Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Inside Out: Primer to Buying Mexico Handmade Clothing — Quality Tips

On Friday, I took a 40-minute trip with my friend Laurita to Magdalena Teitepac in the foothills on the other side of the Carretera Nacional Mexico 190 (aka Panamerican Highway) for the purposes of textile shopping, always my favorite past-time.

Magdalena Teitipac church next to the municipal building

The Zapotec village is beyond San Juan Guelavia, the basket-making village. A group of entrepreneurial Magdalena women who do needlework staged this First Annual Embroidery and Weaving Fair, promoted with a banner hanging from the highway overpass. Laurita spotted it coming home one day.

Can you tell if this beautiful embroidery is hand- or machine-stitched?

Spaces Open: Chiapas Textile Study Tour 

  • Study Tour 1 — February 13-22, 2018
  • Study Tour 2 — February 27-March 8, 2018

The visit got me thinking about quality variations in clothing that is sewn, embroidered, woven and crocheted here in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.

Some of the women showing us their needlework blouses.

We are coming into Oaxaca’s peak tourist season when travelers come from all over the world, and many snowbirds plant their wings here from December through March.

Great cut-work and embroidery with unfinished seams

It is particularly challenging for first-time visitors who are blown away by the quantity of blouses, huipils, rebozos and other garments sold by street vendors, in small markets, and in tourist shops throughout the city.

Beaded blouses finished with French seams on 100% cotton, the best

How do you know what to buy and how much to pay for it?

Tip #1: Shop around. Look before buying. Look at lot. Go in and out of stores. Stop and look at the clothing the vendors have for sale. Ask prices. See what you like. Take your time.

Tip #2: Turn the garment inside out. Look at the seam edges of the cloth. Are they finished with a machined zigzag stitch or serger for reinforcement? Has the cloth edge been trimmed with a pinking shears? It is rough and will it unravel after a few washings? How strong are the stitches?

Softest, finest manta cloth, great embroidery, dense pleating

Tip #3: Check out the fabric. Is it populina?  This is what locals call the commercial cloth mix of cotton/polyester blend. Locals like this cloth because it dries much faster than pure cotton. It is also less expensive. Is it manta? This is 100% cotton cloth, more expensive, and preferred by many of us for softness, wearability and comfort.

Populina has a sheen. You can feel the polyester.

Tip #4: Check out the cloth again. If it’s manta, is it a fine, lighter weight weave or it is coarse and scratchy? Is it yellow color or white? What are your preferences?

#whomademyclothes .... is a Fashion Revolution movement dedicated to sourcing textiles direct from makers, awareness for buying disposable clothing made from cheap materials, assembled by underpaid workers.

Tip #5: If the clothing is embroidered, how fine is the embroidery? Is it by hand or machined? Are the stitches dense or loose? What about the crochet edge? Is it tied off or are there loose threads? Is it shiny, synthetic thread, dense/coarse polyester thread or good quality cotton?

Amazing pleated work from the Mixteca, with coarse embroidery yarn

Tip #6: Shop first in some of the better clothing galleries like Los Baules de Juana Cata or Arte de Amusgos to compare what you see on the street. See what the best looks like. Turn these inside out. Look at the finish work. Are the edges straight? What about the stitches that join two lengths of hand-woven cloth together? How is the neckline finished? What about the hem?

Want to buy direct from artisans? Take a study tour!

Tip #7: Price is usually based on quality, but not always. I recently bought a beautiful deshillado and embroidered blusa in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. I paid 2,500 pesos, quite a lot!  The embroidery is exquisite and the crochet edges are fine. The seams are not finished well and I may need to take it under the needle of my sewing machine to reinforce it. But, I knew that when I bought it.

Locals gather for the Magdalena Teitipac Feria

What are you willing to pay? What is it worth to you? Is there a whimsical design you like and you are willing to sacrifice some of the quality issues?

Tip #8: Don’t hesitate to walk away because you notice stains on the cloth, raveling threads or holes in the seams. Work is done quickly and quality can suffer.

I’ve seen excellent work done on very poor cloth.  I’ve seen embroidered, beaded and woven pieces made by one women that are attached to cloth that doesn’t match. Needlework and sewing can often be made by two different people. The sewing can be haphazard. The corners don’t match up and the joining work isn’t good. It is up to us to educate ourselves and to also say in a gracious, caring way, that we would like a better quality product.

We can support artisans and cooperatives who take the time to work on quality improvement.

Banner advertising the event

Tip #9: When is a bargain not a bargain? When the color bleeds. When the seams unravel. When the embroidery stitching loosens. When you get it home and ask, Why did I buy that?

Tip #10: Please know that because you are in Mexico, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BARGAIN. It is not a culture of bargaining, much to the surprise of many. The average daily wage is 150 pesos, or about $8 USD. We have a big advantage. The exchange rate is about 18-19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to create a handmade textile. Let’s pay people a fair wage for their labor and creativity. They will offer a discount because they need to feed their families, not because it is part of the “game.”

On the street, Magdalena Teitipac

Did I buy anything in Magdalena Teitipac? Yes, a lovely, beribboned apron for 100 pesos and some amazing artisan chocolate from Tlacolula, 20 pesos a bag.

Why didn’t I buy a blusa? Because indigenous women here in Oaxaca like their blouses tight across the chest and snug under the arms. Sizes are deceiving and it’s best to try something on first, otherwise you can get it home and find out it doesn’t fit. Nothing fit me!

Basket weavers outside the Magdalena Teitipac market

Cooperatives working with NGOs on product improvement are receiving education about quality control, making finished seams,and patterns to fit women from the U.S.A. and Canada.

If you have any tips you’d like to share, please add them.

Of course, the final caveat is always — if you love it, buy it. You’ll never see the same thing again!

 

 

Dance of the Feather Tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan del Valle‘s Los Danzantes are famous throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. They make a commitment to the church four years before they actually begin their three-year term to perform La Danza de la Pluma — The Dance of the Feather — at all village festivals.

The Moctezuma flanked by Doña Marina and La Malinche, Mexico’s dualities

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, on December 12 and the days leading up to it, is an important part of their agreement.

Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield

On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.

Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers

These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.

Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows

They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.

Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them

It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.

Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico

The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.

Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design

If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.

Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow

As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.

Volunteer committee members pay respects

As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.

Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.

A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade

The band is an essential part of every fiesta

Children play atop the courtyard cross.

The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!

Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade

Side door entry to church from interior courtyard

A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church

If you visit, please make a donation for renovations

Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard

Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time

Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queen of Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle

The three-day celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, leading up to December 12 to honor Mexico’s favorite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, started on December 10 with a 5 p.m. calenda (procession) that began in the church courtyard.

Parade of the Canastas winds through village streets for three miles

But, I arrived early, at 1 p..m., to find a couple celebrating a wedding in the church, followed by a group of cyclists from Teotitlan who arrived at 2 p.m. at the end of their journey from Juquila. They had pedaled 36-hours in a caravan complete with altar and bicycle repair sag wagon.

Bikes parked in church courtyard while cyclists receive blessings inside

A photo diary of the afternoon:

Celebrants holding fragrant poleo, part of the calenda ritual

You need to understand that in the hierarchy of religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe is at the top. She is the embodiment of the pre-Hispanic corn goddess melded with the Virgin Mary by the conquerers. She is mother earth, goddess of nature and symbolic of life and the empowerment of women. God and Jesus are next in line. It’s what we call syncretism here.

Cousins Maya and Alicia were among the hundreds of young women chosen

Men volunteer to accompany, carry the bamboo baskets for relief

Onlookers at street corners take photos, applaud, acculturate children

And the band plays on, actually two of them!, accompanying Los Danzantes

At intervals, Dance of the Feather participants stop with a dance

Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith along the way

Little girls are acculturated early to the importance of community ritual and tradition

This serape is old, woven in the 1960’s I was told

The young women started out at the homes of the Mayordomos, Fidel Cruz and Bulmaro Perez, who both live on the main entry road to the village, almost to the main highway, MEXICO 190 (Panamerican Highway). At the end of the night, they were tired. Mayordomo definition: The chief sponsor, organizer and funder of an major village event.

Yes, these baskets are very heavy. They walked at least five miles.

Watching from the second story along the parade route.

Ixcel Guadalupe gets ready to start the calenda from the church courtyard.

This dancer’s protective shield was hand-woven by his father years ago

After all had assembled in the church courtyard, the procession began: first the children holding papier-mache stanchions of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and dogs. Then came the chief of the fireworks, sending spiraling smoke bombs into the air, then Secundino (age 90+) playing the traditional Zapotec flute.

Barbara, David and Jo Ann came from California and New Mexico

He was followed by the Danzantes (Dance of the Feather participants), then the young maidens in traditional dress holding elaborate, heavy baskets on their heads.

All ages enjoy the pageantry

Since there were two mayordomos, there were two bands and two groups of young women, sponsored by each. It was quite a spectacle.

The calenda: firecrackers, music, giant balloons, children with duck, turkey flags

I decided to follow and the pace was easy enough that I found myself often midway or at the front of the group — until I recognized village friends, stopped to chat, and got left behind, only to dash to catch up again. The three miles went quickly.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico

Dance of the Feather group with Moctezuma, La Malinche and Doña Marina

At the end, I joined Barbara, David, J0 Ann and Beverly for a quiet dinner of homemade memelas, yogurt jello, atole, and fruit provided by  host Bulmaro Perez and family. I brought the cuishe mezcal!

Assembly in the church courtyard at the end of the calenda, at dusk.

Tonight, Monday, the fireworks start at 9 p.m. The last fireworks I attended announced for 9 p.m. got going around 11 p.m.

I’m not sure I can stay up that late!

I took the dogs on a long, three-mile walk out to the border of our neighboring village, and I’m not very energetic.

Today’s walk in the campo, with a new discovery: swimming hole

Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12, the Dance of the Feather begins in the church courtyard, they say at noon and will go until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. followed by another calenda of the church committee.

Leaping Danzantes. They get off their feet.

The Juquila bicyclists’ sag wagon

Long live the Queen of Mexico, Virgin of Guadalupe

 

Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Schedule

From the looks of this poster, most of the festivities celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe — La Virgen de Guadalupe — in Teotitlan del Valle, will happen on Sunday, December 10, 2017 and Monday, December 11, 2017.

For those of you planning to be here on December 12, to celebrate Mexico’s most important saint, you may be disappointed! Not much is happening by then unless you want to attend the church mass.

Complete schedule for Teotitlan’s Virgin of Guadalupe Celebration

I know this poster is hard to read. So, here is the cut-and-paste I did for Sunday, December 10, schedule. 

Sunday, December 10, schedule

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the celebration continues with young women of the village dressed in traditional clothing and canastas (baskets) filled with flowers, who gather in the church courtyard with the Dance of the Feather dancers.

At 4 p.m. begins the Calenda (parade) along the main streets of the village, accompanied by the band.

At 7 p.m. they arrive at the house of the First Mayordomo C. Fidel Cruz Lazo.

The schedule for Monday, December 11, 2017 is …

Monday, December 11, schedule, Teotitlan del Valle

Looks like Monday, is the big day. At 2 p.m. there is a celebration of mass with vespers. Then, at 7 p.m. will be the calendas followed by a castle of fireworks at 8 p.m.

Hope to see you at the Calenda!

The Mayordomos and Committees who make the celebration possible!

The Mayordomos and Committees

Happy Halloween and Chicken Pozole for Dia de los Muertos

A friend told me this week that she heard from her Mexican relatives that this time of year offers the most transparent veil in the atmosphere, which is why the spirits can more easily return. Welcome to Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead.

The difunta paddling home through the veil of transparency, by Josefina Aguilar

We do Halloween up big here in the USA. One day. Trick-or-treat. Spend billions on the holiday (costumes, candy, decor) and most of us have no idea of the origins. In Latin countries — the Americas and southern Europe — where Catholicism took hold, the season gives us three days to honor and remember loved ones and ancestors, many who we did not know but appreciate for our heritage.

Searing poblano chiles on the comal iron griddle I brought from Mexico

I’m preparing for Dia de los Muertos on November 2, when the spirits return to their graves. I’ve ordered a mix of fresh tamales and pan de muerto from La Superior. I’ve shopped at the best Latino supermarket, Compare, fully stocked with all needs Mexico. I’ll make slaw and apple pie, using my mom’s pie recipe.

Removing the skin from the poblano pepper: use a paring knife lightly scraping

My menu includes pozole verde with chicken (see Serious Eats recipe) that I will start today. I’m a make-it-up-as-you-go-along cook. I usually consult several recipes, look at the ingredients I prefer (they always vary according to who is cooking), and then go at it. Innovation is important to me.

Here is a good one from Epicurious.

De-vein and remove seeds, stem

The stock for the pozole verde (click for Bon Appetit recipe) is a tomatillo, onion, garlic, carrot, chili poblano, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf base. I simmered all these ingredients together first for about an hour. Warning: the poblano needs to be charred on a griddle or over a gas flame to peel off the tough skin.

Soak peppers in water for 10 minutes to remove heat, drain

Tomorrow, I’ll add the hominy that I will have soaked overnight and then cooked. I’ll also add cooked organic chicken leg meat, using the stock for the base, and shredding the meat off the bone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dried hominy. Soak it, then cook it, or buy canned

Slice poblanos and add to pot. Simmer until carrots are fork tender.

Garnish with sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, and thin sliced jalapeño peppers. Ready to eat. When prepared a few days in advance, the flavors have a chance to mingle!

Mexican spices from La Superior

You can actually add the seasonings and hominy to the base above, simmer for flavor development, and keep the chicken aside to satisfy the vegetarians.

Watch the heat. Use peppers for garnish to accommodate taste.

Food is comfort and memory. This is why we love the celebration of holidays, to remember the meals around the table, who was with us. We remember Halloween for costumes (homemade, then), whether we could fill the bag completely with candy, where we went for the best neighborhood hand-outs.

Panteon Xoxocotlan I, Dia de los Muertos 2010

I add a eucalyptus (bay) leaf to the stock. I remember the rustling of the eucalyptus trees in the wind that bounded the vast orange tree orchard across the street from where I lived in the San Fernando Valley. That was when the orchards of oranges, lemons and walnuts were plentiful, before the great migration of settlement that turned it all to concrete. I was scared. The aroma was heady, the kids held each others’ hands. The time when parents had little to worry about when the treat was an apple.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos, 2015

What do you remember?