Category Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Travel Oaxaca’s Cochineal Trail–Natural Dye Textiles One-Day Study Tours

In this new program, we take you along Oaxaca’s Cochineal Trail to introduce you to weavers who work with organic natural dyes. This one-day educational study tour gives you in-depth knowledge about the artisanal process for making hand-woven cloth using sustainable technologies. We visit home studios and workshops to meet some of Oaxaca’s outstanding weavers in this curated day trip.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.

You reserve for the dates you prefer. This  is designed as a private program. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We will do our best to match your travel schedule with our availability.

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Oaxaca has many talented weavers working on different types of looms: the two-harness pedal loom, the flying shuttle loom and the back-strap loom. They create many different types of cloth from wool, cotton and silk – to use, wear and walk on.

Wool Coch Red Bobbins62K

The yarns or threads can be hand-woven and made into tapestry carpets or wall hangings. They might become lighter weight garments such as shawls, ponchos and scarves or fashion accessories and home goods like handbags, travel bags, blankets, throws and pillow covers.

Most weavers dye their material using pre-mixed commercial dyes. Some buy their yarns pre-dyed. This streamlines and simplifies the production process, making the finished piece less costly. Often, there are wide quality differences.

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A growing number of weavers are going back to their indigenous roots and working in natural dyes. They use a time-consuming process to gather the dye materials, prepare them with tested recipes, dye the yarns and then weave them into cloth. These colors are vibrant and long-lasting. There is a premium for this type of hand work.

Master weaver from Teotitlan del Valle makes perfect curves with natural dyes

Master weaver from Teotitlan del Valle makes perfect curves with natural dyes

Dyeing and then weaving can take weeks and months, depending upon the finished size of the textile and type of weaving process used.

For each visit, we will select artisans who live and work in small villages scattered in the countryside around Oaxaca where families have co-created together for generations to prepare the yarn and weave it.

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Natural dyes we will investigate include plant materials like nuts, wild marigold, fruit (pomegranate, persimmon, zapote negro), wood bark and indigo.

Shades of cochineal -- a full range of color

Shades of cochineal — a full range of color

Another important dye source is cochineal, which is the parasite that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. The Spanish kept the cochineal secret well hidden for over 400 years, calling it grana cochineal or grain, so that English and Italian competitors could not detect its source.

Cochineal on prickly pear cactus paddle Striking design in cochineal, indigo, pericone, and natural wool

During this one-day outing, we will visit four or five weavers, see complete natural demonstrations of yarns and threads, learn about over-dyeing to get a full rainbow of colors, and savor the beautiful results that master weavers create.

We may not always visit the same weavers on each tour, based on their availability. At each home studio you will see some of the steps that go into the completed process. By the end of the day, you will have gained a fuller understanding of the difference between natural and commercial dyed cloth as well as the various weaving techniques. This will help you become a more educated collector, able to discern nuances in fiber and dye quality.

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More than this, you will learn about the local culture, the family enterprise of weaving, how weavers source their materials, the dedication to keeping this ancient practice alive. You will see how using natural dyes is a small-batch, organic and environmentally sustainable process. And, you will try your hand in the dye pot and at the loom, too, if you like.

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During this complete one-day study tour you will:

  • Meet master weavers and their families in their home workshop/studio
  • See the raw materials used for coloring wool, cotton and silk
  • Watch the weaving process and try your hand (and feet) at the fixed frame 2-harness pedal loom and flying shuttle loom
  • Discuss the origin of cochineal, its impact on world trade and its many uses today
  • Learn how to tell the difference between dyed fibers – are they natural or chemical?
  • Observe processes for dyeing with indigo, cochineal, wild marigold and other organic materials
  • Understand quality differences and what makes a superior product
  • Discover the meaning of the various designs, some taken from ancient codices
  • Receive a Resource Guide and Glossary to take with you
  • Have an opportunity to shop, if you choose, at the source
  • Order a customized size, if you prefer

You are under no obligation to buy.

This is an educational study tour to give you more in-depth knowledge about the weaving and natural dye process. We offer a stipend to the weavers who take part to compensate them for their knowledge, time and materials. This is included in your tour fee.

Weavers do not pay commissions on any purchases made and 100% of any sales go directly to them.

Also consider these educational options:

About Norma Schafer, your study tour leader

Norma Schafer has organized educational programs and workshops in Oaxaca since 2006 through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She is an educator, not a tour guide, and is recognized for her knowledge about textiles and natural dyes.

Norma is living in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, since she retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. Before that, she made frequent visits each year beginning in 2005. Norma has access to off-the-tourist-path small production family workshops where the “manufacturing” process is vertical and hand-made.

  • Earned the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge
  • Holds the M.S. in business administration from the University of Notre Dame
  • 30-year career in higher education administration and program development
  • Created/produced international award-winning programs at Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Recognized by the International University Continuing Education Association for outstanding educational program development
  • Founder/creator of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC arts workshops/study tours in 2006
  • Founder/author of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog in 2007
  • Learned to weave and use natural dyes as a graduate student in San Francisco too many years ago to count!
  • Has a personal collection of more than 100 textiles made with natural dyes
  • Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
  • Consultant on tourism/economic development, State of Guanajuato, Mexico Office of Tourism
  • Embedded in the cultural and social history of Oaxaca’s Zapotec village life

IMG_4423 Dolores with Shadows

Note: From time-to-time, we will invite other distinguished and knowledgeable natural dye experts to join us or to substitute for Norma to lead the study tour, based upon schedules and availability. If Norma is not available on the date(s) you request, we will give you the option to take the study tour with another qualified leader.

Pricing for a 7-8 hour day. Customized programs on request.  The rate constititutes the time you arrive to and depart from Teotitlan del Valle.

  • 1 or 2 people, $200 USD flat rate total, includes lunch
  • 3 to 4 people, $90 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • 5 to 8 people, $70 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • For larger groups, please contact us for special pricing

Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in Teotitlan del Valle, and lunch. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We will pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca). Alcoholic beverages are at your own expense.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. We will do our best to accommodate your requests.

Silk worms dining on mulberry leaves, Oaxaca, Mexico Wool dyed w moss

Reservations and Cancellations

We require a 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve with the balance due on the day of the tour in USD or MXN pesos (at the current conversion rate). The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for.

If you decide to cancel up to 30 days before the study tour, we will refund 50% of your deposit. If you reduce the number of people in your party with 30 days notice, we will pro-rate the deposit and offer a 50% refund for the number of cancelations.

After 30 days before your scheduled study tour, your deposit is not refundable. We will have made transportation arrangements and secured the dates/times with the weavers, plus paid them a stipend in advance for participating. We have learned, living in Mexico, that it is essential to keep commitments to sustain relationships. Thank you for understanding.

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Oaxaca Weaving Workshops: Dancing on the Loom

Schedule a 4-day tapestry weaving workshop with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator during your Oaxaca vacation. You do not need experience to take part.  The per person price is the same whether you take a private workshop or there is a group of up to four people. We welcome people who want to come and learn with a master weaver who has worked the craft for over 40 years.

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All levels are accepted — beginners with little or no experience, intermediate and advanced weavers.

The Oaxaca Weaving Workshops: Dancing on the Loom is held in the famous rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, which is about 40-minutes outside the city of Oaxaca in the Tlacolula Valley.

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Here is what we offer:

Weaving Workshop: Intensive beginner to intermediate level 4-day workshop is $585 USD per person.  This includes all wool and 5 hours of supervised instruction daily, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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At the end of the workshop you will have completed a tapestry sampler about the size of a pillow cover or small wall-hanging, 18″ x 24″.  If you choose to bring and execute your own design, it should be simple enough to complete in this 4-day time frame.

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You will work with wool that is dyed with all natural materials, including indigo, cochineal, wild marigold, nuts and other plant materials. This is a sustainable process and you will see how natural dyes are prepared, too. If you wish, you may purchase naturally dyed yarns to take home with you.

Weaving

Note: The workshop fee does not include transportation, lodging or meals. We will refer you to local families who operate posadas and B&Bs out of their homes here in the village. You will make and pay for your own lodging arrangements, that cost from $25-45 USD per night. Meals are about $6 USD for breakfast and $10 USD for lunch/dinner.

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Reservations and Cancellations

To reserve your weaving workshop for the dates you choose, please contact us.

We require a 50% deposit to secure your reservation. The balance is due 30 days before your workshop date. If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email at least 30 days before the workshop start date to receive a 50% refund of your deposit. After that, refunds are not possible.

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Happy New Year: Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My family is here for the New Year. This past week we celebrated with a mezcal tour led by Alvin Starkman, a pottery tour to Santa Maria Atzompa with Innovando y Tradicion and a family trip to Hierve el Agua and San Juan del Rio.

We ended 2015 with a grand New Year’s Eve fiesta and finished off with a January 1 ritual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas to welcome the New Year with wishes. Here, everyone is encouraged to have dreams.

This year the sunset at Las Cuevitas was less than dramatic but the festivities carried on in grand style befitting Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  Like, close to the entire village was here. The band plays on and fireworks continue throughout the day and night.

 

We could call it a family picnic on the hillside but it’s much more than that. This celebration to welcome in the New Year is ancient. These grottos where three altars stand hold magical and healing properties. Make a wish at the altar. Then toss a coin into the small brook. If the coin lands on the plate and not in the water your wish will come true.

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

Mostly, people wish for good health. They might dream of a new house or a baby or a yard filled with farm animals, a good corn crop, the absence of drought. Abundance is a dream we all wish for, worldwide. We sent a prayer to our mom who just died. Lit a candle. Made our tribute.

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

Here young men play with fire. They soak a special log in kerosene and take turns throwing it off to the next one in the circle. A pre-Hispanic ritual, someone explains to me.

Families gather around campfires. Some have pitched tents and spend the night there New Year’s Eve. There are cooking stoves and the smell of grilled meat fills the air.

 

Each year on January 1, I always like to arrive by 4 p.m. to get there in time for sunset. This gives me a chance to gather rocks and join the locals to build a miniature structure that will symbolize plenty in the year to come.

 

Small plastic barnyard animals are for sale at the entrance to the caves. You can add these to the front yard of your house or build a roof with leafy branches gathered from the countryside. 

As sun sets, the sparklers twinkle and we get into the rhythm of the evening. It is festive and makes us pause to reflect on the past year and the one to come.

This year I had my son, sister, brother-in-law and goddaughter with me, along with friends, so being at Las Cuevitas was a special time. We made wishes, gave thanks, remembered parents and grandparents, and looked out onto the Tlacolula Valley from the mountain top.

More than a few of us played with fire. As sunset became night, the hillside filled with a display of light that could be seen from the Pan-American highway.

 

Wishing you all a 2016 filled with love, all that you wish for including blessings, peace, health, contentment and satisfaction. Thank you for being with me on this remarkable journey.

Un abrazo, Norma.

P.S. If you want to come and spend the night, make your reservations early! There is a limited supply of rooms in Teotitlan del Valle and I know some people were disappointed they couldn’t be here.

Happy Holidays From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Procession on the Calle

It’s festival season in Teotitlan del Valle. It was a full moon, a large globe of yellow light illuminating the path and all who walked it. On Christmas Eve baby Jesus is carried on a pillow through the winding cobblestone streets by the patron of the *last posada. He is followed by a litter holding statues of Mary and Joseph shouldered by four young women.

A moment's rest. Christmas Eve Procession, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

A moment’s rest. Christmas Eve Procession, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

The procession is flanked on one side by men, the other side women, each carrying lit decorated beeswax candles adorned with handmade wax flowers. Firecrackers boom out in front. A man swings a copal incense burner. The aroma is sweet, intense. Children and adults tweet whistles. The drummer keeps the pulse of the crowd throbbing.

 

We pick up people along the way to join in. Some stand at street corners or in doorways. Even the smallest of children participate. Early acculturation to custom and tradition.

 

The timing is precise. The procession must arrive at the church exactly at 10 p.m. for the evening mass to return the figures to their rightful resting places for another year, when the cycle will be repeated again with different actors.

Waiting to kiss and bless Baby Jesus before the church procession.

Waiting to kiss and bless Baby Jesus before the church procession.

My son, sister and brother-in-law are here and I’ve had the joy of being a tourist in my own town for the last few days. This night, we got to the house of the patron a little after 7 p.m. to learn that the procession that would leave the house to get to the church wouldn’t begin until 8 p.m.

La Dueña holds the infant as guests line up to bless him and await the procession.

Being the wonderful, hospitable people that Teotitecos are, we got invited in to see the creche and the blessing ceremony before the group gathered to walk the streets of the village.

Outdoor comal or cooking area for food preparation

Outdoor kitchen for food preparation, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My sister, a flautist, struck up a conversation with the band leader who invited her to join them at a special morning band ceremony on December 31 that will welcome in the new year. Start time? 4 a.m.!  I’m not sure Barbara is going to make it.

Along the procession path, a pop-up restaurant

Along the procession path, a pop-up restaurant

Tradition in this village is to have a family meal at midnight after the mass ends to welcome the birth of Dios Niño. This is a feast of tamales, wine, mezcal, salad, chicken, stuffed pork, turkey or whatever other favorite entree the family likes. There may be beans, rice, fresh vegetables from the fields, ponché (like a sweet fruit cider), fresh fruit and an extravagant dessert.

It is an honor to be in the procession lighting the way.

It is an honor to be in the procession lighting the way.

There is no big festival meal served during Christmas Day here like in the USA. Families relax, stroll, play games. So, I asked Josefina if she would prepare a carry out. Roasted chicken spiced with salsa roja, mixed with carrots, green beans, squash and potatoes, served with organic rice and beans.  Surprise, Lupita shows up with a gift of handcrafted chile rellenos stuffed with chicken.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

We finished on the rooftop terrace with wine and a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the Tlacolula Valley. The red sun vanished in the west.

Almost midnight Christmas Eve dinner, Barbara, Ixcel Guadalupe, Ernestina

Almost midnight Christmas Eve dinner, Barbara, Ixcel Guadalupe, Ernestina

*The Last Posada: La Ultima Posadais actually on December 23, when Mary and Joseph move to the Casa de la Patron for the final evening before the birth of Jesus.  The baby appears at this house on December 24, is cradled by the woman of the household, then is held by the patron under a canopy as the procession leaves the house and moves through the village to the church. This December 24 event is called La Procession.

Wishing you season's greeting with health and joy always.

Wishing you the season’s best with health and joy always.

Technical issues: My USB internet connection is REALLY slow these last days. It takes about 30 minutes to upload one photo! So this is a delayed post. Lots of intervening activities since I wrote this: The radish festival, a trip to Hierve El Agua, and a mezcal exploration to the remote mountain village of San Juan Del Rio. More to come.

 

 

 

Three More Posada Days in Teotitlan del Valle: Magical Moments

Counting tonight, there will be three more posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this year, December 22, 23 and 24.  Christmas Eve is La Ultima Posada, the last posada, when Mary and Joseph settle into the Bethlehem manger and give birth to baby Jesus.

The posadas leading up to this event each year recreate this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in what was then known as Judea, land of the Jews, populated by people who called themselves Israelites. Posada means inn or resting place in Spanish, the search for lodging by Mary and Joseph.

Well, I’m not a biblical scholar so if you want to know more about history and identity during this period, there are volumes to consult and study.

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition is to pass through the entire village each night for nine days to honor Mary and Joseph, and the coming birth of Jesus.

Memoir Writing Workshop, March 2016

Hosts of the posada designate this honor to carry sedan chair that supports the carved wood figures to close family members or friends. Other special designees carry handmade beeswax candles decorated with wax flowers at the front of the line.

There are always two bands, one far ahead and one behind the sedan chair. They form a musical call and response, one somber, one energetic. Fireworks, firecrackers, candles and copal incense also help guide the way and announce the posada’s progress.

The posada goes through each neighborhood and as it does, villagers fall in behind until there is a long stream of people — young and old — tagging along. The older women, hair in braids, heads covered with ikat woven shawls, are often the most dedicated. Grandmothers hold babes in arms, toddlers hold the hands of an older brother or sister.  Cultural education begins early.

Finally, the procession comes to the home of the next night’s posada host. There, the family will rest overnight and through the next day, then continue their journey until December 24.

Each host provides a huge, on-going meal and beverages, and guarantees that all the costs will be covered. Invited guests will bring a case of beer and/or mezcal as a tribute. Food and drink is prepared for hundreds.

As I walked the dirt and cobblestone streets along with my Zapotec neighbors, I thought about how connected these people are with each other and their traditions. It is winter solstice. Days will lengthen. The religious and cultural cycle will move into Easter by mid-February. There are always rituals one can depend on here to keep community intact.

Do you want to visit and participate?  Stay at Casa Elena B&B or at Las Granadas B&B. Ask your hosts to tell you where the posada is located. They will point the way and my bet is you will be welcome to join. Posadas start about 7 p.m. and end a couple of hours later.

Now, a word about night photography. I didn’t carry a tripod for my new camera. There was constant people movement so a tripod would have been useless. In the house of the posada, the fluorescent light put a yellow glare out into the environment. The shadows were deep. As we moved out onto the narrow, dark, dirt paved street there was little light and I had to increase ISO to 10,000.  There in the distance were the strobes of local video cameramen. FYI: I rarely use flash.

This is all to say that my night photos were not very successful. But, I’m publishing them anyway so you get the gist of what this celebration feels like. It’s better to be here yourself to feel the experience.