Category Archives: Oaxaca rug weaving and natural dyes

Oaxaca Textile Marketplace: Shades of Gray

As I prepare to return to Mexico on November 16, I’m taking another sweep through my trunks, storage boxes, closet and drawers to offer for sale the pieces that I have collected, never worn or used. Perhaps there is a treasure here that would be a perfect addition to your home, wardrobe, or gifted to someone special in the coming holiday months.

How to Purchase? Send an email to me, Norma Schafer. Tell me the piece — by number — that you want to buy. Also include your mailing address. I will send you a link to make a PayPal payment that will include the cost of mailing via USPS Priority Mail. If you are in Canada, it will be sent international First Class.

SOLD. #1. Gray + cream wool rug/throw — 45″ wide x 60″ long, $185 plus shipping

#1. SOLD. Hand-woven, 100% churro sheep wool rug or throw, sturdy enough to walk on, soft enough to cuddle up with. All natural wool woven on a pedal loom by my friend Lupita in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Cream background. Two light gray wide stripes. Three narrow natural brown stripe accents, and one indigo blue stripe accent. Size is 45″ wide by 60″ long. $185.

Detail, indigo blue stripe on rug Item #1.

Detail, natural brown stripe and gray detail, Item #1

Item #2 is a hand-woven wool Ditty Bag. Red Zapotec Diamond. Use it for men’s toiletries, travel accessories, jewelry, lingerie, or make-up. Fully lined with strong zipper closure. 8-1/2″ x 11″  $24. plus shipping.

#2, Zapotec Red Diamond Ditty Bag, $24. plus shipping

Item #3 is a hand-woven wool Ditty Bag, perfect for storing men’s toiletries, travel accessories, jewelry, make-up or lingerie. Plain gray weave. Lined with zipper. 8-1/2 x 11″  $20. plus shipping.

Item #3. Plain weave gray Ditty Bag. $20. plus shipping.

Item #4 is a hand-woven wool Ditty Bag perfect for storing travel accessories, men’s toiletries, make-up, jewelry or lingerie. 8-1/2 x 11″  Fully lined with zipper. $20. plus shipping.

Item #4. Textural Gray Ditty Bag, $20. plus shipping

 

Who Made My Clothes? Digging Deeper Into Fashion and Consumption

Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.

When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up.  The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.

But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.

African indigo tie-dyed cotton that I sewed into dress and skirt

This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.

This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers.  In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.

  • 75% of garment workers are young women
  • the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
  • in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator

If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.

  • What are we doing to make our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
  • What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
  • Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”

The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.

A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.

The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above?  How does one person make a difference?

Family mourns death of loved one, Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?

The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.

There may still be room in the course.  We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?

If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.

No Plan to Live in Mexico: How I Got Here

The best plan might be NOT to have a plan.

I spent my working life doing goals and objectives, setting annual plans and then evaluating whether I met those targets. They became part of my annual performance review. Yet, the serendipity of how my personal life progressed was never a conscious decision. Sometimes I felt bad about that. I should have had more direction.

But I couldn’t have planned it better. How I came to live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, was pure accident.

Many I meet ask, How did you get here? Here’s a condensed answer.

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built on top of Zapotec Temple, archeological ruins

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built atop Zapotec temple ruins

My friend, Annie Burns, moved to Teotitlan from Pittsboro, North Carolina, in the early 2000’s.  She would return to visit with wonderful textiles to show and sell. At the time, there were probably three or four gueros living here. She kept inviting me to visit. Finally, I did, in 2005 with the wasband.

Teotitecas, parade of the canastas

Teotitecas, Parade of the Canastas each year in July

Annie introduced us to Josefina Ruiz Vazquez and her mother-in-law Magdalena. They had both lost husbands to illness that same year, son and father. Josefina and Magda are great cooks. Josefina, mother of three youngsters, was left with no means of support. Annie thought, maybe they could start a B&B. We were the first experiment in hospitality for gringos.

That’s how Las Granadas B& B in Teotitlan del Valle got started. Today, it is a shadow of its former self. Another friend, Roberta Christie, stepped in to make a huge difference by creating the infrastructure to make it happen. But I digress.

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Years ago in San Francisco, I was a beginning weaver and experimented in natural dyes. My love of textiles informed my adulthood and as I traveled, I collected. During that first visit to Teotitlan del Valle, I thought I had landed in heaven. Teotitlan was filled with talented weavers and stunning textiles.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

I was on a quest to find a family that worked only in natural dyes. I did research in advance and knew that while it was not widespread, there were a few working with plant dyes and cochineal. I set out to find them. It wasn’t easy. And, of course, I loved all those bright aniline dye colors, too.

Yet, it was a time when we were talking more about sustainability and consuming what was healthy, organic. Making a commitment to buying an organic textile was important to me and I didn’t want to compromise.

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

For the first few days in Teotitlan del Valle, I walked around meeting and talking with weavers in their workshops to learn more. There were many beautiful textiles and I was smitten. But I restrained myself from buying.

Everyone could give me a natural dye demonstration, crushing the cochineal bug in my palm, squeezing lime juice, adding baking soda. I watched the color change from orange to red to pink to purple, depending on proportions and chemistry. I wasn’t certain who was actually using the process to dye the wool.

Eric Chavez Santiago giving dyeing wool with wild marigold

Eric Chavez Santiago dyeing wool with wild marigold

Then, the only Internet connection in town was at the pharmacy across from the church. One day, as we left, we decided to make a right turn instead of our usual left to wander through the rug market.

I hear a voice say in perfect English, “Do you want to see my rugs?” Looking down to manage my steps on the cobblestones, I waved my hand and shook my head, no. The English was too perfect. Too slick, I thought. Then I looked up, saw these magnificent rugs and stepped into the space.

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

That’s when I met Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister, Janet. Both were university students, selling rugs in the market during Christmas vacation. Janet was huddled in the corner with a book on her lap, studying. I went to their family home and studio to see the complete collection, meet dad Federico Chavez Sosa and mom, Dolores Santiago Arrellenas.

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

I saw the actual wool dyeing and weaving process. Eric explained how difficult the economy was. The market demand had softened since the 90’s when Santa Fe Style sent thousands of Zapotec rugs out of Oaxaca to the American southwest.

Of course, I bought rugs. Eric later told me, many came to visit them, said they would help and were never heard from.

Caracol rug design, communication symbol

Caracol rug design, communication symbol by color master Federico

Then, I went home to North Carolina, gave thought to how I might help this family. I wrote an arts education grant with the Carrboro Arts Center to the NC Arts Council. We got funding to bring Eric and Federico to North Carolina for workshops, expoventas (show and sale) and give a master class at NC State University College of Textiles. I helped get 10 year visas with assist from Congressman David Price‘s staff.

It was never the plan to live here. The idea was to visit once a year … maybe. Living in Oaxaca City was not considered. I fell in love with Teotitlan del Valle, her people and textiles.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The next year, Federico and Dolores invited us to build a casita on their land. It was a surprise and a gift. Because no foreigners (even people born in other pueblos) can own property in Teotitlan del Valle, we knew that this would be a vacation home that would always be owned by the family. This relationship is based on trust, respect and good will.

Because of this unique arrangement, this is not for everyone. Many immigrants who live in Teotitlan and other usos y costumbres pueblos rent.

But plans have a way of changing and nothing is for certain. The wasband and I had our differences. Our divorce was final in 2014. For now, this is where I live and this is how I got here. I never planned it this way.

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Eric, who thought he might work in a bank after graduation, went on to become the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with our coaching help and his innate intelligence. This year, Eric is starting a new entrepreneurial venture at the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation. Janet is a linguist educator at the Biblioteca Juan de Cordova. Youngest brother, Omar, will finish university in December and wants to take the family business to the next level. Federico and Dolores run Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca City and continue to weave.

Goals? I have no idea what’s next.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

Natural dyes have strong color, as strong as synthetic dyes

With a great dye master, natural dyes have strong color, as strong as commercial dyes

Will you share your story? If you live in Mexico, how did you get here?

 

 

 

Women Weavers’ Cooperative Vida Nueva, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part Two

This post continues the narrative about women weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. See Part One for my introduction.

Honoring Mother’s Day: For all women who gave and received life!

***

Vida Nueva (“New Life”) Cooperative at the International Folk Art Market

Twenty years ago, Vida Nueva cooperative was founded by six single women from the same extended family group, three of whom where sisters. Some of the women had husbands who never returned to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after migrating out for work. Some had not married. Some were widows. They needed to support their families and weaving had the biggest potential economic reward for their labor.

But, weaving was not women’s work.

Pomegranate dyed wool

Pomegranate dyed wool

The traditional role for women was (and still is, for the most part) to stay at home, keep house, tend the children, cook and raise small animals like chicken, sheep, pigs and goats.

Twenty years ago, weaving and then selling/marketing the product was not a usual role for women, plus it was unheard of to go to the city to develop customers. Most women of the time went barefoot, wore indigenous dress and did not go beyond the family compound expect to daily market. Entering the city was foreign, uncomfortable, intimidating.

Cleaning the finished rug

Cleaning the finished rug

Since the height of the Bracero program, when men migrated to the U.S. as temporary farm workers, and women learned to weave out of economic necessity, the number of women who now weave is substantial.  Today, most women work alongside husband, father or brother, to weave in a family centric enterprise. A few also participate in selling and receive recognition for their contributions.

It took a while for Vida Nueva to get started, but they had the help of a non-governmental agency, Grupo del Apoyo a la Educacion de la Mejor (now defunct). Through donations and business development guidance, Vida Nueva began producing rugs for sale in 2001. Their first clients, arranged by the NGO, were adult Spanish language students who were visiting Oaxaca from the United States.

Take a One-Day Natural Dye Weaving & Textile Study Tour

The cooperative meets regularly, makes decisions together, created a mission statement, a vision, goals and objectives for the organization that includes a marketing plan, and have built distribution markets over time. They also put money aside each year to invest in an annual community project that can benefit everyone in Teotitlan del Valle.

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Not all the rugs woven by Vida Nueva are made with natural dyes. Most are woven with synthetic colors because most buyers don’t want to pay the price for a naturally dyed rug and prefer bright, electric colors. But, the cooperative will do custom orders for naturally dyed rugs and from time-to-time, may have some on-hand.

Today there are 12 cooperative members, two of whom are married. Their clientele has developed by word of mouth over the years, and they also have been invited to participate in shows/sales in the U.S.A. including the International Folk Art Market and the Feria at Lake Chapala, Mexico Arts Show. 

Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative Contact Information

Pastora Gutierrez
Centenario 1
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
estrelladelvalle@hotmail.com

Telephone: 951 524-4250

Some Useful Resources

 

Natural Dyes and Indigo Blue Easter Eggs

I’ve never seen dyed Easter eggs here in Oaxaca, but perhaps someone could correct me if I just haven’t noticed them. Yet, here we are in the world of natural dyes. My personal favorite is indigo blue. So, when this post from Improvised Life came to my inbox this morning, I felt compelled to share it.

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs Made Simple

This segues into the world of natural dyes here in Oaxaca, where a kilogram of indigo from the coast costs over $100 USD. In the spirit of indigo blue, I’d like to share these photos with you of indigo blue dyed textiles taken during recent Natural Dye Textiles and Weaving Study Tour programs.

 

Thanks to Juana Gutierrez, Galeria Fe y Lola, Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, Bii Dauu Cooperative, Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Arturo Hernandez and Porfirio Gutierrez for their talent to keep the world of natural dyes alive here.