My tradition is to look through my collection and offer distinctive pieces for sale just before I leave Oaxaca to return for visits to the USA. Most pieces are new and never worn, collected as part of my commitment to support artisans where I travel. A few are part of my personal wardrobe, rarely used, and now too large for me. 15 PIECES TOTAL. Scroll down!
I leave for the USA on Thursday, March 12. If you want a piece, please purchase by March 10. I will mail by March 17. Each piece is numbered and priced separately. I add on $12 USD for USPS priority mailing anywhere in USA. If you live in Canada, mailing is more than double.
The Amusgo people span the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in the mountain region of the Costa Chica between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco. They are back-strap loom weavers of an extraordinary garment called the huipil. This particular textile is fine gauze cotton, a loose weave, to offer comfort to the hot, humid climate. Even in winter, a light-weight covering is preferred.
Our group of eleven travelers made our way up the coast over a six-day period to explore the textile villages of the region. Xochistlahuaca was our northernmost destination.
When we arrive, the director Yessie greeted us warmly and introduced us to many of the 39 cooperative members who were there to meet us. They range in age from young adults to aging grandmothers. They are talented spinners and weavers, and their design and color sensibility is unparalleled.
What was remarkable about this visit is that we sat opposite each other, face to face, gave self-introductions, and had an opportunity to learn about the role and life of women in the village and our experience as women living in the USA and Canada.
I encourage our travelers to think of ourselves as amateur cultural anthropologist, to ask the people we meet about what they love about their work and home life. They are curious about us and we answer their questions. We are curious about them, the challenges they face, the dreams they have for their children, and what they want to improve quality of life. We are there to learn, listen, understand, share and also support by buying direct from the makers.
We tell them our ages and where we are from. We share our marital status: widowed, married, divorced, always single. We learn that collectively we are similar. One woman says she never married because she didn’t want a husband directing her life and taking her money.
Among our group are weavers, dyers, sewers, collectors, teachers, writers, lovers of beautiful cloth. They are culture-keepers who spend days taking care of family, cleaning, cooking, shopping, doing laundry. The cooperative gives them the freedom to weave uninterrupted several days a week and get away from the responsibilities of taking care of others. Women rotate being there. They say it gives them a sense of independence and camaraderie.
Over lunch at a local comedor we talk about life differences and similarities. Some say it appears that village life is more simple and we dig deeper into what that means. I think it is more basic but it is not more simple. As foreigners living in the frenzy of post-industrial, consumer-based, technology-focused environments, we have a tendency to romanticize what many call a simpler lifestyle. Many of us yearn for that.
Women’s lives are complex whether we live in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, or Chicago, Illinois. We worry about our children, their education, health care, whether there is enough money for essentials and extras. We work at home or outside the home or both. Maybe we have aging parents who need care or an alcoholic or abusive spouse, or a child with special needs. We have dreams that may never be realized.
As we travel through the textile world of Oaxaca, doors open to us to connect and understand, offering a richer travel experience.
Let me know if you would like to travel with us on a January 2020 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Send me an email. I will only offer this trip if there are 6 people ready to make a $500 deposit to secure a reservation.
In my search to find another weaving group to visit near Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, I stumbled upon 23-year-old Ignacio Gomez on Instagram. He is using the social media site to promote Textil_Zacoalpan. What stood out in the photos were the use of natural dyes and the native cotton — coyuchi brown, verde green, and the creamy white — that distinguish the pre-Hispanic fibers used to make the huipil.
I could tell these were quality pieces that deserved a stop and the attention of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour group of very supportive women. We contacted him to set up a visit.
Ignacio is a university engineering student. He is passionate about keeping the traditions of his village and helping his family. The women in his family are the hand-spinners, dyers and weavers. The men work the fields to grow corn, beans and squash, and tend the native cotton plants.
Though Zacoalpan is just twenty minutes from Xochistlahuaca, it feels like a world apart, much more rustic and basic. The family speaks Amusgo. Because Ignacio also speaks Spanish, he can bridge the language gap and aim to bring visitors to the house.
We were the first group to visit the family where they live and work. It felt like a personal discovery.
You’ll notice that because Xochistlahuaca is the dominant village, the Zacoalpan women have adopted the traje (dress style) of their neighbors. The original village dress is woven entirely of coyuchi cotton.
As we learned more, we went back and forth between Amusgo, Spanish and English to get a fuller picture of the natural dyes they use, the designs and iconography that tell the story of life in the woven cloth, and how women take their best huipils with them to the grave.
Yes, throughout the Amusgo language and cultural group that spans the Oaxaca and Guerrero border, women are buried in the huipil they were married in. They also take their best ones, sometimes as many as 10 or 20, to the grave to travel with them to the next life.
Few examples of old, traditional huipiles exist for this reason. So, it is difficult to conserve the ancient patterns. Ignacio showed us scraps of fabric, frayed and faded, from the 1960’s and 1970’s, as examples of past designs that he found and the family is replicating.
Textiles deteriorate quickly in hot, humid climates. Preservation is almost impossible on the local level. I wondered, how could the 1960’s be considered old?
Ignacio’s display of dye stuffs included skeins dyed with almond leaf, nanche fruit tree bark, caoba, zapote negro fruit, and muitle, a wild, green leaf that will tinge white cotton a blue-green. Muitle, a Nahuatl word, is also found in the Oaxaca valley and used as a dye for wool rug yarn.
The huipiles are woven using a back-strap loom weaving technique called supplementary weft. On the bodice, around the collar, there is intricate cross-stitch embroidery, too, that is called punto de cruz in Spanish. The Colonials loved floral motifs and encouraged weavers from this region to make cloth abundant with flowers and needlework.
The iconography includes mountains, the zochipal flower, four-legged animals and sea life, corn plants and seeds, birds, pineapples, squash blossoms, fertility, and the four cardinal points. The result is unique to each maker. Every weaver has a personal story to tell.
This is a coastal, tropical climate, so the weaving is fine and gauzy, comfortable to wear. Usually, three wefts or widths of cloth are used for the huipil. They are sewn together using a triple-point stitch typical of Zacoalapan randas. The randa is needle lace, sometimes simple, sometimes intricate, that connects two pieces of cloth together. In ancient times, the spiny tip of the agave leaf was used as a needle.
It takes five kilos (about 11 pounds) of hand-spun cotton thread to make one long huipil.
Now, it is unusual to find a huipil woven with 100% coyuchi cotton since it is becoming very rare. The same for the algodon verde, the green cotton, that some locals also call coyuchi verde. There were several that Ignacio’s family offered for sale along with several blusas woven with the green cotton. We saw this cotton in other villages used only for embellishment on white.
It takes five-plus hours driving north from Puerto Escondido to reach Zacoalpan. Clearly, this is off-the-beaten path and a destination only for dedicated textile enthusiasts. I hope we will go again.
If you are interested in joining us for a January 2020 textile study tour to the Oaxaca Coast, please contact me. I will only offer this trip if there are six people committed to go by May 1, 2019 with a $500 deposit.
Jose Isidro and his mama, will come from their village with hand-woven textiles at various prices and sizes, from complex to simple, from daily wear (diario) to fancy, schmancy gala traje (special occasion dress). They represent the weaving of their extended family cooperative.
Evaristo Borboa Casas is an 89 year old weaver from Tenancingo de Degollado in the Estado de Mexico (state of Mexico). I met him on Saturday during a whirlwind visit to four rebozo makers, most of whom work on the flying shuttle loom. Except for Evaristo! He said when he was a six-year old boy learning to weave there were over 240 back-strap loom weavers in the village. Now there are only two or three.
Evaristo is a Grand Master of Mexico Folk Art. His work is recognized and collected throughout the world. Most consider him the best and the last of the traditional jaspe weavers in Mexico. Jaspe, or ikat, is a laborious process that requires a month of yarn tying and dyeing preparation before it can be put on the loom. Putting it on the loom takes another week. Then, it can take a month or two to weave the rebozo.An intricate rebozo can sell for 12,000 to 20,000 pesos. When you convert that to dollars, a top-notch weaver might make $900 at today’s current exchange rate for the finest handmade shawl. The best rebozo weavers in Tenancingo use fine cotton thread made and dyed in Puebla, Mexico.
Evaristo does this for love, for culture and for commitment to the cloth as do the other weavers we met on our first day traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico: Fermin Escobar, Fito Garcia Diaz and Jesus Zarate.
Process to Make Ikat in Tenancingo
Evaristo tells us there are fourteen steps he uses to making a fine rebozo. I’m not sure I captured all that he explained, but I will do my best here. First he mounts the thread on a warping board and decides the length and width of the piece of cloth. Then, he separates the threads, called pepinado, with his fingers, tying each section.
Maestro Evaristo then soaks them in atole de masa (corn paste) so the threads dry to a secure hardness. He then draws the ikat (jaspe) design he wants to use on the thread. He ties and dyes the threads at the markings. With a smooth stone, he beats the threads in water to rinse out the atole paste. As each section loosens he dunks it in water 30 times.
Then, he unties the knots with a special knife and removes them from the cloth. He ties knots on the back strap loom to keep the loom threads even so they don’t move. This keeps the pattern registered, even. When on the loom, he fist makes the base and then starts the field design.
Evaristo uses 5,400 threads for the width of the rebozo. They are very fine! This is the highest number I heard during our visits to the four masters on the first day. It takes him five weeks to weave one rebozo.
Then, the cloth goes to the puntadora who ties the elaborates fringes. The more costly the cloth, the longer and finer quality the punta (fringe). Making the fringe can take two to four more months of work. A punta represents about 30% of the cost of the rebozo.
Los Amigos board member John Waddell organized this study trip. Members propose their travel idea to the board who approves the plan and a budget. The members organize trips as a membership benefit. Travelers fund their own cost to get to the destination, most meals, lodging and incidentals. The fee to LADAP includes a donation to help support Mexico’s folk artisans and special in-country projects.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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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.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle