Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Photo Essay: Oaxaca Cochineal Dye Workshop in Durham, NC

Cochineal dyed wool scarves drying

Yesterday, my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, godson Omar Chavez Santiago, from Galeria Fe y Lola, taught a cochineal natural dye workshop through INDIO Durham, hosted by owner Wendy Sease.  We had a sold-out workshop.

Acid base using fresh lime juice turns the dye bath orange

Most people don’t know that cochineal is the natural dye that colors lipstick, Campari, yogurt, and wine. Anything labeled carminic acid comes from cochineal. When you manipulate the pH, you can change the dye color.

Cochineal dyed silk

When you over-dye with blue, the cloth becomes purple. When you start with wild marigold and over-dye with cochineal, the cloth becomes peach color. The color of the sheep wool will also determine the shades of red.

Cochineal dyed wool

The wool must be washed/cleaned or mordanted first before it is dyed. This takes out the lanolin and makes the wool more receptive to accepting the color. The cochineal mordant bath is clear water with alum, heated to dissolve the natural rock. Wool dyed with cochineal needs mordanting. Wool dyed with indigo does not.

Taking the wool out of the bath that mordants the wool

Once the wool is cleaned, we prepare the cochineal dye bath dissolving the powdered bugs into hot water and stirring.

A red pullover scarf called a quechquemitl coming out of the dye bath

For a deeper color red, the wool must stay in the dye pot for at least an hour. At home in Teotitlan del Valle, Omar and his family will keep the yard they weave rugs with in the dye bath overnight to get the most intense color.

Another view of a dyed wool scarf coming out of the dye bath

Eight women gathered around Wendy’s kitchen to prepare the mordant and dye pots after Omar gave an introduction and orientation to the cochineal and its color properties.

Cooking it up in Wendy’s kitchen

He brought hand-woven wool scarves with him from Oaxaca that each participant could work with.

Omar coaching participants as they get ready to immerse their scarves

Fresh lime juice is essential because the acid is the necessary ingredient to alter the color of the dye bath. This is exactly how the family does it at home in Oaxaca — an entirely hand-made process.

Everyone squeezed limes by hand!

You can come to Oaxaca for a natural dye workshop or a tapestry weaving workshop. Contact Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We can fit your schedule.

It was a perfect NC day — our outdoor dye kitchen

Wool wet and waiting for the dye pot

When you bring the cloth out of the pot you want to make sure not to waste the cochineal. It cost over $100 USD per kilo, so you squeeze the liquid out over the dye pot to reuse it.

Squeezing the excess liquid

A study in color variation depending on wool type and dye bath

Hot purple and juicy lime, a great color contrast of wool in bowl

Three scarves in black and white

Experimenting with shibori

 

 

 

Oaxaca Weaver in Raleigh-Durham, NC, October 17-21, 2018

Omar Chavez Santiago, a young talented weaver from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, and Galeria Fe y Lola, will be in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina for a set of talks, cochineal dye demonstrations and textile sales from October 17 to October 21, 2018. Events are open to the public.

Please attend and share widely! Thank you.

INDIO Durham

In addition to rugs, Omar will offer handbags, totes, shibori wool scarves, and other textiles for sale. All are colored with natural dyes.

Shibori scarves, dyed with cochineal, indigo, wild marigold

I am fortunate to call Teotitlan del Valle home, where I live a good part of the year with Omar’s family on their land on the outskirts of the village.

Global Day of Clay, Video and National Ceramics School, San Marcos Tlapazola

My father was a potter so I have a special affinity for clay. My kitchen in Teotitlan del Valle holds an assortment of San Marcos Tlapazola barro rojo from for cooking. Shelves are stacked with elegant, simple red clay dishes and bowls from which to dine. I love this clay and the women who make it. The village is up the road from where I live.

For centuries, since pre-Hispanic times, San Marcos women have made clay cooking and eating vessels, forming the shapes by hand after digging (a man’s job) and mixing the clay. They constructed outdoor wood fires to “cook” the low-fire ware, all the while breathing in the fumes.


Recently the cooperative built a smokeless kiln designed by Japanese engineer Yusuke Suzuki.  Maestra Macrina Mateo Martinez and 16 families in the cooperative, Mujeres de Barro Rojo, can now produce higher temperature ceramics, more pieces at once, and have better quality respiratory health. This was possible through help from Fundacion Kasuga, Tajin, Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu, and Andares del Arte Popular FAHHO.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

They started the non-profit Escuela Nacional de Ceramica (National Ceramics School), to teach others how to build and use the same type of kiln, and celebrate Global Day of Clay with the release of this video.

Mujeres del Barro Rojo, San Marcos Tlapazola

In addition to the women, the video features my godson Eric Chavez Santiago, general manager of Andares del Arte Popular gallery where the ceramics are sold.

While the video is in Spanish, the visuals tell the story. Here is a brief English explanation that goes with the Facebook video narrative:

Today, we join to the celebration of the Global Day of Clay #GlobalDayOfClay we’d like to recognize the work, the passion, ability and interest of all the artisans in our country that make clay a way of life; that every day make an effort to preserve their traditions, maintain the quality of their craft and pass their knowledge, for the new generations to continue this path.

México, concerning clay, is rich in raw materials as techniques and designs that date prehispanic ages.

Today we release this video, a work done by the great editor Martha Úc and part of her talented video recording team conformed by Mercy Portillo and Claudia Pasos. This video is the result of the training that took place last July in San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca with the group “red clay women” and artisans of other pottery entities of the state, to build a “smokeless wood kiln”. This video shows the riches of the clay traditions in the country as the strength of our women.

Ringing the Bells: San Miguel Arcangel Church, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca

San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, calls to me. Perhaps because it is hidden — escondido — beyond Santa Ana del Valle and Diaz Ordaz, tucked into the fold of the foothills leading to the Sierra Juarez on the way to the eco-tourism center of Cuajilomoyas.

Stepping up into the church patio

Illuminated Saint Michael on the altar

There are dazzling, artful aprons there that talented women embroider with birds, flowers, animals, and plants in a cascade of color. Wearable art! It is all from their imagination. There is no design that shows up twice. You can find them from this distinctive dress each Sunday at the Tlacolula Market, a 15-minute trip from the village.

Welcome to San Miguel Arcangel

Merry modeling an artful apron

I went back last week with my young friend Lupita. She rarely leaves Teotitlan del Valle and its a big world out there along the Pan American Highway MEX 190. We were lucky. When we arrived, the gates to the church patio were open to me for the first time. This was my fourth visit in recent weeks.

Watch the video!

Inside, I said hello to the man who was doing his church volunteer service. I asked him if we could step up to the altar and then enter an anteroom where there were reliquaries and antique treasures from centuries past. He welcomed us. Invited us in, told us to take our time.

Antonio Miguel invites into the anteroom for a look around

Ancient frescoes were painted on lime plastered walls. Deeply carved wood embellished Zegache-style mirrors. A broken clay figure perched under a gilded miniature pergola. Priestly robes hung in a glass case. It was a feeling of old, mystical, medieval. Without restoration, the space felt even more sacred.

Hand painted frescoes of saints adorn walls

Clay figure perched under gilded pergola

I explained to Lupita that it was her people, the Zapotecs, who were conscripted to become stone masons, wood carvers and painters, doing the labor to decorate these buildings of the new religion after the conquest. This was like being inside a fortress, sturdy, solid, everlasting.

Frame of the antique organ

Ascending through the turret, a rest stop for a view

Antonio asked if we wanted to see the antique organ from the same era as the one in Tlacochahuaya. We would have to climb the narrow winding stairs up the turret to the second floor. He went first. The organ was a wood frame with no musical parts. It must have been splendid once.

From the organ balcony, looking into the sanctuary

Lupita makes her way down steep stone steps. I follow her.

He kept looking at his watch. I have to go ring the bells, he said. It’s noon. So we scaled another round of steps to the top of the bell tower, greeted with spectacular views.

Rope bell is suspended with twisted cowhide

Zapotec symbols decorate church support beams

Antonio rang the bells announcing to the entire village it was twelve o’clock. Then he gave me an interview. He lived in Pomona, California, working as a landscaper for 10 years. He is happy to be home in his village!

An inscription, from 1560?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere, the patron saint of Mexico

 

 

Flouncy Aprons of San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle.  The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.

Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.

This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.

Four Aprons For Sale, Below.

Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday

But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.

Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)

These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.

Work in progress on the sewing machine

I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.

Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD

When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.

SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.

Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece.  Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.

SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.

How to Buy

  • Send me an email. norma.schafer@icloud.com
  • Tell me your name and mailing address
  • Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
  • I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
  • I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA

Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?

SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.

Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.

I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.

#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.

A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel

We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).

Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.

Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.

Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.

Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.

In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!

Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.