Category Archives: Oaxaca rug weaving and natural dyes

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 residencies for you with the Chavez Santiago family weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, at a time that best fits your travel schedule.  These can be 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.  The studio residencies are flexible and can be scheduled for as long as you wish to stay — several days or several months.  This includes 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 Residency: Up to four-hours daily of studio time in the workshop at a dedicated loom to weave on your own projects.  This includes a daily coaching/briefing session. The cost for the 4-hour daily studio time and coaching is $60 per day  or $15 per hour .  A minimum of 3 hours a day is required for this option.  Note: Studio time may overlap with other participants.
  • Purchase naturally dyed wool you need for the independent studio time directly from the family.

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You can bypass the Intensive 4-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.

Color Intensity of Natural Dyes from Oaxaca Sources

Today I changed the banner of the blog to give you a picture of the range of intense colors we got from the natural dye workshop we just completed with Eric Chavez Santiago.  Eric is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable dye masters and his techniques include how to extract the color without wasting it.

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We started with three colors only — cochineal, indigo and fustic — red, blue and yellow.  By over-dyeing and using various shades of natural wool, plus the chemistry of using an acid or a base with the color, we were able to get the amazing, rich colors that you see in the banner photo. They are all colorfast.

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I will be writing more about this in the next few days and publishing more photos.  But in the meantime, I wanted you to see what our group accomplished during this three-day workshop.

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The next natural dye workshop is in March 2014. Let me know if you want to participate.

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Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets — 3-Day Fiber Arts Textile Workshop with Eric Chavez Santiago

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Natural Dye Workshop (c) Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Roll up your sleeves to learn the secrets of natural dyes. Oaxaca is famous for cochineal and indigo natural dyes, plus many others.

January 2014

          January 10, 11, 12, 2014  (arrive January 9) 

March 2014

March 13, 14, 15 (arrive March 12)

Indigenous Mexican weavers also work with pecan shells and leaves, and yellow fustic — a colorfast wood extract dye, which you will learn to prepare in this workshop.   They also collect moss and wild marigold, pomegranates, tree bark, wild cotton and murex snails to dye textiles, which you will better understand.

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You will:

  • gain an understanding of the properties of natural dye materials
  • learn new methods for extraction
  • discover innovative techniques for mordanting
  • work with the cochineal, nuts, indigo and fustic to dye and over-dye wool
  • achieve a wide range of glorious colors to reproduce at home
  • appreciate natural dye use for a healthier environment
  • take home a labeled sample card for reference
  • maximum 8 people for personal attention

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Your Instructor is Eric Chavez Santiago

Eric is one of the most knowledgeable textile resources in Mexico.  In his professional life, Eric is immersed in Oaxaca’s textile traditions and is affiliated with one of Mexico’s finest cultural arts museums.  A graduate of Oaxaca’s Anahuac University, Eric speaks fluent English, is a talented weaver and dyer, experienced instructor, and makes presentations throughout Mexico and worldwide.  He has developed over 100 shades of cochineal and uses innovative techniques for dyeing with indigo.

Eric has traveled to the United States regularly since 2006 to present Oaxaca’s textile traditions to museums, galleries, and universities, including UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, University of Notre Dame Snite Museum of Art, University of California at Santa Cruz, National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, San Jose, California Quilt and Textile Museum, American Tapestry Alliance, and The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

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Cost and Location

The workshop will be held in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.  It includes 3 nights lodging, 3 breakfasts, 3 dinners, all instruction, materials, samples, workbook and an indigo dyed scarf that you will make yourself.

  •  $595 per person double occupancy with shared bath
  •  $675 per person single occupancy with private bath
  • Trailing spouse option:  Add $155 (food/lodging only, no workshop)
  •  Add-on Zapotec cooking class, Monday, January 13 or Thursday, March 13: $125 per person (includes lodging the night before, dinner, breakfast, lunch, all instruction and recipe booklet)
  • Add-on 4-day tapestry weaving workshop from $895 (includes 4 nights, all breakfasts, dinners, weaving handbook). Click link for schedules.

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Reserve your space with a 50% deposit. The balance is due on December 1, 2013.  The workshop includes:  three days of hands-on instruction, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily for a total of 15 hours, 2 nights lodging, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, all materials and supplies, a natural dye handbook with recipes, and labeled sample cards to take with you.

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Refunds and Cancellations

Please understand that we make arrangements months in advance of the program. Our hosts often require deposits or payments in full to guarantee reservations. If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. No refunds are possible after 45 days before the workshop start date; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before 45 days before the workshop start date,  we will refund 50% of your deposit. We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Ready to Register? Tell Norma at normahawthorne@mac.com Have Questions? Ask Norma at normahawthorne@mac.com  and we will send you a PayPal invoice.

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