This is our 8th year to offer the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat from June 22-29, 2018. We want a full-house and are offering a 10% discount off the already high-value, low price of $895 for a shared room and $1195 for a single room. It’s not too late to get on board and join us.
Who is this for? Beginning and experienced writers, those who believe they can do it and need inspiration and coaching, note-jotters and margin-scribblers. Do you have an idea for a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a travel piece or family history? This is the place for you.
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the State of Michoacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It encompasses most of the municipality of Angangueo, an old mining town high in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and the Sierra Angangueo. Average altitude here is 8,500 feet.
There are several sanctuaries where the Monarchs gather in colonies that sometimes reach over 20 million individuals. They travel more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) from Canada to Mexico from November through March, completing several generations of the life cycle.
We will have a half-day plus a full day in Angangueo on February 8 and 9 of our January 31 to February 11 study tour to explore one or two butterfly sanctuaries and the historic mining town. We will arrive from Patzcuaro in time for 12:30-2:30 p.m. butterfly activity. You get into the sanctuary by horseback or hiking. Your tour includes transportation into the sanctuary by horse!
Butterfly life cycle
Six spaces are spoken for! Four spaces are available. Is one of them for you?
Wandering around San Cristobal de Las Casas last week I discovered Punto y Trama, on Belisario Dominguez #13b, just two blocks off the Andador Real de Guadalupe walking street. What drew me in was the sign on the door that announced PomPom workshops.
Lazaro Ramirez trimming a PomPom to perfection
Then, once inside I immediately noticed the furry wool Chamula woven shawls adorned with PomPoms. A new fashion trend, I noted.
First, you wrap 6 threads of yarn around a tube 150 times.
Slide the yarn off the tube.
PomPoms are big here in San Cristobal. They dangle from everything: necks, ears, wrists, shoulder and handbags, woven string shopping bags, and garments. They serve as functional ties and outrageous adornment. Sometimes they are combined with hearts, beads, Frida portraits, tassels.
Tie the yarn tight with waxed linen
I decided to take a PomPom making workshop, fascinated by another way to work with fiber as part of textile and clothing design.
Cut all the loops open
Cut, cut, cut, holding the yarn ball at the poles
This is a three-hour one-day workshop OR six-hour two-day workshop taught by Lazaro Ramirez, whose family is originally from Magdalenas Aldama. The cost is 350 pesos per session. That translates to about $18 USD at the current exchange rate.
Keep cutting around the equator, turning the ball constantly
Use a sharp scissor. You’ll be cutting bits at a time, like shaving
At the end of three hours I had made three PomPoms. I decided to order the quantity I wanted from Lazaro instead of making them myself. The class exercise gave me a great appreciation for the time needed to craft one PomPom, which he sells at 15 pesos each. And, each one is perfect.
The green one is almost done but still ragged. Yellow is perfect.
Fifteen pesos each equals about eight cents. That’s eight cents an hour, including labor and materials.
Here is the PomPom and tassel I made. Lazaro made the heart.
Lazaro says you can use wool to make the PomPoms, but synthetic polyester yarn is finer and gives a tight, compact product with glorious colors — electric, like the people here prefer.
Included in the class are heart making and embroidery techniques
I learned all the wrapping, tying and cutting techniques. The most time consuming is to hold the PomPom at the “north and south poles” and to cut along the “equator,” constantly turning until a perfect ball forms. Not an easy task, I learned.
Choose your style of PomPom and heart, examples to make
Inspired, Juanita takes the class tonight.
I intend to use the PomPoms to decorate the checked wool shawls I bought in Chamula last week. They make great pillows, bed throws, or a shoulder covering on a chilly night — with pizzazz.
PomPom adorned wool shawl hand-woven in Chamula, back strap loom
Punto y Trama owner Manuela Trevini Bellini supports #fashionrevolution
#fashrev: It’s estimated that 80 billion pieces of clothing are shipped from factories and distributed around the world.
Oaxaca and Chiapas have a lot in common. They are the two poorest states in Mexico, have the lowest literacy rates and in the rural areas there is little or no access to health care.
Chiapas and Oaxaca have the highest percentage of indigenous people in Mexico, yet they are under-represented in politics and business, lack access to education.
Because of the rural character of each state, people are isolated and removed from the mainstream. They produce some of the most exquisite textiles in all of Mexico.
For this entire time in Chiapas, I am using only my iPhone 8Plus with zoom lens. All the photos you’ve seen since February 12 are from my portable device with very little editing. I’m a devotee. Thinking of selling other equipment!
Thank you for following this adventure. There is more to come. Our Chiapas Textile Study Tour Group 2 starts this coming Tuesday evening.
Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.
Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa
Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.
Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom
This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.
Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom
On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.
Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes
Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.
A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make
Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:
The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
The sacred forest — pine trees
The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas
During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.
How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?
First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).
Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth
Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.
The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo
After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.
Young nursing mother waits for a sale
Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.
Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)
Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.
Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough
Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different.
Children entertaining themselves. No television here.
Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.
Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes
Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?
Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes
Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.
Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children
Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.
Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes
Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace