Tag Archives: Chiapas

Mexico Monday: Clothing and Bags for Sale

Here is a selection of hand-woven agave fiber market bags and totes, a few woven purses and shoulder bags perfect for carrying cell phones and coin purses. I’ve added tops and a poncho cover-up, too. All from Oaxaca and Chiapas. Don’t miss anything: there are 14 pieces, so scroll down to the end!

To buy, please send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com Include your name, mailing address with city, state and ZIP code, along with the ITEM NUMBER. I will send you an invoice and add on an $8 charge to mail USPS Priority Mail. As soon as I receive payment, I will ship.

NOTE: ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 9, 2019. The last day I can mail is May 10. I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Thanks very much.

#7, Extra-Large, Finest Agave Fiber Hand-woven Market Bag, $85

This is the finest quality hand-woven cactus fiber bag made in Chiapas. This is an original to the village of Magdalena Aldama where the men weave these and use them for field bags — to carry feed for the animals, food and water for themselves. They cut, soak, strip, and weave the agave leaves all by hand. The finest ones take three-months to make. They are strong, durable and functional. Comes with adjustable leather straps. They are works of artistry. The coffee color of the bags comes from the smoke over the wood cooking fires. Each one is different.

Detail, #7
#1, Chiapas densely embroidered blouse, finest cotton from Sna Jolobil, $145

#1 is from the famed Sna Jolobil cooperative. Measures 26″ wide by 28″ long. The fine cotton cloth is woven on a back-strap loom. The bodice is hand-embroidered in the tiniest stitches. Moss green against cream, light and comfy for summer. They will be at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market this summer and you can bet the prices will be double.

#2, from Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas, dazzling back-strap loomed daily blouse, $165

#2 is from the small family cooperative operated by Rosa and Cristobal in Magdalena Aldama. This is what the women wear for their daily attire. Each year that I go, the designs become even more elaborate. I hand-picked this piece based on quality of weaving and the density of the supplementary weft — the threads added during the weaving process to create the patterns. It takes hours to make a piece like this. Piece is 26″ wide by 24″ long.

#2 detail, Magdalena Aldama blouse
#3, from Oxchuc, Chiapas, great beach cover-up or use it for layering, $145

#3 From Oxchuc, Chiapas, and woven by Cristina on a back-strap loom. This is a wonderful, soft cotton poncho in a graphic black and white. It took Cristina 38 hours to weave this and it measures 32” wide x 28” long, $145

Detail, #3
#4, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, small shoulder bag, wool $25
SOLD. #5, Magdalena Aldama, large hand-woven agave fiber market bag, $65

#5 (above) and #6 (below) and #7 (third) are hand-woven market bags — best quality. They are originals to the village of Magdalena Aldama where the men weave these and use them for field bags — to carry feed for the animals, food and water for themselves. They cut, soak, strip, and weave the agave leaves all by hand. The finest ones take three-months to make. They are strong, durable and functional. Comes with adjustable leather straps. They are works of artistry. The coffee color of the bags comes from the smoke over the wood cooking fires. Each one is different.

SOLD. #6, Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas, medium size agave fiber market bag, $65
SOLD. #8, Tenejapa back-strap loomed small shoulder bag, $45

#8 comes from Tenejapa, Chiapas and is woven on a back-strap loom using the supplementary weft (added threads to the warp) technique to create the beautiful pattern. Use it for cell phone and coin purse or an evening bag,

SOLD. #9, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, woven wool shoulder bag, $25

#9 is a well-crafted wool bag, lined, from Teotitlan del Valle. It has a zipper. Priced at less than what I paid for it.

#10, handbag, Teotitlan del Valle, cochineal natural dyes, $50

#10 is wool dyed with cochineal red from the Bii Dauu cooperative in Teotitlan del Valle who does some of the finest work in the village. It is lined and has a zipper. Priced at less than what I paid for it.

SOLD. #11, Tenejapa, Chiapas, small shoulder bag, hand-woven, $45

#11 is a unique bag with a lively color combination. I bought it in the weekly market directly from the maker. The village is an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de las Casas.

SOLD. #12, San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, PomPom Chal (shawl) or Throw, $125

#12 is a soft, soft, grey and cream stripe wool woven on a back-strap loom in the village of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, where women raise their own sheep, then card, spin and weave. Use this for a winter wrap or drape it over a chair, sofa, ottoman or bed for Bo-Ho style.

#13, hand-woven 100% cotton bag from Pinotepa de Don Luis, Chiapas, $45
SOLD. #14, shoulder bag from Oxchuc, Chiapas, braided strap and fringes, $45

#14 is woven on a back-strap loom in a small Chiapas village. I love the color combo. It comes from Jolom Mayatik Cooperative. The braided strap is a work of art in itself and is of highest quality. Use for evening, cell phone, coin purse and cosmetics.

Summer Blouses: Mexico Style, For Sale

Here in North Carolina summer has arrived. It was 89 degrees Fahrenheit today. How to stay cool and refreshed as the heat arrives? With a beautiful, embroidered or woven blouse made by indigenous Mexican artisans. If you can’t travel with us, this is the next best way to own a piece of wearable art and know that through your purchase you have supported a weaver or embroiderer or sewist.

To buy, please send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com Include your name, mailing address with city, state and ZIP code, along with the ITEM NUMBER. I will send you an invoice and add on an $8 charge to mail USPS Priority Mail. As soon as I receive payment, I will ship.

NOTE: ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BY MAY 9, 2019. The last day I can mail is May 10. I return to Oaxaca on May 11. Thanks very much.

SOLD. #1, black gauze blouse, Amantenango, Chiapas, $65 USD

#1 is a lightweight gauze blouse perfect for summer with a splash of color around the neck and 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 24″ wide x 29″ long, and will fit M-L. The embroidery is French knots and traditional embroidery; the garment is 100% sewn by hand. I personally selected this never-worn piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

SOLD. #2 is dark brown gauze with a bodice of French knots, $65

#2 is a lightweight gauze blouse perfect for summer with a splash of color around the neck and 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 24″ wide x 28-1/2″ long, and will fit M-L. The embroidery is mostly French knots and the garment is 100% sewn by hand. I personally selected this new piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

#2 bodice detail — packed with color and embroidery!
#3 is black gauze with gold French knots on bodice, $58

#3 is a lightweight gauze blouse perfect for summer with a undertone of gold French knots on the bodice and 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 24″ wide x 28-1/2″ long, and will fit M-L. The embroidery is mostly French knots and the garment is 100% sewn by hand. I personally selected this new piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

#3 bodice, gold on black, subtle enough to almost be beige

SOLD. #4 knock-out lime green with floral bodice, fine details, $75

#4 is special. It is densely embroidered with French knots, with fine embroidery details on the back facing and cuffs. The lightweight gauze blouse is perfect for summer. With 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 23″ wide x 28″ long, and will fit S-M. The garment is 100% sewn by hand. I personally selected this new piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

Detail of back, #4
SOLD. #5 is green on black gauze blouse from Amantenango, Chiapas, $58

#5 is a lightweight gauze blouse perfect for summer with a splash of variegated green around the V-neck and 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 24″ wide x 28-1/2″ long, and will fit M-L. The embroidery is mostly French knots and the garment is 100% sewn by hand. Check out the detail on the cuffs and back panel. I personally selected this new piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

#5 back panel detail is exquisitely simple
#6 is buttercup yellow gauze, with a bejeweled garden bodice, $58

#6 is a lightweight gauze blouse perfect for summer with a splash of jewel colors around the neck and 3/4″ sleeves edges. It measures 21″ wide x 26″ long, and will fit S-M. The embroidery is mostly French knots and the garment is 100% sewn by hand. I personally selected this new piece from the maker in the village of Amantenango, Chiapas.

#7 is a simple, yet elegant huipil from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas, $125

#7 is a beautiful, hand-embroidered, elegant long blouse perfect over a skirt, jeans or leggings. It is 26″ wide and 31″ long. Side seams are machine sewn. Dress it up or down. Hand-wash and line dry.

#7 bodice detail, San Andres Larrainzar huipil
#8 Michoacan beauty, 23″ wide x 25-1/2″ long, $95, hand-embroidered cross-stitch

#9, Chiapas quechquemitl pull-over shawl, poncho, $68, 27″ wide x 31″ long

#9 shimmers with sparkly threads in the style that Chiapas ladies like. This is a perfect beach cover-up or throw it on for a cool and breezy evening. Easy to wash-and-wear, pure polyester, just like the ladies who made it in the village of Pantelho like. New. Purchased directly from the maker.

SOLD. #10 turquoise cotton blouse, hand-loomed, Chiapas, $68

Both #10 and #11 were bought at Rosa and Cristobal’s cooperative in Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas, a village located an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Both measure 22″ wide x 23″ long and will fit size S-M. These were created on the back-strap loom, lovingly woven. I bought them directly from the family. The same bodice pattern is on both sides.

#11, blue/magenta cotton blouse, hand-loomed, Chiapas, $68

Chiapas Boundaries, Borders and Cloth: Cultural Tourism

Long before the Spanish conquest of the Americas beginning with Mexico in 1521, Maya land was contiguous. Maya peoples spanned what we now know as Chiapas, the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

Can you identify the Eye of God, the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl, lightening and rain?

While spoken dialects differ, the language of cloth tells a similar and familiar story of the universe and creation: corn, stars, moon and sun, animals, fertility, and rain, the underworld and the heavens. The plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl is a predominant figure.

Ribbons are a contemporary adaptation of Aztec headdresses with feathers

The Aztecs, seeing the blond and bearded Hernan Cortes, confused him for the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl and welcomed him. Before that, their empire reached as far south as Nicaragua, where they hunted for the feathers to adorn royal headdresses. Their historical outposts are evident throughout Chiapas, mostly through Nahuatl place names.

Spanish territories in Mesoamerica were divided and governed from Mexico City (the Viceroyalty of New Spain). For more than 200 years, Antigua, Guatemala, served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, a large region that included almost all of present-day Central America and the southernmost State of Mexico: Chiapas.

Intricately woven daily huipil from Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas Highlands

Maya communities were contiguous until the Mexican Revolution, when geo-political boundaries were drawn separating Guatemala from Mexico. The Usamincinta River was the demarcation line.

All cotton huipil in new colors, an innovation, San Andres Larrainzar

Along this river are two very important archeological sites: Yaxchilan and Bonampak. Symbols from fresco paintings here are depicted in the cloth woven by Maya women across the borders. It is also the region of the Lancandon jungle, home to the Lancandon tribal group that speak an ancient form of Maya. They were able to escape Spanish conquest by staying hidden deep in the jungle.

Corn hangs to dry, Tenejapa

I write about this to better understand the context of the cloth, which has limited boundaries.

Traditional Tenejapa wool huipil with natural dyes

On our recent Chiapas Textile Study Tour, one of our travelers, Rosemary, told me she makes frequent visits to Guatemala to collect Maya huipiles. She said she always wondered why she had a hard time finding the huipiles from Colotenango and Huehuetenango in Antigua, until she came to San Cristobal.

French knots hand-embroidered, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

These Guatemala villages are much closer to Chiapas than they are to Antigua. She surmised that it was easier to export them here. We found many superb examples of Guatemala textiles mingled among those from Chiapas for this reason.

Pillow cover, San Andres Larrainzar

We asked the weavers we met on this journey what they dreamed of for themselves and their families. What do they want/need? What are their hopes for their children?

Sewing basket, Tenejapa, Chiapas

I ask our travelers to think of themselves as amateur cultural anthropologists: to ask questions and to understand what is most important for women, children, families, and their economic well-being.

On the loom, Tenejapa weaving, suspended from the ceiling at Na Bolom

Every artisan we talked with had a similar answer: they need markets to sell what they make. They want their children to have an education beyond sixth grade. They want them to keep the traditions alive, too. They want autonomy and independence from neo-colonialism and government control. They want to be respected for their creativity and traditions.

Seen on the street: Can I take a photo, please? I promise I won’t photo your face.

In other words, they want what we want for ourselves and our children — a life of safety, security and economic well-being, with health care and a just, living wage.

Exquisite machine-embroidered chal (shawl), San Lorenzo Zinacantan

Cultural Tourism: Why are we here?

Why are we here? Is the answer as simple as Cultural Tourism? Is our motivation to experience a world different from our own? We are lovers of the handmade and appreciators of the people who are the makers. We want to meet the makers directly and support them.

In the Academia.edu article What is Cultural Tourism? Greg Richards says, Another major cultural trend that has been important in the growth of the heritage industry has been the growth of nostalgia. The increasing pace of life and the feeling of disorientation and loss associated with modernity has ensured that the preservation of the past has become big business.

I am aware of this as we bring small groups into remote villages. I hope our footprint will be as small as possible. I hope we become observers with heart and empathy. I also want to talk about our tendency to romanticize what many visitors perceive as a simpler lifestyle.

We seem to yearn for a simpler lifestyle.

So, I ask the question of you: Is cooking over a smoky wood fire simpler if it means you or your children will develop emphysema? Is it simpler if you have to travel 20 miles to the nearest health care clinic? What if the school in your village doesn’t have a regular teacher and only goes to fourth grade? Is it a simpler lifestyle when your husband is an alcoholic and family violence is a reality, not a poster? Is it simpler when you find an hour or two a day to weave, after cooking, cleaning, tending children, husking corn, washing clothes?

Can we really know about people and their lives by interacting with them for a few hours and buying what they make? With this purchase, are we practicing cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? By just being here, what is our impact on how people live and work? Will change happen? What is authentic, anyway?

These are our questions and our discoveries on the Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Would you like to come exploring with us?

Chiapas Textile Study Tour 2020

Dates are set. Let’s GO! February 25 to March 4, 2020. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,995 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

For fiestas, wool huipil takes 8 months to weave, San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro explains collection, Museo del Trajes Regionales

We are committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions.

Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

There will be only ONE study tour to Chiapas in 2020.

Detail, embroidered blouse, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • culture, history and identity of cloth
  • cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
  • wool spinning and weaving
  • clothing design and construction
  • embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
  • Maya textile designs — significance
  • village and individual identity through clothing
  • market days and mercantile economy
  • local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
  • quality and value
With Andrea in San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Alejandro is a native Mexican who knows textiles and can explain the meaning of the woven symbols embedded in the cloth. You will enjoy learning from him.

We will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world.

  • We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
  • We enjoy home-cooked meals
  • We meet the makers and directly support them
  • We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
  • We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
  • We explore three towns on their market days
  • We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs
Carnival in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 25: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

From Cancuc (left) and Oxchuc (right), Maya mathematics on cloth

Wednesday, February 26: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the Textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)

Ancient Maya cemetery, Romerillo, Chiapas

Thursday, February 27: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Shuko wears a soft wool chal (shawl) woven by Maruch

Friday, February 28: After breakfast, we take you to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Ceramic bull candleholders adorn churches and homes

Saturday, February 29: We set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Youngsters learn cultural traditions early — Carnival in San Juan Chamula

Sunday, March 1: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Printmaking at Los Leñateros handmade paper studio

Monday, March 2: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Seen on the street, extraordinary huipil from Chalchihuitan

Tuesday, March 3: After breakfast, the finest agave fiber bags in all of San Cristobal will be on display from the makers who live in Magdalena Aldama. They will also bring flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

From agave leaf to finished bag, three months of work

Wednesday, March 4. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.

What Is Included

• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center and walking streets

• 8 breakfasts • 5 lunches • 1 dinner

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,995 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Payment Schedule:

  • 1/3 of total balance due immediately to register and confirm
  • Second 1/3 payment due on or before October 1, 2019
  • Third and final 1/3 balance due on or before December 15, 2019

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers * Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Worn by officials, handmade straw hat, festooned with ribbons

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2019, there are no refunds. If we receive a cancelation on or before December 15, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

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 reimbursement.

Our 2019 group with Esperanza in Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour 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 plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Backstrap loom weaving in Tenejapa, Chiapas with Maria Meza Giron

Far and Away: Maya Weaving Village Magdalena Aldama

The locals call it Aldama, preferring to honor the 1810 Mexican Revolutionary War hero Juan Aldama, rather than the saint name imposed by Spanish conquerors. They are revolutionaries themselves here with most of the village sympathizing with the Zapatista movement.

Zapatista meeting house, Aldama

They are also extraordinary weavers of traditional huipiles and finely woven agave bags. The largest and finest bags take three months to make. The gala, celebratory fiesta huipil, made on the backstrap loom using supplementary weft technique to create the designs, can take eight months to weave.

Gala huipil from Magdalena Aldama, a heavy brocade woven on the back strap loom

I’m taking our Chiapas Textile Tour travelers on an adventure. As we climb the winding mountain road, we pass through Chamula territory where women are wearing the traditional wooly black skirts and men sport wooly white tunics and white hats. At the Y in the road we divert left. To continue right would take us to Chenalho and Chalchihuitan.

It takes Francisco three months to weave one agave fiber bag

As we climb, the mist thickens and droplets cover the windshield of our van. We are covered as if by a shroud. This is territory where wool and heavily woven cotton offer protection from the chill.

Children receive a ninth grade education, become weavers and farmers

In Aldama, women become weaving masters by age twelve. Their designs are mathematic. They count the warp threads. Dream their designs. Wrestle with design problems as they sleep. Wrestle with angels. The designs talk to them through Santa Marta, Magdalena and Maria.

This is a densely woven, cotton blouse used for daily wear

The patterns that emerge are magical and surrealistic. Lady Xoc appears as a figure hidden in cloth, transferred from the frescoes at Yaxchilan. You see her symbol in the cloth of the three villages — San Andres Larrainzar, Aldama, and Santa Marta. Triangles represent the universe. Frogs symbolize the coming of rain. The diamond contains a sacred sense of location. Put your head through the opening of the huipil and the wearer is at the center of the universe.

The symbol of the sunrise is a syncretic symbol of the birth of Jesus. Corn plants tell us the story of the dry season and also of fertility. Indigenous cultures depend on rain and sun to grown corn, squash and beans. To survive and thrive.

Our hosts, Rosa and Cristobal in Aldama

The textiles tell us this.

Other symbols are incorporated in the work we see: rabbit tracks and dog paws, foxes and butterflies. Clothing is part of the natural world.

Obscure light in cooking area. Photo by Mike Schroeder.

With the conquest, Dominican priests isolated each town, forcing them to dress in a way that would control their identity and their freedom of movement. We learn this from the cultural anthropologist I engage to travel with us. We learn that dress is part of cultural identity and carries with it political control.

In some villages, like in Zinacantan, we find out the colors and designs can change regularly — more associated with fashion trends than with anything else. There is pride now in what people make and wear to distinguish themselves.

Festival hat, handwoven bands sewn together, nine months to make

However, young people are moving toward blue jeans and T-shirts. Women are the culture keepers. Men leave their villages to find seasonal work elsewhere, adapting their dress to the dominant culture.

In Magdalena Aldama, there is a strong desire to keep the traditions and pass them along to the children. We saw ten year old girls weaving and embroidering along with their mothers, aunts and cousins.

Ancient guava tree, just leafing out. Photo by Mike Schroeder.

After being treated to a show and sale of their family’s work, Rosa and Cristobal invite us into their wattle and daub (mud and stick) house to sit down for lunch. There are seventeen of us. We are served delicious organic free range chicken soup, rice and steamed vegetables.

The hill town, San Cristobal de Las Casas

The kitchen-dining area is open hearth. Wood smoke fills the air. The fire heats a huge cauldron of broth and chicken pieces. It has been cooking for days and is fork tender. Toddlers run underfoot or are slung around the backs of their mothers, held tight by a handwoven rebozo. Our eyes water. Our mouths water. Cristobal brings out the pox and we sip the corn-sugar cane distilled beverage. It reminds me of mezcal.

Sunset in front of the cathedral

I am grateful for the women and men who traveled with me. They were generous of heart, spirit and resources. They understood that when then made a purchase, they give support to culture, tradition and the continuation of indigenous cloth.

Registration for the 2020 Chiapas Textile Study Tour will open soon. Dates will be February 25 to March 4. If you are interested, please send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com