Writer Alex Szerlip came with us on the 2019 Oaxaca Coast textile tour to investigate and write about the purple snail dye that is on the verge of extinction. While she already knew so much in advance, we took her to the source: the Mixtec village of Pinotepa de Don Luis to meet the few remaining dyers who hunt the snails and color native cotton and silk.
Caracol purpura is also called tixinda in the Mixtec native language. Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, a not-for-profit organization started by immigration attorney Patrice Perillie, helps support the tixinda dyers and weavers. Patrice has started a GoFundMe effort to help with expenses to get the cooperative to the famed Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July 2019. Groups are juried for acceptance and competition is stiff.
Help Mexican Dreamweavers raise $4,000 USD to attend the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Can you help? Contact Patrice Perillie. Mexican Dreamweavers is a USA non-profit, so your gift is tax-deductible.
This is the most enjoyable and enlightening article on tixinda I have ever read. Thank you for mentioning our work from the bottom of my purple heart…. I will personally read it to Habacuc and Rafael when I see them this weekend! They will be thrilled!
Habacuc and his son Rafael are just a few of the dyers remaining who make the journey and climb the treacherous rocks of Huatulco to harvest the purple snail. Their technique preserves snail life and habitat.
What I appreciate about this article is it’s first person narrative, sensitivity and understanding of the work of indigenous people on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. With environmental and aesthetic perception, Alex Szerlip conveys the cultural and historic importance that purple dye has to the Mixtecs on Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.
Of course, the color purple has been regaled by emperors and kings for centuries, rare and beautiful. Now, nearly extinct around the world, Oaxaca is one of the last bastions for preservation and hope, thanks to applied anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace. This post is a tribute to her and the people of Oaxaca who are dedicated to sustaining this living tradition.
Note: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, January 18-27, 2020, is almost sold-out. We have two spaces open. Don’t hesitate if you have been thinking about this! We visit the Dreamweavers Cooperative in Pinotepa de Don Luis as part of this adventure. Special thanks to cultural anthropologist Denise Lechner who guides us into remote villages to meet the makers.
Arrive on Saturday, January 18 and depart on Monday, January 27, 2020 — 9 nights, 10 days in textile heaven!
Trip is limited to 11 participants. 7 spaces open.
Cost is $2,795 per person shared room or $3,295 per person for private room. See details and itinerary below.
This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.
We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She has worked in the region for the past fifteen years and knows the textile culture and people intimately. We learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality and value of direct support.
What we do:
We visit 7 weaving villages
We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
We participate in a sea turtle release
We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
We visit four local markets to experience daily life
We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
2020 Itinerary — Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour
Saturday, January 18: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 7 p.m. (D)
Sunday, January 19: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon. (B)
Monday, January 20: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Tuesday, January 21: After breakfast, we go on to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado to visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Wednesday, January 22: After breakfast, we return to the mountain with a first stop at the Pinotepa de Don Luis market. Then, we visit the Converse shoe project where talented artists hand-paint footwear, carve gourds and make amazing graphic art prints. We have lunch with Dreamweavers cooperative members and caracol purpura purple snail dyers in their home, complete with show and sale, and cultural talk. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
Thursday, January 23: After breakfast, we travel up the coast highway into the state of Guerrero, where we visit two outstanding Amusgo weaving cooperatives in Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan. They are working to revive ancient designs and incorporate locally grown native, wild cotton. Overnight in Ometepec. (B, L)
Friday, January 25: After breakfast, we begin our journey back to Puerto Escondido, with a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to understand Mexico’s black history. We stop in Jamiltepec to meet back-strap loom weavers and embroiderers. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, L)
Saturday, January 25: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B)
Sunday, January 26: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, D)
Monday, January 27: Depart for home.
Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense.
What is Included
9 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
museum entry fees
turtle release and Manialtepec lagoon excursion
van transportation as outlined in itinerary
complete guide services including cultural anthropologist expertise
The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service to/from airport to/from hotel.
We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the
program as needed.
Cost to Participate
$2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$3,295 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Reservations and Cancellations. A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 30% of the total is due on or before October 1, 2019. The third 30% payment is due on or before December 1, 2019. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2019, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2019, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.
We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2019, there are no refunds.
Health/Accident Insurance: We require that
you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency
medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before
In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed
waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural
Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before
departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at
least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!
Arrivals/Departures: Please send us
schedule at least 45 days before the trip.
This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel
insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the
program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.
Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let us know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than an hour or so. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.
The caracol purpura is losing ground and so are the tintoreros, the dyers who milk them, applying the dye directly to the cotton cloth on the rocky Oaxaca coast to give up its extraordinary purple color, keeping the mollusk alive. The dyers, led by 78 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, come from the Mixtec town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, high in the mountains on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. It’s the women of the village, the wives and daughters, who spin and weave this cloth into some of the most coveted textiles in Oaxaca.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
Mexico’s cultural anthropologist Martha Turok Wallace has worked tirelessly over her career to help preserve the natural dye culture here, support villagers, and suggest ways they could adapt their work to reach new markets. Without sales to visitors, the textile culture will be lost. Without conservation and public education, the snail will become extinct.
As recently as the 1970’s, the traditional dress for Pinotepa de Don Luis women was a posahuanco (wrap-around skirt), woven in three-lengths of cloth on the back-strap loom, the lengths hand-stitched, and the cloth dyed with caracol purpura, indigo and cochineal. That’s what the purple snail dye was used for. Topless for this hot, humid climate, they wore a finely hand-woven, transparent white huipil that draped from head to shoulders. The cloth was held in place by an inverted dried gourd, worn much like a crown with a veil.
Martha suggested that the gourd could be carved and used as a container. It is now finely carved with intricate figures of birds, flowers, sea life and used as wall decor and lamp-bases, too.
I’ve heard Martha speak at conferences about how important it is to innovate and adapt in order to keep the traditions of a culture vibrant. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing people to blue jeans and polyester. But for me the question always remains, What is authentic and does this mean we behave as colonials to keep people fixed in their place? Progress means change. Progress means better education, health care, access to economic prosperity.
Today, women in the village cover themselves with bra-type aprons that drape over the posahuanco. The posahuanco has also changed. It can include native coyuchi brown and white cotton. I’ve seen it worn as a mini-skirt with a zipper by younger women.
The skirt is the main identity marker of the village along with the purple shell dye.
What is an identity marker?
An identity marker is how one defines self in relationship to the group(s) we belong to. It is cultural and distinctive, based on a common language, values, ethnicity, religion, social class, age group, where we live, or the type of dress we choose to wear. Walk into the regional market in Pinotepa Nacional and you know immediately that the woman wearing the posahuanco with the apron top is from Pinotepa de Don Luis.
What about the hand-woven long dresses (huipiles) and tops (blusas) from Pinotepa de Don Luis?
These are designed and made for foreigners — those who live outside the village. Sometimes, you will see a local woman wearing this huipil at shows or special tourist sales events, but it is rare. This is another form of adaptation to use the native hand-spun cotton produced in the village, woven on the back-strap loom, the threads often dyed with indigo or touches of the shell dyed cotton or silk.
I’ll be writing more about this region in days to come. So stay tuned. On Wednesday, I’m off to Michoacan to lead another folk art study tour.
Writing from Santa Fe, NM: I’m staying at the house of my textile designer friend Norma Cross, who creates felted fiber clothing using natural dyes, wool, silk, and cotton.
An array of natural dyes, including caracol and indigo, used to weave cloth
I brought with me a shirt made on the Oaxaca coast with threads colored purple from the caracol purpura dye. That led her to send me this article about the Phoenician history of harvesting the purple snail and dyeing religious and political garments with snail ink.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis
This process is still in practice today in Oaxaca, Mexico, along the Pacific Coast. The murex snail is now extinct in Morocco where the Phoenicians plied the waters during the Roman Empire. It is extinct now in most places around the world. There is a revival in Israel where the natural blue color is being used for religious garments as it once was in the 8th century.
Preservation of the snail and it’s priceless ink is alive and well in Oaxaca. Yet, the risk of extinction is high because of poaching. I hear that the resort hotels in Huatulco make a special cocktail using the purple snail. They buy the dye from people who illegally harvest it. And, people are unconscious consumers!
On our Textile Tour of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, starting January 11, 2019, we will see some glorious handwoven cotton fabrics where the supplementary weft and embroidered threads of the joinery use the rare purple dye. The pieces are created in two neighboring villages, San Juan Colorado and Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit artisans and see how they prepare the native cloth.
Saturday, January 5 to Thursday, January 10, 2019 — Six days, five nights immersed in the weaving and natural dyeing culture of Oaxaca’s southern coast. You can take this short-course independently or add it on to the front end of our Costa Chica study tour.
Saturday, January 5, arrive in Huatulco on Oaxaca’s mid-coast. Overnight in or near Huatulco (D)
Sunday, January 6, spend the day on the rocky shore line to see how the native snail — caracol purpura — that gives off the purple dye is protected and cultivated. Our expert is Habacuc, a member of the Pinotepa de Don Luis community authorized to harvest this rare crustacean. Overnight in or near Huatulco (B, L)
Caracol purpura dyed cotton thread before it goes to the loom
Monday, January 7 through Wednesday, January 9, travel and stay in to Salina Cruz where we will be based to explore the nearby Ikoots coastal village of San Mateo del Mar. Here, fine cotton gauze is woven on the back strap loom. Turtles, fish, crabs, birds, palm trees are incorporated into the cloth that show the area’s relationship to the sea. Our visit to several weaving cooperatives includes a contribution to the 2017 September 17 earthquake relief fund that is helping restore village services. (B, L)
Cloth embellished with figures from the natural world
Thursday, January 10, we return to Huatulco where we will drop you off at the airport for an afternoon departure time or you can continue up the coast with us to Puerto Escondido. Its a five-hour drive from Salina Cruz to Puerto Escondido along MEX 200. We’ll have lunch in or near Huatulco to break up the trip. Lodging on the night of January 10 is on your own. (B, L)
Finely woven blusa from San Mateo del Mar
What the Trip Includes:
5 nights lodging
Guided boat trip on Huatulco coast to harvest the caracol purpura
All van transportation from Huatulco to San Mateo del Mar and back to either Huatulco or Puerto Escondido
Donation to San Mateo del Mar earthquake relief fund
What the Short-Course DOES NOT Include: Airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service from airport to hotel.
We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
$1,895 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Who Should Attend
Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
Those interested in natural dyes, cultural preservation
Textile and fashion designers
Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
Photographers and artists who want inspiration
Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Reservations and Cancellations. A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last 50% payment is due on or before November 15, 2018. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before November 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
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.
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.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle