Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Oaxaca Indigenous Clothing for Sale: Wearable Art

After a year of walking with some days up to and exceeding 10,000 steps, my beautiful huipiles and blusas no longer fit me. For the next week, I’ll be offering for sale some of my clothing treasures from Durham, North Carolina before I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Most of these are new or lightly worn and purchased directly from the makers. (See photos below.)

These are loose fitting, cool for summer, and drape easily. In this group, two blouses and one dress come from the Oaxaca Coast, the villages of Pinotepa de Don Luis and San Pedro Amusgo. The embroidered dress is from the Oaxaca mountain community of San Bartolome Ayautla. They will fit size L to XL. Measure across your chest and hips to be sure of fit.

To buy, please send me an email. Include your name, mailing address with city, state and ZIP code, along with the ITEM NUMBER. I will send you an invoice and add on an $8 charge to mail USPS Priority Mail. As soon as I receive payment, I will ship.

NOTE: ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 9, 2019. The last day I can mail is May 10. I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Thanks very much.

SOLD. #1, indigo and native Oaxaca brown coyuchi cotton blusa, light gauze weave, $285

This is an amazing indigenous weaving from the Pinotepa de Don Luis Dreamweavers weaving cooperative. You see the symbols of double-headed turkey, lightening, corn plants, and eternal life woven into the cloth. The village is 12 hours from Oaxaca City and four hours from Puerto Escondido. If you can’t make it on one of our trips to the village or to the Santa Fe Folk Art Market where they will be this summer, this is the next best way to shop. Each piece is unique, so there is no guarantee you will find this one again.

#1 detail, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Dreamweavers Cooperative, 28″ wide x 27″ long
#2, hand-spun native white Oaxaca cotton, gauze weave, $285

#2: Caracol purpura, the rare purple snail is the featured color element on this gorgeous huipil. The three wefts are joined together with caracol dyed silk yarn, also hand-spun, in the turkey-trot needlework style. The color is intricately trimmed in purple snail-dyed silk, too. The body of the blusa is made from hand-spun cotton grown locally in the village of Pinotepa de Don Luis. It is lightweight gauze, perfect for summer. Design elements are similar to the indigo/coyuchi blusa described above.

#2, white and caracol purpura blusa, measures 28″ wide x 31″ long
SOLD. #3, indigo and ochre huipil/dress with tiny animal embroidery, $265

#3 SOLD and is from Zacatepec on the Coast of Oaxaca in the Mixtec region just beyond San Pedro Amusgos. I bought this in the village from Odilon Morales who is at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market each year and operates the Oaxaca cooperative Arte Amusgos. The cotton is hand-spun and woven on a back-strap loom, dyed in a lovely blue indigo. The small animals — are they deer or rabbits or dogs? — are finely hand-embroidered with commercial cotton embroidery floss. The embroidery is impeccable, teeny, tiny stitches.

#3 measures 29″ wide x 35″ long, and the yellow is more of a rich ochre color
#4 is a creamy dreamy white huipil with finest Oaxaca needlework, $265

#4 is from the Oaxaca village of San Bartolome Ayautla and embroidered by Anacleta Juarez, famed for her perfect, almost invisible stitches. It takes months to embroider a garment like this. The cotton is manta, a natural fabric that Mexicans love. The finish work is amazing. The birds and flowers tell the story of the mountains where they are made in the Cañada region between Oaxaca and Veracruz. I bought this directly from Anacleta.

#4 bodice detail. Dress measures 27″ wide x 46″ long
The underside of #4 is almost as beautiful as the front. Teeny, tiny embroidery stitches.

Thank you for considering and stay tuned for more offerings this week.

Whimsical and Vintage Mexico Exvotos Folk Art for Sale

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

Appropriating or Appreciating Indigenous Fashion: Playing Dress-Up?

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.

Japan, farmer’s coat, indigo and sashiko stitching, over 100 years old

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.

This New York Times story, Finding the Beauty in Other People’s Styles, sent to me by Jenny Brinitzer, takes me right to the core of the discussion I’m very interested in:

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?

Huipil from Chenalho, Chiapas, with dog paw embroidered bodice on loomed cloth

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.

Cotton huipil from Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, supplementary weft

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.

India Ajrakh block prints, indigo and madder

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.

Gretchen’s indigo, caracol purpura, coyuchi cotton huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca

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.

Meiji period, mid-1800’s, katazome stencil with indigo dye

Note: I can add one more person to the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour in January 2020, and there are six openings in the Chiapas Textile Study Tour that starts in late February 2020.

We will be back in January 2021 with the Monarch Butterflies Sanctuary Tour and an add-on to Patzcuaro. Let me know your interest.

Go Fund Me: Help Mexican Dreamweavers Get to International Folk Art Market

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.

We need to raise $4,000 more, she said.

Make a Tax-Deductible GoFund Me Gift to Mexican Dreamweavers.

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.

78-year-old purple snail dyer Habacuc shows Nancy color intensity

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.

Make a Tax-Deductible GoFund Me Gift to Mexican Dreamweavers.

Show them that we care.

Thank you!

Help bring these talented weavers and dyers to Santa Fe!

Vintage Tech: Tyrian Purple — Caracol Purpura on Oaxaca’s Coast

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.

The article she wrote, Vintage Tech: Tyrian Purple, was just published. I hope you click the link to read it.

Exquisite caracol purpura purple dyed native cotton from Oaxaca’s coast

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.

Says Patrice Perillie about Vintage Tech: Tyrian Purple

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’s son Rafael, carries on with tradition, he hopes his own son will continue

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.

Gretchen shows off her just acquired caracol purpura, indigo and coyuchi huipil

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.

Cooperative members on Habacuc’s 78th birthday, January 2019