions. Just 40 minutes from Oaxaca. Share rides. I’m providing artisanal mezcal!

All are welcome! Mexicans, expats of any nationality, residents, visitors.

The National Organizers will send us conversation guides! Get ready for some stimulating conversation. Let’s keep on making a difference!

Register to Attend — Click Here

Partners for Day of Dinners 

  • Women’s March on Washington
  • Dream Defenders
  • The Movement for Black Lives
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Take on Hate
  • Millionhoodies Movement for Justice
  • Color of Change
  • Heal Food Alliance
  • Organize Florida
  • United We Dream
  • I am an Immigrant
  • The People’s Supper
  • Trim

Oaxaca area map

If you are NOT in Oaxaca, please find a Day of Dinners event to attend near you. And, it’s not too late to host.

We will come together to give freely of ourselves and to fight back against the narrative that silos us into us vs. them. We’re coming together to share and build — in order to truly resist.

Red, white and green as a food display.

WARP Takes a Oaxaca Textile Study Tour with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Last Saturday, 70 WARP conference-goers divided up and piled into four red vans to go on an all-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I organized.

At the Montaño family weavers who make beautiful bags

We left our Oaxaca hotel at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7:00 p.m. (and in a rain storm). It takes much longer to move 70 people than it does to lead a small group of three!

Weaver Alfredo Hernandez wearing a wild marigold-cochineal dyed scarf

Of course, I couldn’t be on all four vans at once, so I had great help from dye master Elsa Sanchez Diaz, applied linguist Janet Chavez Santiago, and blogger Shannnon Pixley Sheppard who staffed the other three.

Lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, Teotitlan del Valle

Thanks to them and a schedule that brought us all together for lunch and an end-of-the-day reunion, the day went off without a hiccup.

Program Chair Judy Newland adds cochineal to her indigo hair

We hopscotched all over Teotitlan del Valle and made a detour to Lachigolo to visit weavers I know who work in naturally-dyed wool and cotton.

Lola (Dolores) and Fe (Federico) demonstrate over-dyeing techniques

We got demonstrations of the natural dye process, tapestry loom weaving techniques using the fixed frame, two-harness pedal loom used to make rugs.

In the studio of Galeria Fe y Lola — Federico and Dolores

We saw the flying shuttle, four-harness loom that can make yards of cotton cloth with more intricate patterning depending on the sequencing of the foot pedals. The cloth woven for clothing and home goods.

Preparing warp threads for flying shuttle loom

Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet each family, understand how they work in collaboration and in family units, and see how they are inspired to make very distinctive products from each other.

Francisco Martinez takes pericone — wild marigold — from dye vat

Every family has their own dye recipes and design adaptations. Some are doing very pioneering work, combining wool and agave plant fiber.

Aztecs used dyed chicken feathers to add color to white cotton – revitalized now

Some are doing very fine wall tapestries with 17 warp threads per inch. It is wonderful to see the range and variety of creativity and inspiration.

Alfredo’s son prepares bobbins for the loom — a family endeavor

Alfredo collaborates with Ayutla embroiderer Anacleta Juarez

Alfredo Hernandez weaves the natural manta with the finest cotton threads. Then embroiderer Anacleta Juarez creates the most detailed, intricate finely stitched work I’ve ever seen.

Wild marigold fixes with a local plant called marush

On day one, cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace talked about the importance of collaboration to further innovation that will sustain tradition.

A shady respite along the way — Judy, Ana Paula, Gail, Patrice

Isaac and his mom, Maria de Lourdes, wash the wool before it goes into the dye bath

Wool tapestries with natural dyes, with Francisco Martinez

We gathered at the end of the day at the home workshop and studio of Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for traditional hot chocolate, bread, mezcal and a demonstration. Big thanks, Porfirio, for your hospitality to welcome 70 people!

Cochineal grows on prickly pear cactus paddles behind Porfirio Gutierrez

The family is working in wool dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. They are innovating with rug designs that resemble a petate that incorporates plant fibers like jute and ixtle.

Two dye masters huddle: Elsa Sanchez Diaz and Juana Gutierrez, Porfirio’s sister

Wrapping up a petate design rug to go — a combo of jute and indigo!

In the courtyard, Francisco and Patrice talk about possibilities

Behind a wall, a flying shuttle loom workshop awaits us

Shopping for napkins and tablecloths made on the flying shuttle loom

Sales assistant in training!

Juana and her 6 months-old granddaughter

Cochineal dyed cotton out to dry on the line

Almost every weaver here knows how to prepare a demonstration using natural dyes. Many have the materials on hand to show visitors. Yet, it takes half the time to prepare wool using aniline dyes as it does to prepare natural dyes. The dye materials are 10 times more expensive.

Cochineal and indigo dye wool

Some say that about 10 to 15 Teotitlan del Valle families may actually use natural dyes in their work. (I don’t know the exact number.)  If this is important to you, you may want to join one of our one-day study tours to take you to them. The price will be higher for these beauties, but there is a distinctive difference in color palette and quality.

On the van, WARP conference Oaxaca

WARP president Cindy Lair with Montaño family

The little red vans that could! Gracias, Silvia and Cesar.

One more post about the WARP Conference in Oaxaca, 2017, and the walking tour of the historic center that Janet and I led last Sunday. We explored the nooks and crannies, found paper earring for Louise, good strong coffee for Diane. In two outstanding galleries, we had talks from owners and managers about quality differences in materials, dyes, and hand-looming.

Tying pom poms on purse zippers, Montaño family

Thanks to WARP for coming to Oaxaca, and thanks to you for reading.

Oaxaca WARP Conference Kicks-Off with Marta Turok Wallace Keynote Talk

Marta Turok Wallace is a noted applied cultural anthropologist whose specialty is Mexican textiles. A resident of Mexico City with roots in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, (her parents were ex-pats), Marta was invited by program chair Judy Newland to speak at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) textile conference held in Oaxaca, June 8-11, 2017.

WARP attendees gather in San Pablo Cultural Center, Oaxaca

More than 70 people attended the conference. They came from Mexico, the USA, Canada, Poland and Russia.

Applied cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace

What Marta talks about concerns all of us who love indigenous textiles and appreciate the people — women and men — who make them.  She asks questions, makes observations, offers solutions and consultation.  Then she steps back and listens, suggests, guides. She affirms that weavers can create their own destiny, their own future for themselves, their families and their communities. And, that consumers can more fully appreciate the history behind the cloth.

WARP president Cindy Lair welcomes participants

Traditions are powerful in Mexico.  Remote villages throughout Oaxaca continue to weave garments using distinctive iconographic designs particular to place. These weavings are rooted in centuries past, worn by grandparents and great-grandparents. There are garments for daily wear and special ceremonial occasions.

Clothing is cultural identity in Mexico. It signifies where you are from and your status in the community.

Teotitlan del Valle weaver Porfirio Gutierrez talks about history, culture

Yet, over time, clothing has changed (think cotton to synthetic threads, hand-spun to machine-spun) based on cost of raw materials, time to make, and influence of current fashion trends in the larger culture. This has an impact on style, design and quality.  As villages interact with each other because of communication and ease of transportation, there is design-crossover, too.

What is “pure” or “authentic” is no longer relevant, perhaps. Change happens and it is impossible to keep people in a box doing what they have always been doing to satisfy collectors and appreciators of tradition. What we want to do is encourage innovation, collaboration, independence and economic success.

The inversion graph, an aging population of artisans, copyright M. Turok

Marta showed a slide explaining that there is a 50% loss of traditional artisans in Mexico. Artisans are aging out and so few of the next generation are stepping in to continue the work. She asks, Why is tradition dying out?

Is the acquisition of artesania being abandoned by the consumer? What is happening in the communities to impact this change? What is in need of revitalization? How do you prepare artisans to sell at fairs and expoventas? How do they show things, take orders, fulfill and ship? Are goods priced fairly for the amount of time put into making them? What are people willing to pay because something is made in Mexico?  How do you commodify art, handmade?

Scholarship recipients present their work, philosophy of design

So, it’s not only about keeping the skill alive, it is about getting it out into the marketplace?  Once something becomes commercialized, then does that erode its value and also compromise how an artisan is compensated?

As they say, It’s complicated!

Young women from Chenalho, Chiapas, represent their cooperative

And, if one changes the scale of motifs or introduces different color palettes to satisfy marketplace demands, or adapt a textile to another purpose (think going from sarapes/ponchos to rugs to handbags and purses), is this a compromise of traditions?

Important topics of discussion during the conference included appropriation of traditional design motifs by contemporary fashion designers, fair wages, using sustainable and native materials.  “What is Fair Trade, really?” when there are no standard rules.

Speaker Eric Chavez Santiago will discuss commercialization

Marta notes that when something is handmade AND mass-produced, someone is not being paid very well.

Many of us want to meet the artisan, have a personal relationship and buy directly so that the money exchange benefits the maker 100%.  That’s not always possible, so it’s important for us to read labels, and ask who made my clothes.

We also need to be sensitive and conscious to the myth that Mexican handmade items are cheap or that we can bargain just for the fun of it.  Let’s be conscientious about the haggler mentality.

What we also notice is that most weavers are no longer creating cloth for themselves — they are weaving for the marketplace, no longer investing a year of labor to create an elaborate ceremonial huipil.  They may dress in ready-made cotton or polyester purchased at Soriana or Walmart. Why?

SOLD: Hand-woven, embroidered ceremonial huipil, San Felipe Usila. 

[Note: This “stained glass window” huipil, above, is from the Chinantla pueblo of San Felipe Usila, about 12 hours from Oaxaca up a mountain road. I know the makers. It is woven on a back-strap loom, then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch. A special piece. Size L-XL. $500 USD. Time to make: 8 months. Who wants it?]

To dress differently exposes one to racism and discrimination. We heard a story about a Oaxaca village where the mayor was so intent on assimilation, that he forbade any weaving of traditional garments. It took thirty years to rescue the tradition by encouraging a new generation of weavers to bring back their cultural identity.

During the conference, Andares del Arte Popular hosted a curated show and sale of artisans in an adjacent patio. Conference-goers could meet the makers and buy directly from them. It was a wonderful introduction to Oaxaca for WARP.

A conference of weavers, dyers, anthropologists, collectors, textile lovers

I was pleased to to work with WARP to produce this conference. I served as the on-site administrator and conference planner, participated on the program committee, contacted speakers, organized a panel discussion, arranged for hotel, meals, conference venue, transportation, and a one-day natural dye textile tour for all conference attendees.  We went to villages to meet artisans and understand the complexity of the creative work of Oaxaca. On Sunday, 12 women accompanied me on an optional walking tour of Oaxaca with a focus on naturally dyed textiles. More about this in the next posts.