Tag Archives: cloth

Textile Flower Bouquets of San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Zinacantan is about thirty minutes by taxi from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. They grow flowers here. Large greenhouses dominate the landscape like a checkerboard rising from the valley to the hillsides.

Flower growing Zinacantan garden embroidered on cloth

This is a prosperous community that exports this produce throughout Mexico, as far as Mexico City and Merida.

Toddler cradled in an embroidered rebozo carrier with scalloped chal

Local dress reflects this love of flowers. Women’s skirts and chals (shawls), men’s pants and ponchos, and rebozos to cradle babies are densely embroidered with flower motifs.

Machined cross-stitch embroidery. Can you tell the difference?

It used to be that this work was all done by hand. Now, the embroidery machine has taken over the life of the cloth, which is often completely covered in intricate flower motifs so dense you can hardly see the base fabric.

Family shop together on market day

It used to be that the base cloth was woven on a back strap loom. This is now rarely the case. Most is either woven on the treadle loom or by commercial machine.

Bling blouses–machine embroidered bodices on shiny synthetic cloth. Beautiful.

It used to be that the village was identified by its hot pink cloth. Now, we see purples and blues. It’s common to see shiny colored threads in both the woven cloth and the embroidery thread. Fashions change and the Zinacantecas innovate new designs, use new color variations, and new embroidery motifs.

Woman working her needle by hand on the street, a rarity

Far beyond Mexico City, Mexican women love their bling.

Sheri Brautigam and I went early to Zinacantan yesterday on a discovery trip to check out new places to take the next Chiapas Textile Study Tour group. Sunday is Zinacantan market day but you have to get there early. The women with textiles have spread out their wares on the street at 6:00 a.m. and start putting their things away by 10:30 a.m.

New designs this year, short scalloped collar shawl

Our best advice is go there first before Chamula.

My find of the day: hand embroidered chal, front and back

2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Taking reservations now.

Wander the streets off the Zocalo. There are homes and stalls that sell good new and vintage textiles. The old pieces might be ten, fifteen or twenty years old. People stop wearing them because the colors are outdated not because the cloth is worn.

Costume is worn with cultural pride everyday

You can easily spend an hour here.

A rainbow of threads for embroidery machines in the market.

Here you will find hand embroidered cloth woven on back strap looms. This could include cross-stitch (punto de cruz) and French knots, in addition to other traditional needlework. How can you tell? Turn it over and look at the underside.

Meandering the streets we come across handmade leather shoes

The embroidery machine has come to Chiapas and can replicate cross-stitch and everything else. The village women now wear the work made by machine and it’s beautiful, too. Everything is a personal choice!

Market day goes on under the destruction of San Lorenzo Church

The obvious tragedy is the damage to the Church of San Lorenzo during the September 7, 2017, earthquake that rattled Chiapas and the southern Oaxaca coast. The destruction dominates the horizon. The church is closed until further notice by INAH. People say it may be impossible to repair. There is talk in the village about building another church.

Saints in temporary corrugated home. Photo by Carol Estes.

I remember entering the candlelit space in years past where all corners were adorned with flowers, abundant, fragrant. The altar was like a floral arrangement unlike any other I had seen. The aroma made me swoon. Now, the saints have been removed to a corrugated shed. INAH is responsible for all historic churches in Mexico. Few in and around San Cristobal de Las escaped damage. There is years of work to be done. Will Mexico have the will to repair?

September 2017 earthquake toppled houses, too.

Back on the street we find hand-woven and embroidered bags, silky polyester blouses machine embroidered with complementary colors, belt sashes and skirt fabric. Since it’s market day, tarps are also covered with piles of fruits and vegetables, and staples for the home.

1930s wedding, San Lorenzo Zinacantan

The Aztecs ruled this territory before the Spanish. They dominated as far south as Nicaragua. The Zinacantecos had strong links with the Aztecs, and enjoyed a privileged trading relationship. The village served as political/economic center for Aztec control of the region before the Spanish reached Chiapas in 1523. Our friend Patricio tells us that many locals intermarried with Nahuatl speaking Mexica’s.

The Zinacantan feathered wedding dress is a carry over from this past.

Leaving San Cristobal at 9:00 a.m. for Zinacantan

Taxi to get there, 150 pesos from San Cristobal de Las Casas.  Taxi to return, 100 pesos. Get it at the back corner of the church before you enter the market street.

On our hotel street, end of day








It costs about 150 pesos to get there.

Reviving Lost Textile Traditions in Tututepec, Oaxaca on the Costa Chica

Villa de Tutupec de Melchor Ocampo  is a mountain town above the Pacific Ocean on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. During our recent Oaxaca Textile Study Tour: Valley and Coast, we spent almost a complete day there immersed in the region’s cultural history.

Tututepec is tucked into the fold of a mountain that overlooks the Pacific coast and off-shore lagoons. We get there driving through papaya groves — the biggest growing region in Mexico.

Ancient design revived by Luis Adan on the back strap loom

Get on the list for the 2019 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. 

Tututpec is the oldest pueblo on the coast.  People settled there before 800 BC. Once the power center of the Mixtec people who defied conquest by the Aztecs, Tututepec is now rediscovering her roots. A small museum near the Zocalo features stelae and ancient relics from the nearby archeological site. The Codex Columbino (original is in the British Museum) tells the story of Eight Deer Jaguar Claw.

Reproduction of one page of the Codex Columbino in the Tututepec Museum

Eight Deer Jaguar Claw unified the region on the northwest border of Oaxaca, rich in gold, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. It included parts of modern states of Puebla and Guerrero, about the size of Texas. The capital was Tututepec.

Native Oaxaca brown and green cotton, waiting to be spun

Hundreds of pre-Hispanic ceramic whorls point to a vibrant native cotton-spinning tradition using the malacate or drop spindle. The whorl is an essential part for turning the wooden stick. Wood disintegrates. Clay survives.

Malacate — drop spindle — with native Oaxaca cotton

After the museum orientation, Luis Adan meets our group to guide us to his mountain home.  Here, after a delicious lunch of two different moles, we see how this twenty-six year old young man is reviving the lost traditions of his village.

Our group of textile travelers at the home studio of Luis Adan

Originally, only the people descended from Eight Deer Jaguar Claw were allowed to use the traditional brocade (supplementary weft) designs in their huipiles. Cochineal must be dyed only during the full moon so it is more intense, they say here.

Very portable, the back strap loom, a universal fabric-making tool

The story goes that a village mayor sometime between 1900 and 1930 commanded that all the women bring their huipiles and blusas to the zocalo. When the pile was complete, he set the cloth on fire. There were no remains except memory. Identity through the stories told in the back strap loom weaving physically disappeared.

Native brown Coyuchi cotton with native green cotton design in supplementary weft

Why did he do it? My interpretation is that political and social conformity is a powerful force to guarantee assimilation. If clothing is indigenous identity, rulers have the power to destroy and redefine self. Only now, almost one hundred years later, the cloth is resurrected from the fire. What do you think?

Embroidered collar, native white cotton dyed with caracol purpura

Luis Adan shows us how he is making the drop spindle to spin native cotton grown nearby. He saves the seeds. He did research, learned from his grandparents, and is recreating the designs lost in the fire. He uses the natural dyes that are known in this part of Oaxaca: cochineal, indigo and caracol purpura.

Get on the list for the 2019 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Dressing Denise in an indigo, cochineal, caracol purpura dyed posahuanco

The back strap looms that Luis Adan uses are hand constructed from local wood. We spend the afternoon with him in awe that a young man would dedicate and devote himself to recapturing a lost art.

Luis Adan at the back strap loom

He uses clay pots to ferment the indigo, which he grows himself. This year, because of heavy rains, there was not much native cotton or indigo produced. Cotton doesn’t like water. It is planted in August and harvested in December. The different varieties are planted far apart so they do not cross-pollinate. Here, too, the men tend to the crops and the women weave, except for Luis Adan!

Caracol purpura dyed cotton thread before it goes to the loom

The endangered caracol purpura makes it difficult to find enough to dye with. The native brown and green cotton offer a subtle contrast to the brilliant purples, reds and blues. The blouses and dresses are a loose weave because the climate is hot and humid.

Mixtec stelae, excavated from Spanish church, Tututepec Museum

Come with me in 2019. Send an email. 

Taking notes, with intense indigo dyed native white cotton





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


India Journal: Fill in the Blanks, Stencil Art

Remember when you were a child and got a set of crayons and coloring book? The book was printed with figures and designs. It was your job fill in the color between the lines.

Stenciled design on cloth gives embroiderer stitch guide

Be careful, a parent or teacher would say. Be neat. Don’t go outside the lines. There were no blank pages on which to scribble or be creative. You got a gold star for staying inside the lines, filling in all the shapes.

Young Ahir woman honing her craft

Soon, you may have been bored and gone on to do something else. Perhaps the color intensity lessened as you hastily went on to the next page. Maybe, you went outside the lines on purpose to make your own mark.

Working on a pre-printed pattern. Is there freedom for color choice?

Yesterday we went to visit India textile expert Judy Frater at the NGO she runs in Adipur, about an hour east of Bhuj near the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea. Before starting Somaiya Kala Vidya in 2014, Judy was the founding director of Kala Raksha, another NGO dedicated to textile promotion and development.

New Ahir embroidery that will become pillow or handbag

Today she works with indigenous artisans to provide education and training programs designed for cultural sustainability, market development, and indigenous identity.

Ahir women in embroidery circle, all working on stenciled patterns

With Judy during my visit and with Salim Wazir the following day, I talked about the questions we discuss in Mexico that India shares. I suspect that these are pressing questions among artisans throughout the world.

Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail

  1. How do you create a sustainable craft enterprise without compromising an artisan’s innate creativity and urge for innovation?
  2. When a designer comes in to work with local artisans, employing his or her own drawings and hires the local artisan to execute them, how does this have an impact on craft preservation and design ownership?
  3. If NGO’s create cooperatives that then produce cookie cutter patterns printed on cloth that the embroiderers then fills in with silk threads in pre-selected colors, is this craft development or exploitation?
  4. If something is produced for the tourist market and not for personal or community use, what impact will this have for design sustainability?
  5. What compromises can be made to make sure that people work for fair wages, without being piece workers doing routine jobs for work they don’t own?
  6. Is paid work the only important consideration or does originality and integrity of communal design hold more value?
  7. How will textile craft survive and who will decide its future?

Workshop participant making panel for tourist market

What other questions would you ask?

How would you answer these questions? I’m interested in hearing from you!

Old mirrored embroidery on silk bandhani, imperfectly beautiful

Mexico and India are both sources for great textile artistry.  Weavers in Mexico have made cloth on back strap, flying shuttle and pedal looms for centuries and longer. In India, artisans have been weaving cloth, dyeing it with natural colors and embellishing it with embroidery since Mughal conquerors and spice trade adventurers moved from central Asia and the Levant.

She is beginning to fill in the blanks.

As tourist preferences drive the crafts market, most non-governmental agencies direct people to make things that will sell. Production uniformity is important to outside markets as collectors demand high-quality, perfect workmanship, and sophisticated design (in their point-of-view).

Whimsical embroidered blouse belonging to Wandh herding community

The whimsy of asymmetry and uneven stitches seems to be losing ground in the commercial marketplace. Only foreigners are interested in tribal textiles.

Rabari women in another workshop also follow a designer provided pattern.

If a boutique owner or retail client orders 100 handbags, he or she may expect that while color may vary, design will be consistent.  If there is deviation or variation, something may not sell and then the risk is that the worker and the organization will no longer receive orders and then go out of business.

Contemporary Rabari needlework

What price will be paid for quality consistency and uniformity? Will the naive, free-form folk art design produced for self-use disappear in favor of making something more polished that will then be sold at a higher price to foreigners?

Vintage Rabari embroidery trim on bandhani tie-dyed shawl

What about making goods for the local market vs. the foreign market? I was told repeatedly that woven goods are now being made with acrylic because it is cheaper to produce and that is what local people will buy.

Whimsical Toran in Ahir village community center

What is the cost and the loss for using cheaper raw materials and industrial mechanization?

I’d love what she’s wearing!

It is difficult to find artisans in India, as well as in Mexico, who are still working in natural dyes because the process is longer and the investment in raw materials is much higher.

Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old

The tourist season in Gujarat, India is about four months long, from November through February, about the same as in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s the dry season, easier to travel. Yet, this is the hottest December that people in Bhuj can remember. There is no global warming, right?

Sheep wool, hand-woven skirt trimmed in embroidery, pure Rabari

And, this year, because of India’s demonitization crisis and no access to cash currency, about 60-70% of international tours cancelled.  This region that depends on tourism is being hard hit. Sound familiar to those of you who visit or live in Mexico?

Rabari woman working on dress trim to be sold in a boutique somewhere

I’ve heard stories about embroidery designs from one tribal group that are co-opted and used by another because it is more popular. I have heard about a village that weaves a piece of cloth which is sent to another village for embroidery embellishment. Neither is credited with for the work.

Rabari women’s hands make quick work; tattoos and cloth, key symbols of identity.

Since cloth is about identity, does this practice contribute to loss of cultural identity? Who is responsible for this loss? How do we put value on what is made by hand? Are we willing to compensate or are we looking for a bargain, at whatever the cost to the maker?

Tools of the trade: cotton or rayon floss, needles, mirrors

I’m writing this blog post from the airport in Seoul, South Korea. It’s 10:50 a.m., December 14 here. I will be back in California, USA by 8:30 a.m. December 14. Go figure! The international news is daunting, and the prospects of a new presidency are depressing as cabinet appointees are named. I’m still apologizing, especially to the terrific Muslim people I have met along this Path to and from India.

Old block print, made with madder root, backs vintage textile.



India Journal: Taj Mahal and Textiles

One of the best days so far is the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Yes, it’s definitely a tourist attraction and not off the beaten path. But, how can one come to India and not go there? Certainly not me!


Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

We traveled by train and took a taxi from the station to the guesthouse. Both the Delhi and Agra stations are a mishmash of individuals and families, sitting, squatting, waiting, eating snacks. Horse drawn carts and bicycle rickshaws compete for passengers with Tata taxis. Noise and humanity is fierce.

Women visiting from the far north of India.

Women visiting from the far north of India, block prints, tie-dye, embroidered trim.

But not so inside the grounds of the Taj, where manicured lawns and well-mannered travelers offer a visual distraction to the looming white marbled domed building.  Perfect Mughal symmetry. Perfect in every way.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

I feel the presence of many who come from around the world as if on pilgrimage. There is a mix of Moslems, Hindus, Jains, Christians, Buddhists. Women, young and old, wear sarees or the more contemporary pantsuit. The cloth colors are jewels. The patterns and designs signify the region of the wearer. The red bindi mark on the forehead between the brows designates those who are married.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

For me, this was as much about meeting people and commenting to them about their beautiful textiles as it was about being in the presence of this famous mausoleum. I am beginning to identify the regions where the cloth is woven, and which is made with natural dyes.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

It was definitely a fashion show that kept my attention from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The weaving is very intricate, especially the ikat, and it is a joy to see the cloth used as daily wear.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

We left the guesthouse to catch the 5:50 p.m. Gatiman express (1-1/2 hours to Delhi) back to Delhi, arriving in time for a late dinner. Buy tickets in advance through a travel agent.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

My recommendation is NOT to hire a guide but instead rent the audio cassette in English once inside. There are 16 stops that fully explain the architecture and the history. You can move at your own pace and not be harassed by an over-eager attendant who leads you at his pace.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Guides tell tourists to go inside the monument at 6:30 a.m. for sunrise and  at sunset to see the Taj from the gardens across the Yamouna River.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

In my opinion, it’s best to see the Taj in midday, when the strong sun glows and the domes are white iridescent. My personal experience was that sunset was not dramatic. There’s pollution in Agra, although locals call it fog!

Buddhist tourists from Japan.

Tourists from Japan. I just loved their style!

Foreigners pay more for admission, 1,000 rupees. You can buy tickets online and then print them out and take them to the ticket office. From the ticket office near the East Gate, there are free electric vehicles to transport you directly to the site.Don’t fall for taxi drivers who tell you it’s too far and you need them to drive you around to get in.

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border.

Traveling without being in a group has its downsides. And, it’s not easy here to navigate a world where noise, pollution and traffic (hours of it) dominate the experience. Were I to do it again, I’d do it differently.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Agra is multi-cultural. About 60% of the population is Hindu, 30% is Moslem, and the remaining 10% are minorities: Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

We heard so many languages and I identified people from Japan, Malaysia, the U.K., throughout India by their dress.  My friends here tell me that the traditional saree is making a comeback and more young women who want a cultural connection to their country are adopting the saree for everyday wear.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

We have found the people to be friendly, warm and kind for the most part. The young, educated people especially, who helped us with bags, helped us find our way, helped us get taxis, ensured that we were going in the right direction.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Of course, the first topic of discussion from Indians is our presidential election. People are so surpised at the outcome and wonder how this could happen. I find myself in a continuous state of apology.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

My hands clasped together, I bow slightly and say, Namaste. What else can I do?

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Inside the mausoleum, people stand before the crypt of the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her 14th child at age 38. Shah Jahan is buried with her. Women bend their heads as if in prayer atop the railing, throw rupees into the center. Wishes. I wonder what they wish for?

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

I don’t notice any breastfeeding women here, like I do in Mexico. I see babies cradled and sucking bottles. I do see (and have eaten) plenty of samosas, dal, chickpeas, and banana chips. Spice is king here.

Samosa vendors on the main road beyond our guesthouse.

Samosas on main road. Safe to eat? Probably, but I didn’t tempt fate!

One night could be enough unless you want to explore the Agra Fort, the Baby Taj and take a day trip out to Fatepur Sikri, a stunning, simple palace complex built after the first Mughal invasion of India that was abandoned after 19 years because of water shortages.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Colonialism survives in India. Because I’m a foreigner and paid more for the entry ticket, I was segregated to go into a shorter queue, given a bottle of water and slippers to cover my shoes. Later, I stood in line for the ladies room. The attendant waved me to her and I followed.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

She opened a door to a private bathroom stall, pristinely clean. I never got to see what the regular person uses. Maybe, it’s because of my venerable age or is it because of skin color?

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

Women here have their own safe Metro cars devoted exclusively to the and can go into the front of ticket lines before men, too.

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What's inside?

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What’s inside?

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Recommended travel tips:

  • Take an early morning train from Delhi to Agra.
  • Check into your hotel.
  • Spend Day One at Fatehpur Sikri (an hour from the city) and end it at the gardens. Squeeze in the Agra Fort if your have enough fortitude.
  • Day 2, take a leisurely breakfast. Go to the East Gate to get your ticket stamped, and collect the water bottle and booties. You can’t go into the mausoleum or mosque unless you wear booties or take your shoes off.
  • Leave backpacks behind. No food or drink allowed inside except water.
  • Be prepared to go through security. Separate lines for men and women.
  • Rent a self-guided tour audio casette.
  • Lunch is iffy. Not really any good place to eat but you can get packaged snacks at the Coffee Shop.
  • You came here to see the Taj Mahal. Don’t rush through it!

Where we stayed: Aman Guesthouse. Nice people. Decent room and food. Nothing special except excellent hospitality and a good price.