Chiapas Notebook: Magdalena Aldama Weavers

Our recent textile study tour took place over nine days. We were based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, with so much to see and do, and no time to write!. I’m going to start now with one highlight that happened in the middle: a visit to Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas.

A few of our group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Some of us know this village, about two-and-a-half hours from San Cristobal, as Magdalenas. Others call it Aldama. It is one and the same. Officially, it is known as Santa Maria Magdalena.

Indigenous justice and liberty are elemental here, as is native Non-GMO corn.

It took on the name Aldama in 1934 in honor of Mexican insurgent Ignacio Aldama. This is a Tzotzil village strongly aligned with the Zapatistas.

Rosa with Barbara, and a neighboring Chenalho blue emboidered top

Not many foreigners show up here. Without an introduction to a family, it would be difficult to know where to go to see extraordinary back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery that the women here are known for.

Susie admires a finely woven, embroidered huipil

We pulled up to the village zocalo and parked near the church. Cristobal was waiting for us and took us to his family home where his wife Rosa greeted us. She was joined by family members who were busy weaving and doing fine stitching, surrounded by children.

Children hover close to mom when strangers show up

This would not have been possible without our knowledgeable guide who arranged the visit through an anthropologist friend who has been working here for some time.

Every garment handmade: the woven cloth, fine embroidery, seams, hem

After demonstrations and a stunning expoventa of very fine work, the family invited us into their kitchen where they prepared Caldo de Gallina over a wood fire.

Work continues with babies bundled across backs with rebozos

They make the soup from organic free-range chicken and fresh local vegetables. The tortillas come hot off the comal. We toast the day with posh, the local fermented drink made from corn and sugar cane.

It is quite tasty!

Indigenous rights are fragile. People here take a stand for themselves. Viva Zapata!

Women work hard here, staying close to home. Tending babies, preparing meals, cleaning up, weaving, sewing. Extended families live together in the same household and next door.

Fifteen enjoying a family meal, altar with Mayan cross in background

I saw no young men and assume they were in the fields tending to vegetables or herds of cows. Or, perhaps they were in El Norte USA trying to make a few dollars to send home. At 20 pesos to 1 US dollar now, it’s an economic advantage to go north to work. Regardless of what Agent Orange says, families do not like to be separated. They do it out of necessity. 

A village Mayordomo came by to check us out and stayed for lunch

Since the village is not frequented by tourists, we had a social call by one of the village leaders, a mayordomo and friend of our host family. He saw that we were supportive of the cultural norms and stayed to talk and have lunch with us. We were not a rowdy group!

Waddle and daub traditional village construction, perfect backdrop

The large kitchen space where we had lunch, the traditional outbuilding where the expoventa (show/sale) was held, and some of the surrounding cottages, were all constructed with waddle and daub. This is different from adobe bricks. It is a great insulator, keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer.

Yes, smoke gets in your eyes, clothes, hair and lungs in traditional kitchens

The only problem was the ventilation from the smoke, which rose to the ceiling in billows but didn’t escape readily from the open areas near the rafters. In some villages, NGOs are working with locals to create better vents so they don’t breathe the wood smoke and develop lung disease.

Britt wears an elegant dress, traditional in design

Magdalena Aldama is about ten minutes further from San Andres Larrainzar, another amazing weaving village, much larger than Magdalena. There seems to be some crossover in stitching and fashion, though for the most part women like to identify with where they are born and live by their costume.

Mom and toddler, infant sleeping behind

The finely woven mesh bags you see below are hand-woven from ixtle, the washed, pounded and softened fiber of the agave cactus leaf. The finer and smaller the bag, the more costly. The shoulder straps are soft leather. Sometimes they are finished with colorful woven edging. We love them and bought lots!

Display of blouses, bags, table runners, dresses, pillow covers

Often, the difficulty for western women is to find a garment large enough to fit us. The width here is as wide as the loom, but the arm holes and necklines can be small. So small, we can’t get the blouse over our heads or arms through the sleeves. Here, it wasn’t a problem! They knew we were coming!

Rosa holds up one her group’s fine blouses. They sold out!

On our way back to San Cristobal de las Casas, we made a quick stop in Larrainzar to check out the street scene.  On the way, we passed a family of sheep herders. While the animals grazed, the women tied their looms to the trees. No one here is idle.

Looms tied to trees. Always something to weave.

In San Andres Larrainzar, we stopped at a commercial cooperative outside of town. I was disappointed in the quality and offerings, though a few of us managed to find a treasure. It’s best to find a private group!

San Andres Larrainzar main street. Hard to find a huipil for sale here.

Local women buy the embroidered bodice pieces and then stitch their own cotton or poplin (cotton/poly blend) to make the complete blouse. They like the polyester because it dries much faster. So, it’s getting more difficult to find a pure cotton garment. The embroidered pieces cost 1,000 to 1,500 pesos before being made into the blouse.

Embroidered blouse pieces, Larrainzar. White area is for head opening.

Back in San Cristobal, I wore the Magdalena Aldama blouse I bought from Rosa and Cristobal on the following day. People stopped me. Where did you find that? I told them. I visited a local Mayan coop and the manager said, “We don’t carry anything that fine. It’s hard to find and too expensive.”  Well, not really. Not for us at the current exchange rate!

The weaving group in black and white.

Making a trip into the village to meet the family, share a meal and support their work was one of the highlights of this trip.

Weaving on the street, Magdalena Aldama

We are going to offer this again at the end of February 2018. Contact me if you are interested and I’ll put you on the list to let you know dates and cost. This study tour will be limited to 9 people maximum!

Games little boys play, in the doorway to the kitchen.

 

Register Now! Oaxaca WARP Textile Conference, June 8-11, 2017

Since early 2016, I’ve been working behind the scenes with Weave a Real Peace, otherwise known as WARP, to help them plan their 2017 annual meeting/textile conference in Oaxaca. Attendees will arrive on June 8 and the events go through Sunday, June 11. There are also many optional activities planned, too.

CLICK to Find Out More About the WARP Conference.

A panel of designers, artisans and academics will explore how indigenous traditional design elements are used in contemporary fashion, the issues and ethics of ownership and recognition, and ways to innovate responsibly. We’ll break into round-tables so you can participate, too.

Innovative materials combine with traditional at Porfirio Gutierrez studio

My role as conference planner has been to help program chair Judy Newland with on-the-ground logistics and administrative details. I’ve also helped her make connections with some of Mexico and Oaxaca’s most notable textile experts and artisans who will participate in the program.

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

On Saturday, June 10, I’m organizing a one-day textile study tour for all the conference participants. This is included in the conference fee.

We will go out into the Valle Central de Oaxaca (Central Valley of Oaxaca) to visit only artisans who weave using naturally dyed fibers. We will see natural dye demonstrations with cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and other plant materials. We will meet weavers who work on the pedal and back strap looms. We’ll have a traditional Oaxaca lunch at a great home-style restaurant.

There will also be an expoventa (exhibition and sale) of the best Oaxaca folk art courtesy of the Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu project to promote Arte Popular de Oaxaca.

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from the tapestry loom

I hope you will join me at the conference. The cost is reasonable and the benefits are many.

What is WARP?

Founded in 1992, WARP members strive to support long-standing textile traditions as a means for cultural preservation and economic development. We do that by fostering a global network of textile enthusiasts, artisans, academics, wholesalers, retailers, and many others.

Natural dye workshop participants experiment with color

Pop-Up Textile Fiesta Sale: Mexico and India Cloth and Clothes

Gosh, so many textiles, so little time. Just back from weeks of textile travels in Mexico! After a month of textile adventures in India!

Ikat rebozo on the loom, Tenancingo de Degollado

And, in my desire to support the weavers and block printers of Bhuj, Gujarat, India; Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, who make ikat rebozos; the embroiderers and back-strap loom weavers of Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, and the beaders and embroiderers of Puebla State, I have collected too much.

Pop-Up Textile + Jewelry Sale 

Tuesday and Wednesday,  February 28 and March 1

Noon to 4 p.m. 

Where: Norma’s Casita Alegria, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

RSVP: email norma.schafer@icloud.com to get directions

  • Rebozos, shawls and scarves
  • Huipiles, dresses and blouses
  • Bolsas, bags and totes
  • Array of jewelry — some new, some vintage
  • Miscellaneous — come see what you will find

I have invited an excellent local cook to come with her amazing tamales. She will offer these for sale at village prices, plus hand crafted hot chocolate made from cacao beans she roasts herself! Come and spend the day on the terraza.

Block printed cotton collected over weeks in India

Textiles from the village of Cancuc, Chiapas

 

Take Heart Day, Dear Valentine, A Parody: Breaking News by Ellen Benson

Ellen Benson, my Oaxaca artist friend who has wintered here for the past umpteen years, wrote these three pieces in the voice of Agent Orange as her way of getting through the political grief and PTSD that many of us experience.  Ellen is  the famed Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Diva and her art also reflects the way she sees the world.

Our Oaxaca hearts stretch out to you around the world

I hope you enjoy this. It is witty and funny. Perfect for a Take Heart Day.  I asked her permission to share it with you. I think we need this.

ONE: Congratulations from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny

Yesterday Santa Claus called from the North Pole to congratulate me. Yes he is real,  and i’ve known him personally for many, many years. A fantastic, fantastic guy. He promised: no presents going to Mexico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To keep those presents here,  Mike Pence has given Santa Air Force One, since I have my own plane,  but all reindeer will keep their jobs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. The Mexican children will get coal in their stockings which will also help the coal industry make a comeback. A win/win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Santa will be working directly with Ben Carson to move all low income housing to the border!!! Not just walls but whole housing complexes!!!!!!!!!! I’ve put Jared Kushner in charge, but Santa and 3 mice will administer the “blind trust.” Let’s see if the “failing New York Times “ even reports this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I also got a call from the Easter Bunny. Yes he is real, i know his whole huge family. A terrific terrific guy. He called to report that his personal hackers have found that a hamburger joint in D. C. has been putting pot in all its deluxe burgers with fries!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This hamburger joint is a front for the Clinton Foundation. Jewish columnists Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman have been seen in the vicinity. Information verified by National security Advisor-elect Mike Flynn!!!!!!!! Enough said!!!!!!!!! I’ve not even been sworn in and already Mike is arranging a  landing pad for UFO’s on the White House roof!!!!!!! Good work Mike.

The Tooth Fairy was also on the line but I couldn’t take her call. Yes, she is real. I definitely know her. On her day off from overseeing  her teeth- for -money program, she does hair dye jobs. And she’s the best. The very best. 

Melania and Ivanka are busily planning the inauguration. Unfortunately, due to construction on the White House to make it look more like the Hermitage, the inauguration will be held in New York. Any country where i have business dealings will have the chief executives of its BIGGEST COMPANIES invited to the festivities!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing expected in return!!!! this is how business is done!  Many of these execs are graduates of Trump University —so you can bet they understand the Art of the Deal!!!!! We are just now nailing down the entertainment. Very exclusive. Very in-demand.  It’s top secret classified but I’m the President-elect so i can tell whoever i want. The star attraction at the biggest and best inaugural ball will be the cast of the new musical, “PUTIN”!!!!!! Very hard to get tickets—believe me!!!  

TWO:  Breaking News, A Call From Humpty Dumpty

Mar-A-Lago seems to be sinking so I called in Al Gore just to hear his preposterous statements that people, like the overwhelming landslide number of people who absolutely love me, are the cause of so-called global warming. He thought i would offer him a Cabinet position but he did not give me a huge campaign donation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And even after his movie and speaking engagements he is not yet a billionaire or even a multi-millionare and he never even worked for Goldman or Exxon or even the World Wrestling Federation!!!! A loser! Everyone knows there is NO AIR POLLUTION IN THE USA!!!!!!! The Chinese have been manufacturing it cheaply and shipping it over here!!!!! I don’t need a focus group to know why Mar-A-Lago is sinking—my very large, enormous and gigantic brain tells me everything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   And it is verified by my National Security Advisor Mike Flynn—The problem is caused by the lost continent of Atlantis rising!!!!!!!!!! Also—he saw a man jumping over the moon—and everyone knows the moon controls the tides!!!!! There will be a big big investigation of this after Jan 20!!!!

My good friend Humpty Dumpty called to warn me that many people want to see me fall!! I’m sick of all the lying media criticizing my Cabinet appointments!!!!!!! They have about as much credibility as Graydon Carter’s failing VANITY FAIR restaurant reviewer in the things he said about the Trump Grill!!!!!!!!!!Terrific terrific restaurant!!! Chris Christie and Jack Sprat love it!!!!!!!!!  I took Mitt Romney there!!!!! People think it was to discuss Secretary of State job. WRONG!! Obviously it was for Mitt to convince me as to why i should endorse his niece for RNC chair over the very very qualified BABAR, who i may still change my mind and endorse!!! And i keep creating jobs! just this week alone, i opened up positions at Goldman Sachs and at Exxon!!

Ben Carson was honest enough to admit that he knows nothing about housing or running a government agency. That’s refreshing! Just the kind of experience I’m looking for! He tells me his decisions will be guided by the invisible hand of the market. Rep. Tom Price will not only repeal Obamacare but will cut out all waste in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. As I’ve said many times, it is a BIG FAT WASTE to cover disabled people!!! We will keep the good parts of Obamacare: lobotomies, breast enhancement and hair transplants will still be covered. 

Full steam ahead on the inauguration!. Kanye West, if he had voted, said he would have voted for me!!!!! We are working in how to blend mental health meltdowns, inflammatory tweets and the Kardashians into a program that THE WHOLE COUNTRY WILL LOVE!!!!!! There will be heavy- duty medication at every banquet table instead of flowers!!!! (Kanye’s idea!  Brilliant!!)The Breitbart event will be giving out free taco bowls and free tickets to the new big hit musical PUTIN!!! which Rex Tillerson and I are backing!!!!!! And of corse, catering by Hardee’s! Kudos to Labor Secretary-elect Andy Puzder for a brilliant idea: food of the little guy! All servers at the inauguration will get free Hardee’s gift certificates in lieu of minimum wage! Can’t wait to see Ivanka’s dress! The president of Taiwan made it herself!!!!

THREE: Breaking News, I would have won the New Hampshire primary

I just want to remind the American public that i would have won in New Hampshire if outside voters had not been bussed in by the thousands, a FACT that is WIDELY KNOWN!!!!!!!!! What you don’t know because the failing New York Times refuses to report it, is that drones also transported hundreds and hundreds of people from Nigeria and Ivory Coast  to polling places in North Carolina and other places EVEN THOUGH THOSE PLACES ARE HARD TO FIND because we had to shut down so many polling places where the blacks might vote!!!! Some of Obama’s Kenyan friends got in too! Somehow they found polling places and i will have the FBI look into it!!!!!! I will have a floating wall built the length of the Atlantic Ocean to prevent such blatant disregard of our borders. As we speak, Mike Flynn is trying to shut down the underground tunnels to the pizza parlor in DC that is now the hub of voter fraud activities!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SAD!!!!!!

I am sooooo proud of Jack Kingston, Representaive of Georgia for his stand against free lunches for poor children! of course they should sweep cafeteria floors to earn their keep and learn the value of a buck! My little Ivanka had to go all the way to China to check out the floors of the manufacturing sweatshops that make her clothing line !!!!They made her look through fabric swatches for hours before they even gave her an egg roll for lunch!! And when they were kids, Donald Jr. and Eric had to pick up all their candy wrappers from the floor of the limo, right outside the BEST PRIVATE SCHOOL in the U.S., maybe the world!!! —before their private chef would even give them a taste of their grilled salmon with caviar!!!!!!! 

And contrary to what the lying media are saying, the fCalifornia  armers are doing just great!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, we did have to round up thousands of their best workers and put them on cattle cars back to those swamps they came from!! !! But now, under my new regime, poor school children can be hired after school to work off their subsidized health care!!!! It’s a WIN-WIN!!!!

Can’t wait til Neil Gorsuch is confirmed!! EVERYONE wants him!!!!!!!!! He has told me privately that not only are corporations PEOPLE with rights to free speech, but cars and refrigerators are people too!!!!!! That’s why the new cars  cars  can drive themselves!!!!! Next year, cars and refrigerators get the vote in all red states!!!! And—cheeseburgers, in their role as citizens, are inundating the Republican party with contributions to fund our agenda, whatever it may be!! Even the little guys—Big Mac Jrs.— are getting in on it with small but important contribtions!!! 

Putin requested that nukes be considered people but i’ll let Gorsuch decide—we DO have separation of powers, you know!!!!

Rebozo Weaving Technology in Mexico: How to Make an Ikat Shawl

On our textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) we met ikat rebozo weavers, called reboceros, who use up to 6,400 cotton warp threads on a back strap loom.

Evaristo Borboa, grand master of Mexican folk art, weaves on a back strap loom

About 3,000 to 5,000 cotton warp threads are used on the fixed frame pedal floor loom.

Rebozo weaver Gabriel Perez at his floor loom

The technology is simple. The fabric created is complex.

The floor loom is faster.  Weavers can produce a rebozo in about a week using this loom. It takes three months or more to make a rebozo on the back strap loom.

Weaver Jesus Zarate defies imagination with his ikat butterfly design

Because fewer warp threads are used on the floor loom, the cotton threads can be thicker and the finished cloth might be coarser.

A weaver’s took kit

As you might imagine, the cost for a rebozo made on a back strap loom is much more than one woven on a pedal loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate! What do rebozos cost? From 400 to 16,000 pesos.

Bits and pieces of supplies that might be needed for dyeing

Would you work six months to earn $800 USD?

The pattern can be more blurred and not as detailed as those created on the back strap loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate!

Fermin Escobar marks stiff bundles of thread with ink to make a pattern

There are fourteen different steps required to make an ikat rebozo. The most difficult and time-consuming part is the preparation of the threads before they are dressed on the loom.

Threads are soaked in starch to dry and stiffen before marking.

Ikat pattern markers are coated with ink, rolled along stiffened cords.

The weavers we met all repeated that the actual weaving is the simplest part of the process.

Weavers throw hardwood bobbins between the warp sheds to make the weft

Dipping the yarn into the starch to stiffen it

A better view of the pattern marked on the stiff cotton cords

Separating the cords so they dry evenly

Each mark must be hand tied to create the dye resist

Once the cords are marked in ink with the pattern, each mark is hand tied. The cloth will then be dipped in the dye bath. It is then washed and dried. The knots are cut and the pattern emerges on the warp thread, ready to be threaded on the loom.

Mexicans innovate and cobble together materials to keep things running

For rebozos with multiple colors, they can be hand-dipped in the dye pot or the part that is already colored will be tied off so it does not absorb the new color.

Over 4,000 warp threads pass through the hettles of these looms

The loom might be considered low technology, but it is a complex system for making cloth. Today, industrial cloth is made totally by machine. We are interested in the hand-made process.

Bobbin making system — a bicycle wheel

Making ikat for a rebozo on the pedal loom

One of Evaristo’s beautiful blue ikat shawls in blue, finely detailed

The enpuntadora hand ties each knot to create fringe, the finishing touch

Knotting the rebozo can take equally as long as weaving it — three months or more, depending on intricacy. We know one enpuntadora who takes a year to tie a complex fringe.

The fringe must equal or exceed the beauty of the shawl