Tag Archives: cloth

Four Words and Boro, Japanese Indigo Patchwork

Writing from Kyoto, March 25, 2019. It’s been four days since I landed in Tokyo and I’ve managed to learn four words: konnichiwa (hello), sayonara (goodbye), arigato gozai mas (thank you very much), and oishi (delicious).  I knew ai (indigo) before I arrived.

Mexico and Japan share a common language through indigo.

An indigo chrysanthemum, simple adornment

Everything here is delicious. Economy meals at corner restaurants where you order and pay in advance from a menu machine are delicious. In my view, as delicious as the priciest sushi set. The people are delicious, the kindest and most generously helpful of any I have met. The fashion is delicious. It is pure deliciousness to be under a cherry tree as buds begin to blossom pink. To say I’m in love with Japan is an understatement. 

The asymmetry of patched cloth, worn to tatters and repaired

My sister Barbara and I have filled our days with what my friend Liz Bell calls flaneuring. The discovery is in the meandering, the randomness of what you will find without a plan. Like the pure ai (indigo) coat I found in an off-beat shop hanging on a rack among nondescript clothes, made in the style of a workingman’s jacket crafted from old recycled cloth in pristine condition, redesigned, repurposed. I didn’t buy it but it was a delight to wear, even if for the moment.

Like Mari Ishibashi, a 2013 graduate of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, who gave me her phone number and said if we need anything, to call her.

Vest, shibori indigo

With intention, we made it a priority to visit the Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo, where an incredible textile exhibition of boro was on display until the end of March. Here, we could see and touch an extraordinary exhibition of vintage cloth, saved by folklorist Chuzaburo Tanaka. The textile is now recognized as a national Tangible Cultural Property. Indigo plays a central role in this story. 

Long underwear, each one elaborately embroidered

Indigo is a reverential art form here, and nothing speaks more proudly of Japanese ingenuity, creativity and self-discipline than the utilitarian Boro patchwork from the coldest, northernmost region of Japan in Aomori Prefecture.  

The layering of cloth over the generations

Boroboro means something tattered or repaired. In the layering of the cloth and the accompanying long stitches, called sashiko, used to hold the patches to the base fabric and hemp filling, the fabric takes on a quality of shimmering texture and beauty. It was not intended this way. Boro was born from poverty. It´s purpose was to make a quilted piece of clothing or bedcover from leftover material that would provide warmth in a frigid, inhospitable, harsh climate. Hemp was used because cotton could not be grown in cold areas. Threadbare areas of cloth were repeatedly patched over, reinforced, and reinforced again.

Blanket, hand spun, woven hemp, dyed with indigo, stuffed with hemp

Hard scrabble peasant farming classes made boro, mending the same garments over and over again with spare scraps. Scraps were saved like treasure. Collected, scarce. Hemp dyed with indigo was common. Garments were passed down from generation to generation. Working class people made do with dignity.

Portrait of a grandfather with granddaughter, Aomori Prefecture

Today, the story is different. Vintage pieces of boro are collectible, scarce and costly. Classes are taught around the world in boro patchwork and quilting techniques. Boro is adapted by fashion designers to embellish blue jeans. Boro has become romanticized, commodified as a fashion statement, taking on a life far from its humble roots.

Intricately embroidered apron, and long underwear

We might compare the indigenous cultures of Mexico with the native peoples of remote Japan, who struggle to survive and thrive in the face of poverty, lack of education and with little or no access to health care. In the face of adversity, they create extraordinary cloth. I have written about cultural tourism and how we seek to get closer to those who are the creators. We admire their creative outputs. We may even yearn for a simpler life for ourselves — more basic, more grounded, more meaningful. In our yearnings, do we create a false romantic vision that obscures the harsh realities.

Inside lining, kimono

A core aesthetic of Japanese life and values is called wabi-sabi. It is a worldview based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Some say that boro is one of the best examples of wabi-sabi —the cloth and the stitches reflect the beauty of natural wear and use. The cloth and the stitches change, become asymmetrical, born of simplicity, roughness and economy. Beauty is in the simplicity of all.

Padded, stitched and repaired cloth shoes

Wabi-sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Patched and tattered kimono, indigo

Boro cloth is quirky, repaired, subtle, weathered, imperfect, rustic, spare, minimalist. The cloth is organic, changing, deconstructed and reconstructed. Like the people who made it, boro is resilient and enduring, a testimony to cultural continuity.

I am on a quest for ai. The imperfect piece of ai. I know I will find it.

Patched boro blanket, indigo

Omar’s Discovery Tour: A First Visit to the USA

Omar Chavez Santiago is twenty-four years old. He is a weaver and natural dyer from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Last year, he graduated with a degree in industrial engineering after studying for four years at Anahuac University in Oaxaca. He is at a cross-roads.

Fayetteville, Lillington, Coats, NC friends give Omar a warm welcome in Durham. Thanks Becky, Robin and Debbie for your support.

Does he pursue a professional engineering career and move to Monterrey or continue in the generations-old family tradition of his Zapotec culture?

On March 1, 2017, Omar went to Mexico City for an interview appointment at the US Embassy to follow-up on his visitor visa application to enter the USA. He is male. He is young. We didn’t know what his chances would be. Slim, I thought. Very slim. So few are allowed to enter.

I wrote my Congressman G.K. Butterfield ((D-NC) to ask if they would send a message and alert the Embassy staff that Omar would be there on March 1 to present a letter of invitation from me and Wendy Sease, owner of INDIO Durham. We invited him to give a presentation and sale of the family’s 100% naturally dyed wool rugs in early April.

List to this GistYarn Podcast with Omar Chavez Santiago

Omar, age 24, has been weaving since he was eight years old.

An alert is different from a request to approve. No one interferes with US Embassy immigration decisions. An alert just says, Look out for this applicant. I guess they did. At the end of the short interview, Omar was awarded a 10-year visa. Ojala.

Discovering La Superior Carneceria y Super Tienda, Durham

Three weeks later, the paperwork arrived in Teotitlan del Valle, and Omar arrived in Durham, North Carolina on March 28.

I started calling this Omar’s Discovery Tour because everything was new to him. Exciting. Inspiring. Being here gave him the chance to see that what Galeria Fe y Lola creates in Oaxaca is linked to the home goods fashion cycle in the USA, where most of their clients come from. It connected the dots.

A walk through Duke University with Jacob and Hettie.

He discovered that design and color preferences change according to season. Texture and palette compliment. He saw traditional and contemporary side-by-side. He saw cities and farmland. Innovation and comfort. The edges where his countrymen and women live beyond the chi-chi neighborhoods, shopping in grocery stores named La Superior Carneceria or Compare or Tienda Mexicana Guadalupana, where life is familiar and safe. He heard an earful about politics, leadership void and political discontent.

A walk through Duke Gardens with Jacob

Omar thinks we are organized, tidy, friendly, and open to opportunity. (Of course, we know this is NOT a universal truth in the USA.)

Lime bikes propagate in downtown Durham. Take a ride.

He likes that people here greet him with a smile, that cars stop for pedestrians, and he can ride a Lime Bike on the American Tobacco Trail all afternoon for a few dollars, followed by beer and bonding at Ponysaurus with Jacob and Kathryn. He likes that we recycle (some of us). And, he can put on his jogging shoes and run for miles on groomed paths and streets.

Wow, there are REALLY good goat tacos here, just like in Mexico

It got to the point after the first week that he could rank order the best hamburgers in Durham after tastings at many restaurants. In retail shops, he was invited to sit down in a comfy chair or sofa, offered refreshment, and an invitation to kibbitz informally. He saw that deep friendships can be formed well beyond the inner circle of family.

A talk and cochineal dye demo at Echoview Fiber Mill, Weaverville, NC

Then, we went to Asheville and Weaverville, where the fiber arts community welcomed Omar for a cochineal dye demonstration and exhibition. We ate at Buxton Hall Barbecue and White Duck Tacos, and walked the downtown going in and out of fine art and craft galleries. He was mesmerized by the creativity. We slept in a cozy Arts & Crafts Cottage on the Blue Ridge Parkway hosted by Laura and Bryan.

100% naturally dyed churro wool rugs from Galeria Fe y Lola

Omar began to imagine that his dreams could become a reality. He began building new dreams. By the time he went home on Saturday morning after almost three weeks here, he was excited and inspired to create new designs, incorporate new business ideas, capture on cloth that which captured his imagination, and incorporate elements of traditional Zapotec motifs with new energy.

I wish we could give this opportunity to other talented young Mexicans who have dreams, who want to create and add value to their country.

Making the presentation at Echoview Fiber Mill, in collaboration with Local Cloth

Cochineal dye demonstration at Echoview Fiber Mill

I feel much this way when I go to Mexico. I see that families are tightly knit, where ancient ritual gives meaning to life, how reverence for the elderly shapes  continuity, how people take time to be with families and celebrate together.

Art at the Durham Museum Hotel

Travel broadens and opens us up to more than new experiences. It gives us something intangible, a new neural pathway to exploration, learning, becoming. It gives us an opportunity to befriend, to connect and to live expansively with meaning.

Taking a break at Ponysaurus Brewing Company, Durham

It was twelve-and-a-half years ago when I met Omar’s brother Eric and sister Janet in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market. They were both students, not knowing where their paths would lead. Omar was not quite twelve. Through mutual support and effort, our lives were changed.

Thanks to all who supported Omar with a purchase!

Laura and her family with Omar in Asheville

There are many people to thank for making Omar’s Discovery Tour possible: parents Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellenas in Teotitlan del Valle; Wendy Sease, Hettie Johnson, Jacob Singleton, Kathryn Salisbury, Karen Soskin, Steve Haskin, Nick and Rochelle Johnson in Durham; Laura and Bryan Tompkins, Judi Jetson with Local Cloth, Grace Casey-Gouin at Echoview Fiber Mill in Asheville and Weaverville, and our friends everywhere.  Thank you.

We are talking now about when he may return.

 

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