Flouncy Aprons of San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle.  The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.

Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.

This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.

Four Aprons For Sale, Below.

Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday

But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.

Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)

These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.

Work in progress on the sewing machine

I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.

Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD

When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.

SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.

Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece.  Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.

SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.

How to Buy

  • Send me an email. norma.schafer@icloud.com
  • Tell me your name and mailing address
  • Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
  • I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
  • I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA

Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?

SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.

Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.

I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.

#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.

A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel

We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).

Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.

Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.

Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.

Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.

In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!

Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.

Susie’s Regrets Sale: Three Fine Rebozos (Shawls)

Three fine rebozos at a glance: Tenancingo de Degollado and Oaxaca

Susie’s traveled with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator to Tenancingo de Degollado to explore the ikat weaving and rebozo making culture of Mexico. She has since returned with us to other parts of Mexico, including Chiapas and the Oaxaca Coast. Meanwhile, on that trip she picked up a few beautiful pieces she hasn’t yet worn and after seeing that I was helping Leslie sell her regrets, asked me if I could try to resell these for her. We know the provenance!

#1. The intricate fringe, all hand-knotted on the Rose Rebozo

#1. Rose Rebozo. This rebozo, or fringed shawl, is hand-woven on a flying shuttle, four harness loom in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) by one of the finest weavers in town, Jesus Zarate. What makes this textile most remarkable is the fringe. It is completely hand-knotted by Fitalina, considered to be the greatest puntadora or fringe-knotter in all of Mexico. It took her three months to make this luxurious fringe after the weaver sold her the fine cotton hand-woven cloth.  This is a large shawl, called a Chalina because it has no pattern in the cloth, is akin to what Frida Kahlo preferred, and is part of Mexican female identity. It measures 90″ long (including the fringe) and 29″ wide.  This exceptional piece is $335 USD. Price includes mailing via USPS Priority Mail to anywhere in 48 U.S. states.

#1. Full length view of pink rebozo

How to Buy

Send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

  • Tell me which piece(s) you want by number.
  • Tell me your complete name, mailing address and email.
  • I will send you a PayPal invoice.
  • As soon as I receive payment, I will confirm and we will prepare for mailing. You should be receiving your order within 5-7 days.
  • This group will be mailed from a remote corner of Northern California in the Lake Shasta region.

#2. Double weave cotton rebozo from the Sierra Mixe, Oaxaca

#2. This rebozo was commissioned by the famed Remigio Mestas of Oaxaca, who works with the finest back-strap loom weavers in villages throughout the state. This is a double-faced weave, soft and cozy cotton, difficult to execute, woven by Maria Teodora from the Sierra Mixe Alta. One face shows indigo blue natural dye. The red-brown rust color on the second side is achieved with encino or red oak. The Sierra Mixe region of Oaxaca is about eight hours from Oaxaca city on the way to the Pacific coast, high in the mountains. Fringes are hand-twisted. It measures 102″ long (including fringe) and 29″ wide. $345 USD and includes USPS priority mailing to continental 48 U.S. states.

#2. Indigo blue dyed rebozo

#2. View of side dyed with encino (red oak)

#3. Cotton ikat hand-woven fabric, with fringes

#3. This Magenta Rebozo is from the Xoxopastli studio in Malinalco operated by designer Camilla Ramos, famous throughout Mexico for her intricate ikat rebozos and Colonial-style puntas or fringes. It is among the finest workmanship in the country. This one is woven on the four-harness flying shuttle loom. Ikat is achieved by dyeing the warp threads. Every one of the 6,000 threads of the warp must be exactly on register for the pattern to match up. This pattern is called Chispas and is created from brown, hot pink and white cotton threads. It measures 80″ long (including the fringe) and 29″ wide. Cost is $225 USD including mailing via USPS priority mail to anywhere in 48 US states.

#3. Full length view of Xoxopastli ikat rebozo

It’s not likely I will take another group to Tenancingo, so this may be your best chance to get as close to the source as possible!

Centro Cultural Communitario Teotitlan del Valle: Tribute to Cultural Heritage

It’s been a week since the new Community Cultural Center debuted on August 18, 2018 with a grand opening event. It was spectacular! What I love about the new Centro Cultural Communitario is it’s tri-lingual explanation of village life and values in Zapotec, Spanish and English. I also love the simplicity of PRODUCTORA’s architectural design that brings past into present.

Bringing food for the celebration, a traditional feast

The center explanations begin with a discussion about what is on display, exploring three core themes: indigenous customs and uses (usos y costumbres), artisanal production, and celebrations and ceremonies.

When we think of Teotitlan del Valle, tapetes or rugs, come to mind

Most importantly, the curators raise the question, What is cultural heritage?  We need a context for this center and what it means. It is not a museum, per se, but a gathering place, an educational space to share, discuss, and learn. They explain that “Cultural Heritage includes tangible goods — works of art, historical and archeological monuments, urban and natural landscapes — as well as the intangible practices of a people — expressions, beliefs, knowledge or techniques, that which are cherished and passed down by the community generation to generation.”

[The Dance of the Feather, video above,  is one key ingredient to cultural heritage. The dancers make a three-year promise to community and church that is a serious undertaking. This is not a folkloric dance, as many think, but essential to identity.]

The grand plaza that joins old adobe and modern concrete.

I don’t think we can talk about cultural heritage without addressing the issue of cultural appropriation. This is an important topic in Oaxaca and worldwide when the dominant culture adopts elements of the minority culture, often for commercial benefit without recompense to the originators.

Designed by PRODUCTORA, Mexico

“The array of tradition-based creations such as worldview, mythology, usos y costumbres, language, literature, music, dances, games, ceremonies, and crafts, among others, constitute the intangible cultural heritage also known as a living heritage,” they say.


The Grand Opening featured traditional dances, including the Jarabe del Valle from this Tlacolula de Matamoros ensemble. The dance is part of every village festivity, especially weddings, quinceanera’s and birthdays.

Ernestina in the comparsa with traditional basket of sugar flowers

Ultra-modern edifice sits between traditional rug market and municipal offices

For me, an important reason to live and celebrate life in Teotitlan del Valle is all bundled up in an ancient, deeply rooted history of thousands of years. More than having survived, Teotitlan del Valle has thrived because her people have innovated, adapted, changed and evolved while continuing to honor and respect tradition. At the core of this is the family and community.

Lila Downs and Paul Cohen are madrina/padrino of grand opening

Abigail Mendoza of Tlamanalli Restaurant* fame wove her skirt, is committee head

[A Note About Abigail Mendoza: Anthony Bourdain discovered her and she became famous. Abigail and her sisters operate famed Tlamanalli Restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle. She has made a two-year volunteer service commitment to head up the cultural center committee, part of usos y costumbres traditions. She told me this responsibility may have an impact on how often the restaurant will be open. Abigail is also the sister of the famous artist/weaver Arnulfo Mendoza who died in 2014.]

Carved wood arrow holder on display with woven strap

The curators continue by saying that: ” Teotitlan del Valle is characterized by its remarkable artisanal production of tapestries and carved candles, the elaboration techniques of which are passed down through generations within the nuclear family.  The workshops are located in households, meaning that the profession plays a part in everyday life.  Making yarn, dyeing, weaving and carving candles are learned from childhood.  The manufacturing of handicrafts is the embodiment of community and family tradition which comes from its origins in the ancient Zapotec people.  It is the vehicle to express their individual creativity, their emotions, and worldview. Additionally, for most of the people of the town, this is their main source of income.”

Hand-made beeswax candles are a core part of celebrations

On display are the hand-made beeswax candles from the family of Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art Viviana Alavez Hipolito. The work passes through the generations. Women who marry into the family learn and do it, too. It is not merely decoration. It is part of ceremonial life. Church and home altars are festooned with these candles. Only three candle makers remain in Teotitlan del Valle.

Traditional beeswax candle making

Cochineal and pigment samples on wool

A highlight of the space are videos of traditions, practices and examples of life. All the videos have English subtitles, a nod to the value and importance of English-speaking visitors to Teotitlan del Valle. It helps us understand more!

How well do we teach our children who we are, what we value?

In many traditions, continuity depends on how well we inculcate values and practices in our children. The community cultural center does more than show and tell visitors — nationals and foreigners — about essential practices. It says to local children that they can be proud of their heritage and make a commitment to carry it forward.

Library, learning and workshop spaces

Indigo and pigment samples on wool

The process of using natural dyes on wool to weave tapestries on the two-pedal loom is part of the cultural center exhibit space. This is an intense and time-consuming process, much more complex and expensive than using aniline (chemical) dyes. Only about a dozen families in the village of 6,000 people work in natural dyes, though many more know how to give the demonstration.

We took a break to go to Arte y Seda for sopa de guias lunch. Que rico!

Visitor Hours:  Quien sabe? Who knows?

Even the handrails are a visual delight

I’ve been privileged to live with a Zapotec family in this village for thirteen years. I live on their land in a casita that I built that will revert to the family when I no longer live here. This is also part of usos y costumbres traditions. No foreigners can own land here. We have no written contract. Our arrangement is based on our word of commitment to each other, that we call trust. A model for how the world might be.

 

 

 

 

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Party for the Animals Fundraiser Report — Over the Goal

Thanks to everyone for your generosity! Yesterday’s fundraiser to support the Teotitlan del Valle Spay Neuter Clinic was a huge success. We raised over 8,000 pesos through local donations and 10,000 pesos from antique and collectible sales from Merry Foss’ bodega. Plus, I’m calculating that an added $485 USD came in via online donations through PayPal from friends who were unable to be here.

This totals about $1,438 USD.  This covers a lot of sterilizations for dogs and cats here in Teotitlan del Valle, plus enables Merry Foss to start a more comprehensive education program about why it is important to spay/neuter animals.

Even with the threat of rain and eventual sprinkles, about 30 people came from Oaxaca City and Teotitlan del Valle, plus other nearby pueblos of Tlacochuaya and Huayapam.  Some we knew and some we didn’t! It was great to have this show of support.  We enjoyed Rosario’s handmade flautas de papas — the homemade organic tortillas were filled with a spicy potato puree, pure yum. Ernestina crafted 50 black bean tamales flavored with an avocado leaf, plus 125 tamales with chicken and yellow mole sauce. Not much was left!

Mission Statement

Teotitlan Spay Neuter Clinic Mission Statement

I provided the food. Guests brought their favorite beverage. I’ll have another fundraiser party for the clinic in January 2019. I’m grateful to Merry for what she does to improve quality of life for animals and people here in our village. And, the service allowed me to easily sterilize the dogs I call pets: Mamacita, Butch and Tia.

My right hand person, Rosario!

Our friend Winn, who carried donations from friends in the city

Moises and Lois brought the most delicious horchata

Merry with Moises and Lois

Pure veggies

Only 4 flautas were left

Moises, me and Lois

 

 

 

 

 

Leslie’s Regrets Sale: Clothing From Chiapas and Oaxaca

I had this crazy idea of starting an on-line e-commerce website marketplace to sell and resell new and like-new Mexico clothing AND my own dress design.

(Skip the story, if you like, and scroll down to the goods.)

(I’ve been making and wearing the same dress pattern in different fabrics for the last several years. I thought, oh, I could make and sell these dresses too, because women have stopped to ask me where I bought  it!)

I bought a domain name and tried to set up a Shopify store for the last two weeks. I’m frustrated. I can’t seem to get it. Too complicated. Too much time invested without decent results. Not good enough to publish, yet.

Meanwhile, I promised my friend Leslie, who did more than what was required to support artisan weavers and dyers on trips she took with me to Chiapas and the Oaxaca coast, to help her sell what she bought and has not worn.  So, here are six beautiful pieces of clothing. You buy from me and Leslie ships to you from Denver, Colorado. Easy. You get it in a few days! See below on how to buy.

#1. San Antonino embroidered and crochet blouse in black and white

#1. SOLD. Flowers galore like a summer garden filled with pansies in a subdued palette of black, white with a tad of blue/gray for accent and depth. A masterful piece of embroidery work from one of the greats in the Oaxaca village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Brand new, never worn. Easy wash by hand or in machine on gentle, cold water, hang to dry. No ironing needed. Size Medium. $225 USD includes 3-day priority shipping in continental USA.

#1 detail of B&W San Antonino blusa

#2 San Mateo del Mar double-weave shawl, deep purple

#2. This stunning shawl was made on the back-strap loom in the Oaxaca Coast community of San Mateo del Mar. In 2017, the town was hit by an immense earthquake and the village was decimated. Many weavers suffered, losing their homes. We bought this at an earthquake relief sale on our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour to benefit the weavers. It is 100% cotton and 100% made-by-hand. One-of-a-kind. For those of you who love graphic design and making a fashion impact, this shawl will fulfill all your wishes. Note: The shawl photographs black but it is a deep purple. New and never worn. 22-1/2″ wide x 75″ long. $200 includes 3-day priority USPS mailing in lower 48 states.

#2 has a beautiful drape, fine details

#3 Rayas Red and White, Chiapas back-strap loom

#3. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional design on the white stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110 includes priority USPS 3-day shipping to 48 states.

#3 shoulder detail with finished neck edge and sleeve cap

#4 Rayas in Red and Yellow, Chiapas

#4. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional Maya frog design on the yellow stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110. Includes USPS priority 3-day shipping to lower 48 states.

#4 Rayas Red and Yellow detail

#5. Fine Cotton Gauze Huipil-Tunic, San Pedro Amusgos

#5. SOLD. Fresh and refreshing: a breathable top, simple and elegant. We visited the remote village of San Pedro Amusgos high in the mountains about eight hours from Oaxaca City. Here they weave cotton on back-strap looms just as they have for centuries. This is a beautiful, lightweight collector’s garment with a white-on-white bodice. Called supplementary weft, the design is woven into the cloth, a difficult maneuver by a master weaver. It is not embroidered! This is new and never worn. Perfect over a skirt, jeans, silk or linen slacks. Wash by hand with a mild soap and hang to dry. Measures 23-3/4″ wide x 29″ long. Size M. $200. Includes USPS priority mail shipping to lower 48 states.

#5 detail of bodice, Amusgos tunic

#6. San Juan Chamula Cape, Chiapas

#6. SOLD. Shades of Gray. This is a traditional cape or shawl, called a Chal, hand-woven in the Chiapas village of San Juan Chamula. This particular textile is one of the finest examples of back-strap loom weaving, coming from the Sna Jolobil Cooperative at the Museo Mundo Maya. The wool is hand-carded and spun using the ancient drop-spindle. This is a total made-by-hand garment. The warp threads are cotton and the weft is a soft, pliant natural gray and cream color sheep wool. The edges are strongly woven with very colorful cotton threads to accent the gray body of the garment. Tie it closed with a hand-made tassel and VOILA. Fun to wear or to use as a bed or sofa scarf. Take the tassels off and make a pillow! Measures  24″ square. $145 USD includes USPS 3-day priority mail to anywhere in the lower 48 states.

#6. Detail of San Juan Chamula cape

How to Buy!

Send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

  • Tell me which piece(s) you want by number.
  • Tell me your complete name, mailing address and email.
  • I will send you a PayPal invoice.
  • As soon as I receive payment, I will confirm and we will prepare for mailing. You should be receiving your order within 5-7 days.