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Follow Me Photo Study Tour: Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration through the eyes of your camera, with those who lives here? This is a walking study tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more!

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Amateur photographers who have a range of skill, from no experience to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

Humble Apron Elevates to Fashion Statement and Identity in Oaxaca, Mexico

Here in the Tlacolula Valley, and most villages surrounding the city of Oaxaca, the apron is more than a utilitarian article of clothing used to protect the wearer’s garment from getting soiled. It is a statement of identity, style, and social class.

Tlacolula market scene with aprons as personal and village identity.

Tlacolula market scene with women’s aprons as personal and village identity.

Walk around the Tlacolula Market on Sunday, or any day for that matter, and you will see women, old and young, covered in aprons. You can identify their villages by apron style.

For example, women from San Miguel del Valle wear a bib apron with an attached gathered skirt that has a heavily embroidered hem. The aprons worn by women from San Marcos Tlapazola are cotton with pleated skirts often trimmed in commercial lace or bric-a-brac.

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Teotitlan del Valle women prefer gingham cotton aprons with scalloped bodices and hems, trimmed in machine embroidered flowers, plants, fruits and sometimes animal figures.

There are fancy aprons, more densely embroidered for Sunday wear and special fiestas, and simple ones for everyday to cook, wash clothing and tend to babies, grandchildren and guajolotes.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

The apron is worn by grandmothers and granddaughters alike. It is a uniform that conveys personal identity, social status and wealth. The heavily embroidered apron cost much more,  as much as 350 pesos compared to the everyday 150 peso variety.

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

You would want to wear your fanciest apron to the market to bring the oohs and aahs from contemporaries who admire your choice of color and design. Market day, a daily occurrence in Teotitlan del Valle and a regional weekly event in Tlacolula, is the social center for towns and villages. It is the time when women greet and mingle with each other, some even sneaking off together for a morning mezcal.

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

When you get home, you change to the daily apron for working.

Aprons are handy because they have deep pockets. Perfect for holding the coins of commerce. They are also convenient because you don’t have to wear a bra.

There are about eight different apron vendors in the concrete building of the permanent Tlacolula market. One of my favorites is along the exterior aisle closer to the bread section. They are from San Pablo Villa de Mitla and the machine embroidered aprons are filled with fanciful images of birds, fruit and flowers.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

  • Tejidos y Bordados Alondra, Rocio Lopez Mendez, Proprietor, Pipila 9, Mitla, Oaxaca, abel_971@hotmail.com, cel 951-203-8333

Every apron is different. You need to try on at least several to compare size and quality. Make certain there are no stains and that the embroidery around the neck and the pocket placement is even.

One for her, one for him!

One for her, one for him!

 

 

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop Day 3: Rainbows and Overdyes

Rhiannon and instructor Elsa at the end of the three-day workshop

Rhiannon and instructor Elsa at the end of the three-day workshop. Indigo hands!

The third and last day of the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop brings together all the preparation of the first two days in a culminating extravaganza of rich, deep color.

The beauty of natural dyes: deep, rich color, a rainbow to weave with

The beauty of natural dyes: deep, rich color, a rainbow to weave with

The movement toward using natural dyes is taking hold around the world. It is an environmentally healthy process that is non-toxic and sustainable. Here in Oaxaca more weavers are using natural dyes for their beauty and because it’s what eco-minded textile lovers want.

Rhiannon's shibori scarf comes out of the indigo dye bath

Rhiannon’s shibori scarf comes out of the indigo dye bath

On this last day, we prepare the indigo dye bath to color cotton and wool blue. We also use the indigo for overdyeing. This gives us a rainbow of colors.

As the color oxydizes, it changes from yellow to green to blue -- magic

As the color oxidizes, it changes from yellow to green to blue — magic

Elsa shows the film about the small village on the southern coast of Oaxaca, Santiago Niltepec, where two families remain who preserve the ancient tradition of growing the indigo plant and making it into dye material.  All the indigo that Elsa uses is native to Oaxaca.

Rhiannon's blue shibori scarf dries on the clothesline

Rhiannon’s blue shibori scarf dries on the clothesline

Cochineal gives us red, orange purple and pink depending on the color of the wool, the number of dips in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid or base to modify the color.

Rhiannon wears her finished indigo shibori scarf

Rhiannon wears her finished indigo shibori scarf

When cochineal is overdyed with indigo, the wool becomes deep purple or lavender or mauve, depending on the strength of the dye bath and the natural wool color.

Cochineal and variation to purple with indigo overdye

Cochineal red and with and indigo overdye, royal purple

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

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

Pomegranate (granada) before its overdyed.

Pomegranate (granada) dye on grey and white wool

Wild marigold (pericone) changes from yellow to green with indigo overdye

Pomegranate (granada) changes from sand yellow to green with indigo overdye

We loved this purple and bright fuchsia made with brazil wood (grey and white wool)

We love this purple and bright fuchsia made with brazil wood (grey and white wool)

Shibori cotton -- sewing into cloth for dye resist

My project, making a shibori cotton textile — sewing into cloth for dye resist

My project after immersion in the indigo dye bath

My project after immersion in the indigo dye bath

My project after taking out the threads to reveal the dye resist design

My project after taking out the threads to reveal the dye resist design

Rhiannon's samples: mahogany dyed shibori gets an indigo overdye

Rhiannon’s samples: mahogany dyed shibori gets an indigo overdye (top sample)

Another sample: mahogany with an overdye of ferrous oxide (rusty nails)

Another sample: mahogany with an overdye of ferrous oxide

Rhiannon made these tassels for a jewelry project and dyed the tips with cochineal

Rhiannon made these silk-steel tassels, dyed tips with cochineal, for jewelry project

Elsa dyed this cotton shirt with mahogany

Elsa dyed this cotton shirt with mahogany — color deepens in direct sun

Cochineal in an acide dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal in an acid dye bath — brilliant scarlet

Pericone before dipping into the indigo

Wild marigold (pericone) before dipping into the indigo

What the mahogany dipped in indigo sampler looks like when removed from the dye bath

Mahogany dipped in indigo sampler after removal from the dye bath

At the end of the day, dye formulas with color swatches for each dye and overdye

At the end of the day, dye formulas with color swatches for each example

And a memorable learning experience that is both rewarding and fun.

Hanging the yarn samples to dry, labeling them for the recipe cards

Hanging the yarn samples to dry, labeling them for the recipe cards

Natural dye workshop is on a rooftop terrace overlooking Oaxaca's historic center

Natural dye workshop is on a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca’s historic center

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops from Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop Day 2: Cochineal Red and More

Taking this Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop is a study in color creativity. On this second day of three, we prepare cochineal, the parasitic insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus paddle. The chemical interaction between the female bug and the cactus juice produces carminic acid.

Cochineal dyed wool, ready for the weaver's loom

Cochineal dyed cotton, ready for the weaver’s loom

This is the most intense and color-fast red in the natural world.

When the Spanish came to Oaxaca in 1521 they were amazed to see the deep red used to dye feathers and to paint codices, human bodies or plaster temple walls.

Lava stone mortar and pestle used only to crush dried cochineal

Lava stone mortar and pestle used only to crush dried cochineal

They called it grana cochineal, naming it a grain not an insect to disguise its origin. The Spanish kept cochineal a secret for hundreds of years, holding the world monopoly on its production and distribution. It was the third most valuable export commodity after gold and silver.

Rhiannon and Elsa strain the cochineal concentrate for the dye pot

Rhiannon and Elsa strain the cochineal concentrate for the dye pot

Today, natural carminic acid colors cosmetics such as lipstick, and foods and beverages like Campari, fruit juices, jello and even meat.

Dyeing wool samples with cochineal and acid (lime juice)

Dyeing wool samples with cochineal and acid (lime juice)

Cochineal is expensive, about $125 USD or 1,800 pesos for a kilo. It can’t be wasted. That’s why Elsa grinds her dried bugs that she buys from El Tlapanochestli Cochineal Farm. You can buy packages of dried bugs for dyeing at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca gift shop.

Skeins dyed with pomegranate (granada) hang to dry

Skeins dyed with pomegranate (granada) and wild marigold  hang to dry

She grinds them to a very fine powder in a molcajete. This is a lava stone mortar and pestle. It must be very fine powder to dissolve completely in the dye bath. The finer the powder the less waste there will be.

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath -- turns cochineal bright orange

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath — turns cochineal bright orange

Hand process includes squeezing fresh lime juice to make an acid dye bath

Skein of wool dyed with wild marigold (pericone) leaves, stems and flowers

There is so much preparation even before the dyeing process begins. It’s no wonder textiles made with natural dyes cost so much! First, there is the investment in stainless steel and enamel dye pots, much more expensive than iron or aluminum, but essential so the pot chemistry doesn’t change the dye color.

Rhiannon preps a shibori scarf while waiting for cochineal dye bath

Rhiannon preps a shibori scarf while waiting for cochineal dye bath to finish

Then, you have to make your recipes. What color red do you want? Deep fuchsia, orange, hot pink, magenta? Your recipe will vary depending on color intensity. You may add more water, more lime juice (acid) or baking soda (neutral).

Dyeing sample cloth with brazil wood

Dyeing sample cloth with brazil wood

Next, you’ll wash your fiber in soapy water to open up the fibers to clean it and accept the mordant. You rinse the fibers several time to take out the soap and then hang it to dry.

Rhiannon and Elsa hold finished shibori -- to be dyed with indigo

Rhiannon and Elsa hold finished shibori — to be dyed with indigo

You will leave the cleaned fiber (we used wool) in the mordant overnight. This helps the wool absorb the dye.

On this second day, with the wool ready, we prepare the cochineal and then select the white and grey skeins to dye.

Mahogany (caoba) bark makes a beautiful peach dye

Mahogany (caoba) bark makes a beautiful peach dye

In addition, on this second day we also experiment dyeing with caoba (mahogany) and palo de Brazil (brazil wood).

Shibori is dye resist technique. Here, marbles and rubber bands make designs.

Shibori is dye resist technique. Here, marbles and rubber bands make the design.

The cochineal dye pot is ready at 90 degrees centigrade. It takes an hour to cook the skeins so they absorb the right amount of color. During this time, we prepare wild marigold, mahogany, brazil wood, and pomegranate. Most of these skeins will be over dyed on Day Three to yield 32 different colors.

It’s no wonder the Spanish loved this color! Red on white and grey wool.

I write about natural dyes because Oaxaca has a long tradition of using colors derived from the natural world. I also want to encourage Oaxaca visitors to seek out and support artisans who work in natural dyes.

We determine color by weight of fiber (WOF) to amount of dye -- chemistry!

We determine color by weight of fiber (WOF) to amount of dye — chemistry!

I hope readers will better understand the labor involved to make textiles using this technique. Yes, the textile will cost more. Perhaps you agree that its subtle beauty will be worth it.

Pomegranate dye bath

Wool in a pomegranate dye bath

 

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop, Day One: Prep to Make 32 Colors

For three days I am immersed in natural dyes with Elsa Sanchez Diaz who teaches our Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. We make 32 different colors starting with a base of gray and white natural wool.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

The natural plant and vegetable materials we dye with include palo de brazil (Brazilwood), nogal (walnut), cochineal (the red insect found on the prickly pear cactus paddle), caoba (mahogany bark), palo de aguila (alderwood bark),  palo de mora (fustic), pericone (wild marigold), granada (pomegranate) and añil (indigo).

Indigo plant from Oaxaca's coast.

Indigo plant from Oaxaca’s coast.

Using a combination of base dyes and over-dyes, we make color variations of red, purple, orange, pink, yellow, green and blue.  Based on the wool color and number of dips into the dye bath, the color will be light or intense.

Rhiannon uses the mortar and pestle to grind cochineal to a fine powder. Elsa is happy with her results.

Rhiannon uses the mortar and pestle to grind cochineal to a fine powder. Elsa is happy with her results.

For the complete three-day workshop, the first day is mostly preparation of the materials, starting with making the skeins of yarn.  We learn about the history of natural dyes in Mexico, how the pre-Hispanic indigenous people used the dyes, and the symbols of the colors.

(We also offer One and Two-Day Dye Workshops)

Pomegranate seeds and brazilwood for dye baths.

Pomegranate seeds and brazilwood for dye baths.

To understand the entire dye process, Elsa says that it is important to begin with all the basic preparation steps. This is a time-consuming process and to be a natural dyer one must have patience. This is something we learn in Mexico daily.

Mahogany gives a peach color that is stunning.

Mahogany gives a peach color that is stunning and grey when over-dyed with iron.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs.

On the street below the rooftop terrace where we work sheltered from the sun at the outdoor dye studio, I hear the sound of a high-pitched whistle. It’s the knife sharpener, Elsa says. Other street sounds signal the coming of the gas man and tortilla vendor.

Pericone or wild marigold dyed on white and grey churro wool

Pericone or wild marigold dyed on white and grey churro wool

Elsa says even when she uses the same recipes, the color will vary slightly each time.  This is handmade, after all! Color intensity depends on the pH of the water, the dryness, age or freshness of the plants and fruits, and the natural shade of the wool. This is chemistry, for sure.

Straining the cochineal dye concentrate to eliminate bug debris

Straining the cochineal dye concentrate to eliminate bug debris

Plus, when there are natural tannic acids in some materials like mahogany, indigo, fustic and pomegranate, the color is stronger.

Fine powder yields the most intensity. More muscle, please!

Fine powder yields the most intensity. More muscle, please!

Day One is a complete introduction to the two most frequently used dyes, pericone and pomegranate, and getting into the mindset of natural dyes, says our participant Rhiannon, a textile and jewelry designer from Canada. But, you don’t have to be experienced or a professional to learn … and have fun with color.

Breaking the tough Brazilwood. Smallest pieces give strongest color.

Breaking the tough Brazilwood. Smallest pieces give strongest color.

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop.  We can schedule your experience when you come to Oaxaca.

Indigo dyed wool drying on the rooftop terrace.

Indigo dyed wool drying on the rooftop terrace.