Category Archives: Oaxaca rug weaving and natural dyes

Jess Schreibstein Writes About Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca Weaving Workshop at Fringe Association

Fringe is a common thread for knitters, weavers, sewers and textile artists around the world. It’s a metaphor for finishing the edge, binding off, completion and embellishment.

Here’s what Jess wrote in Fringe Association, a blog for knitters.

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Jess wove this tepete (rug) in four days! A traditional Zapotec feather pattern with naturally dyed wool: cochineal, moss, wild marigold.

Jess Schreibstein came to Oaxaca for a wedding in May.  She wanted to experience something special beyond the wedding celebration.  So she contacted us about taking a four-day Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom with Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife, Lola, in Teotitlan del Valle.

A writer, artist, photographer, cook and founder of the D.C. Food Swap, Jess asked for customized dates that would fit into her travel schedule.  We were happy to make this arrangement for her that included lodging and meals at a local guesthouse.

Here’s what Jess wrote to me about her experience:

I want to thank you personally for organizing such a wonderful trip to Teotitlan and my workshop with Federico.  It was one of the richest weeks of my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that you provided.  Thank you!

twitter: @jschreibstein
instagram: @thekitchenwitch
witchininthekitchen.com

If you would like a customized weaving workshop to fit into your travel schedule, please contact us!

 

Oaxaca Weaving: The Flying Shuttle Loom

The flying shuttle loom is a European innovation brought to Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Industrial Revolution. It joins the back-strap loom and the fixed frame two-harness pedal loom as one of the major three weaving technologies still widely used in Oaxaca today.

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The advantage of the flying shuttle loom is that it can create wider, lighter weight fabrics from cotton, perfect for long and wide tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, curtains, and shawls. Made-by-hand, it is semi-automated, but requires the design skill and judgment of the weaver.

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There are two neighborhoods that use the flying shuttle loom : Santo Tomas Xochimilco and San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Today, we focus on Xochimilco. Most textiles made with a flying shuttle loom use commercial cotton thread colored with chemical dyes, although sometimes you can find pieces made with natural dyes.

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Once, the neighborhood of Xochimilco was humming with the sound of the flying shuttle. The loom has a distinct, rhythmic sound, a beat, beat, as the weaver moves the handle back and forth, which operates the opening of the warp threads and the direction of the shuttle.  It is fast, and the weaver sways with the beat.

Today, I could find only a few weavers in Xochimilco still using this loom.

Trailing along with Susan, Carol and Norma Dos on a mid-week excursion there in search of textiles, we come across two workshops on either end of Calle Dr. G. Bolaños Cacho between the Iglesia Santo Tomas Xochimilco. One is at the corner of Avenida Venus and the other is at the corner of Macedonio Alcala. To find them, just listen for the looms. On the day we visit, the jacaranda trees are in full purple regalia!

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In my opinion, the finest quality is produced by Casa Jimenez Taller Textil. They have several locations.  The easiest to find is at the El Pochote organic market every Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., located in the patio of the 16th Century Santo Tomas Xochimilco Church.

The looms are located way up the hill at Calle 1 de Mayo #105 in Colonia Aurora.

But they have a small gallery closer to Conzatti Park in the Jardin Carbajal, a square near the corner of Calle Xolotl and Calle Macedonio Alcala. It’s just a few doors down from El Quinque, which I’m told, has the best hamburgers in town!

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See the turquoise tablecloth that she is holding in the photo above. That’s the one I got my son for a gift. The fringes are hand-tied, just like a rebozo. The weave is tight and even. The cost: well-under $40 USD.

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Basket Weaving Circle in Rug Weaving Village Draws Crowd

Beyond the stream they call the Rio Grande here, the women gather in a circle around the pine-shaded, packed dirt courtyard outside of Ernestina’s house.  They are learning how to weave with another sort of material, not the usual hand-spun wool that is traditional for Teotitlan del Valle, the famed rug weaving village.  They are using brightly colored plastic strips.

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This is palma plastica (plastic palm) says maestra Norma, who came from San Baltazar Guelavila, to teach. This is the new-age derivative of the traditional palm used for centuries by most villagers in this valley to make petate sleeping mats, food and storage containers.  The craft is slowly disappearing and few Oaxaca weavers now produce this traditional folk art.  See: Decline of a Craft: Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca.

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The plastic strips will become handbags, coin purses, and placements that can be sold to tourists in the local morning market.  Another source of much needed income for women to have their own money, whether they are married or not.   This week’s lesson is an experiment in economic development — how to make a small business.  

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Ernestina organized the multigenerational five-day event and invited friends and relatives to participate.  The abuelas — grandmothers — are joined by daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins.  There is a baby tended to by a grandmother while mom learns.

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As I walked by Ernestina’s house, I noticed this unusual colorful activity and waved.  She invited me to come in to see what they were doing and asked if I would return with my camera to take photos.  Of course, I did!

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Norma’s town San Baltazar Guelavila, is known for it’s hand-woven baskets and is also an artisanal mescal-producing center.  It is in the mountains beyond Santiago Matatlan off the Carretera Internacional 190, otherwise known as the Panamerican Highway, which runs from Alaska through Oaxaca to the tip of South America.

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An experienced lifelong basket weaver, Norma told me she can weave three to five baskets a day.  She has fast fingers.  The beginners were happy to make even three baskets in five days.  The baskets will sell for between 100 and 150 pesos each.   That’s $7.50 to $12 USD.  The average working wage in Oaxaca is 100 pesos a day, so the women are happy if they can produce and steadily sell one basket a day!

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Ernestina hopes so.  But, of course, that depends on tourists visiting Teotitlan del Valle, and most come via tour buses and not as independent travelers.  They may stop at a pre-determined rug weaving gallery and then go on to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to see the archeological site or continue on to Santiago Matatlan for a mezcal tasting.  They will miss the 9:00-11:00 a.m. daily morning market, which is at the heart of this 6,000 person community.   And, miss the opportunity to buy one of these colorful, handmade totes.

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People here love intense color.  The natural materials are giving way to synthetics because of cost and convenience and personal taste.  Yet, as I pulled up a chair around the circle and sat a while, I was reminded of my own knitting circle back home in North Carolina and the comfort of good friends.  And, the revival of a traditional craft that can make the difference in women’s and children’s lives here.

Flexible Schedule, Intensive Weaving Workshops and Studio Time, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator can arrange and schedule intensive tapestry weaving workshops and independent studio time that fits into your travel schedule.  You learn from the Chavez Santiago family weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, with private or semi-private sessions.

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We are happy to offer you this opportunity to come to Teotitlan del Valle to learn from one of the most accomplished master weavers of the village.  The workshop can be scheduled as a private experience to suit your schedule.  Studio residencies are flexible and can be scheduled for as long as you wish to stay — one day, several days or several months.  This includes independent time at your own dedicated loom to work on your own projects.

Here is what we can offer you:

  • Weaving Workshop: Intensive beginner to intermediate level 4-day workshop at $585 USD per person.  This includes all wool and 4-6 hours of instruction daily. At the end of the workshop you will have completed a tapestry sampler about the size of a pillow cover or small wall-hanging.  You will make your own lodging, food and transportation arrangements.  Note: Weaving workshop may overlap with other participants.
  • Optional:  We can make all-inclusive arrangements for you when you register for Tapestry Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom. 
  • Studio Time: Up to six-hours a day of studio time in the workshop at a dedicated loom. The cost is $100 a day.  This includes naturally dyed wool, plus coaching and instruction to weave more complex designs. Note: Studio time may overlap with other participants.
  • Long-Term Residencies:  If you would like to stay longer than one-week, contact us for special pricing.
  • Materials/Yarn for Purchase:  You may purchase additional naturally dyed locally sourced, hand-spun churro wool directly from the family.  The cost is $20 USD for 100 grams or 260 pesos for 100 grams.

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You can bypass the Intensive 5-day Weaving Workshop and go directly to studio time IF you are an experienced tapestry weaver or IF you have taken the beginner-intermediate workshop from the family at another time.

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If you are interested in making these arrangements, please contact Norma Hawthorne at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.   We can set up the studio residency for as many days or weeks as you wish.  You would make all payments to reserve the workshop and studio arrangements with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. We will send you a PayPal invoice for 1/2 the total cost with the remaining amount due 45 days before the workshop/residency begins.  You would need to specify the dates you prefer for the workshop and/or when you want the residency.

Natural Dye Workshop Yields Glorious, Colorfast Textiles

Working with natural dyes like cochineal that yield red, indigo blue, wild marigold (pericone) and fustic to give us yellow, is like being a pastry chef and following a recipe.  It helps to know a little chemistry or have a willingness to learn.

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Indigo dye bath percolating

Eric Chavez Santiago, who is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable natural dye experts and our workshop leader, takes us through the steps to use a non-toxic process to mordant wool that we will  use to dye cochineal, fustic and wild marigold.  Wool that we dye with indigo requires no mordant but another set of intricate steps that will guarantee a result of intense blue and its variations.  See the green bloom in the photo above. The chemistry here is to allow no oxygen to enter the dye bath. Stirring is a no-no.

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The intense colors we get depend on a number of factors, including the original color of the natural wool, the amount of dye for the recipe, the length of time in the dye bath, the number of dips, how little dye is left in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid (lime juice, for example) or a base (baking soda, alum or ashes).  Eric has developed an extraction technique for the cochineal that yields the most intense, concentrated color.  The extract can be saved and refrigerated for later use and then refreshed.

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In the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets workshop, we go through the basics and then tackle more advanced dyeing techniques using acids, bases, and over-dyeing.  Over-dyeing is when you first dye your fiber with the base color such as red (cochineal) or yellow (fustic or wild marigold).  The red is then dipped in the indigo dye bath to yield various shades of purple depending on the shade of red.

Next Workshop:  March 6-12, 2014

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This is not a complex process, but requires attention and following the recipes.  By the end of the workshop, participants have color samples with specific formulas/recipes for all the shades from yellow to green to pink to red to orange to purple to blue.

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During the workshop, we also experiment with shibori dye techniques using indigo with 100% cotton fabric.  The resulting pattern depends on how we fold, wrap, package, or tie the fabric.  Some use rubber bands, string, marbles, sticks, and other materials to manipulate the design.

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Everything depends on whether the material is a protein (animal) or cellulose (plant) fiber.  Cochineal only works best with protein fibers that are mordanted in advance.  Indigo is not really a dye but a stain and only coats the surface of the fiber (which you can see through a microscope).  Indigo works well with protein AND cellulose fibers.  And, wow, does it attach to everything it touches!

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Assisting Eric with the workshop is his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz.  As his partner in life and this workshop, Elsa takes detailed notes about the formulas that Eric is using so that there is a record of the colors achieved.  She also helps the participants to complete their samplers with tagged formula notes at the end of the workshop.

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Our participants come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Northern California, and Kansas.  They include novices and experienced fiber artists/dyers.  Several had never been to Oaxaca before.  One is an English professor, another a faculty member in architecture and interior design, another a mixed media artist, and two professional weavers.  Everyone came away with a great experience and more information than they ever dreamed possible.

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Next Workshop: March 6-12, 2014 

If you can’t attend this workshop, let us know!  We can possibly schedule the next workshop to suit your travel schedule.