Tag Archives: Clothing Design

Pre-Hispanic Women’s Clothing Design: The Huipil Endures

Years ago, after I first arrived in Oaxaca, I discovered an incredible small book by Mexico City fashion designer Carla Fernandez. Taller Flora: Indigenous Dress Making Geometry of Mexico, Pre-Hispanic Origin (2006) is now difficult to come by. But, it has become my bible for easy-to-make, easy-to-wear, comfortable, flowing clothing  that is versatile and beautiful.

The book is also my inspiration because it tickled an idea to develop the             Felt Fashion Workshop several years ago.

During the week-long workshop, January 17-24, 2015, we use naturally dyed merino wool to make wet-felted cloth.  Then, we sew it using the simple  geometric patterns to construct the garments. Our instructor, Maddalena Forcella, is internationally-known for her work.


The results could be a jacket, a blouse, a shawl or scarf, a dress or a poncho. The quechquemitl is one of my favorites.

I was recently in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I saw jackets, blouses and dresses made with felt, sewn and blocked, selling for $500 to $800 USD and more.  And, United States clothing designer Eileen Fisher uses variations for many of her patterns including the asymmetrical merino poncho priced at $248 USD.

There is more to the huipil than an article of clothing. It is a symbol of womanhood, female creativity and personal experience.

In ancient Mexican culture, each community created identity by weaving a distinctive pattern into the cloth.  And, there were different pattern variations for important life cycle events like weddings , births and baptisms. The woven cloth told a story about the village and the woman who created that particular garment.

Art of the Huipil: Mixed Media Workshop

Scheduled the week before the Felt Fashion Workshop, set to start on January 8, the Art of the Huipil is a hands-on experience taught by artist Lena Bartula. During the five-day session, participants create a huipil based on their own personal stories, using found objects and those we collect during visits to local weavers and markets. The result is a piece of art suitable for hanging, if you wish.

garment worker huipil copy

In January, Oaxaca days are warm and mild.  Evenings are cool and comfortable. We offer a perfect getaway from winter that is safe and affordable.

You do not have to be an experienced artist or seamstress to attend. All levels are welcome.  This is about having fun and opening yourself up to the possibilities of creative self-expression in an encouraging, friendly place.

Questions? Contact Norma Hawthorne.

Nuno Felt Fashion Workshop 2015: Clothing Design with Pre-Hispanic Flair

Escape winter, roll up your sleeves, and make a nuno felted wool garment you will be proud to wear. For seven nights and eight days, from January 17 – 24, 2015, you will experience the textile culture of Oaxaca, make wearable fiber art from felt fabric, learn about natural dyes and the process to make them, and explore the textile workshops of local artisans.  In January 2014, we welcomed Californians, Canadians, and Brazilians! What they made is featured here.

Beginners and experienced felters are welcome.


We use comfortable, unstructured, easy to wear, easy-to-construct , yet elegant indigenous Mexican patterns to show off your design creativity.  If you aren’t confident, don’t worry! The place itself is an inspiration.

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Maddalena Forcella is our expert instructor for 2015.  She is a fiber artist-clothing designer born in Italy where fashion is part of one’s DNA. Maddalena came to Mexico over 20 years ago to study textile design and never left. She is joined by Eric Chavez Santiago from Oaxaca, who will demonstrate the natural dye process using locally sourced plants and cochineal. 

About Your Instructors 

Maddalena Forcella is an internationally renown fiber textile artist whose work has been exhibited in Rome, Los Angeles, Antigua, Guatemala, Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Her clothing is sensual and substantial. She studied at the National Museum of Modern Art in Rome, Italy, and the University of Iberoamericana in Mexico City.  For many years, Maddalena has been working with indigenous women in Oaxaca and Chiapas states to preserve natural dye traditions, leading women’s textile projects with the support of private funds. She is committed to indigenous culture and sustainable development.

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Eric Chavez Santiago is a one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable authorities on natural dye sources, chemistry, and production.  He has taught natural dyeing techniques in Oaxaca and at U.S. universities and museums since 2006.  He is a graduate of Anahuac University and is director of education for one of Mexico’s leading arts and cultural organizations.


I attended the workshop in 2013. Wow! The village of Teotitlan is an experience in itself and will immerse you in a totally different and vibrant world. The B&B and especially the meals were awesome and conversation around the table with other workshop participants was totally fun and absorbing — a bunch of creative, independent and feisty women! And, you can’t lose — even I made several shawls I’m very proud to wear. Highly recommended! –Leslie Larson 

Our Itinerary

Working with Maddalena daily from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in our outdoor studio, we will create lengths of felted nuno fabric enough to make a garment design of your choice.  You might decide to felt on silk or cheesecloth to make a lighter weight and beautifully draping fabric. After your fabric is dry, you will have the option to cut and sew it into one of several indigenous Oaxaca styles: the huipil (tunic), the blusa (blouse), rebozo (shawl), boufanda (scarf) or quechequemitl (cape), or modify the basic pattern into a design of your own.  We give you patterns to adapt to your own body.

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This workshop is for all levels of experience!  You do not have to be an artist or experienced felt-maker to attend.  We welcome beginners who have never worked in wet felting and more advanced fiber artists. This is a perfect residency for university students, teachers and artists who may want to explore a different medium, too.

We are based in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle where for generations families have created wool textiles.  During our time together, we will go on local field trips to gain design inspiration, and meet and talk with weavers who work with natural dyes.  Some weave wool fabric for wearable art as well as sturdier floor and wall tapestries.  We will see examples of the types of garments that can be created from the felted fabric we make.

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Supplies to bring (preliminary list).  After you register we will send you a list of supply sources where you can buy the workshop materials to bring:

  • Cotton cheesecloth, preferably pre-colored, 5 to 6 yards or more
  • Silk chiffon, your favorite colors, at least 5 to 6 yards
  • 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of merino wool, preferably naturally dyed, in your favorite colors
  • Raw silk and/or wool fleece locks for texture and interest
  • Sewing kit: sharp scissors, needles, threads, tailor chalk 
  • Optional embellishments: beads, sequins, buttons, ribbons, embroidery thread, yarn, etc.

Note: We will provide the bubble wrap, soap, sponges, buckets, work tables, and other necessities for the process.

What is included in your registration fee:

  • all instruction
  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 6 dinners
  • pattern booklet and natural dye recipes
  • sewing machine to share with needles, thread
  • selected embellishments, yarns, threads
  • guided visit to Oaxaca textile museum and galleries 

Workshop is limited to 8 participants.

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Daily Workshop Schedule:  Arrive Sunday, January 18 and leave Sunday, January 24.   7 nights and 8 days with options to extend your visit. 

Day 1, Saturday, January 17 – Arrive and settle in to your bed and breakfast posada in Teotitlan del Valle (we send directions)

Day 2, Sunday, January 18 – Welcome, introductions, Tlacolula Market Visit for inspiration and to source local embellishments, afternoon natural dye demonstration with Eric Chavez Santiago.  (B, L, D)

Day 3, Monday, January 19 – Jump right in to make samples with silk and cheesecloth to understand the process. We will make an actual mini- scarf during this session, as well as fabric samples. (B, D)

Day 3, Tuesday, January 20 – Take a morning field trip to the village market and church for pattern inspiration from the local environment. Visit a local weaver.  After lunch we will work on designs using inspiration from the morning studies. (B, D)

Day 4, Wednesday, January 21 – After a visit to a local weaver,  you will  start on making larger pieces of felt for your final project/garment. (B, D)

Day 5, Thursday, January 22 – Finish completing your felted fabric. In the afternoon we will demo the art of making felt flowers. (B, D)

Day 6, Friday, January 23 —  Cut, sew and embellish your project. We will have a Show and Tell with Fashion Photo Shoot before our final celebration dinner. (B, D)

Day 7, Saturday, January 24 – Departure (B)

(This is a preliminary daily schedule and subject to modification.)

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Note: Vest design shown is by Jessica de Haas, FunkShui Studio, 2014 Felt Fashion Workshop instructor.

Workshop Fee:

Option 1:   $1,295 double occupancy basic cost per person includes shared room and bath, double occupancy.

Option 2:  Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595

Extension Options: 

Add-On 1:  Arrive Friday, January 16 and take a Zapotec cooking class on Saturday, January 17.  Includes one night lodging, breakfast, lunch, cooking class and recipes.  $115 USD each.

Add-On 2:  Extend your trip one day and depart Sunday, January 25.  Enjoy Saturday in Oaxaca City with Norma to explore the best textile shops and visit the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. Includes transportation to Oaxaca, overnight on January 24 in Oaxaca City. $195 per person double occupancy, $275 per person single occupancy. Dinner on your own.

Add-on 3:  Stay extra days before or after the workshop.  Add on nights in Teotitlan del Valle at $55 per night,or in Oaxaca City at $125 per night.  Let us know your preference and we make all the arrangements for you.


Cecelia, Margaret, Sandra, Kirsten, Lynne, Margaret show their work from the 2014 Felt Fashion Workshop.Vest design by Jessica de Haas, FunkShui Studio.

About Our Workshops, Retreats and Programs.  We offer educational programs that are hands-on, fun, culturally sensitive, and offer you an immersion experience.   Our workshop leaders are experts in their field, knowledgeable, have teaching experience and guide you in the learning process.  Our goal is to enhance your knowledge while giving you time to explore and discover. 

About Lodging and Accommodations. To keep this trip affordable and accessible, we stay in a local posada/guest house in Teotitlan del Valle. The food is all house made (including the tortillas), safe to eat and delicious. Vegetarian options are available. 

Insurance Required:  Proof of international travel insurance that covers accidents, medical coverage and emergency evacuation to the U.S.A. or your home country is required by all participants.  If you do not want this, you must send us a notarized waiver of responsibility, holding Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless.  Thank you for your understanding.

Your registration fee does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals, some transportation, and insurance. 

Deposits, Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be paid by December 1, 2014.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an invoice.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After December 1, 2014, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  Your registration is transferable to a substitute.  If you cancel before December 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

To register or for questions, contact: normahawthorne@mac.com

What’s a Quechquemitl? Find out at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca lecture.

Say: ketch-kem-mee.

Indigenous Mexican clothing is traditionally handwoven on a backstrap loom. Sometimes, it is cut and sewn together so that it can be pulled down over the head as a shoulder cover-up that looks like a short shawl.   The head opening is a virtual square that is formed by the joining of two lengths of cloth. Carla Fernandez in her book, Taller Flora (out of print), talks about this and shows clear diagrams of traditional indigenous clothing construction.
I love quechquemitls.  They are fun and easy to wear.  A wonderful cotton drape over the shoulder to keep the sun off or a snuggy wool covering for chillier winter days and evenings.  I buy my wool quechquemitls in Teotitlan del Valle from Arte y Seda and my cotton ones from Sheri Brautigam.
Exhibit and Lecture at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Wednesday, May 11, 6:00 p.m., corner Hidalgo and Fiallo, Centro Historico

That’s why I am excited to tell you about a Museo Textile de Oaxaca lecture on Quechquemitls Today by Sheri Brautigam.  Sheri is a textile designer and researcher who spends time in remote Mexican villages documenting traditional textile use and production. The lecture will present the quechquemitls of the Mazahua community of Santa Rosa de Lima, in the State of Mexico and the Nahua community of Cuetzalan, Puebla.
Currently on exhibit at the museo is an extensive collection of antique quechquemitls from the general area of central Mexico where they were worn in many villages until recently. It’s worth a visit, since these garments are exquisite.
For more information, contact:
Sheri Brautigam
Mexico Cell – (951) 151-1557
Santa Fe – NM  cell (505) 603-1278
SKYPE – lalucitaverde

Living Textiles of Mexico
See Collector Textiles at my ETSY store:




Pigtails, Ribbons & Aprons: Las Abuelas

Las Abuelas (Ah-bway-lahz), the grandmothers, come together at Teotitlan market every morning to shop for the day’s meals for their families. The daily morning market is essential to the social fabric of village life for older women, a time to socialize, exchange news, and for some, I hear tell, take a nip of sweet flavored mezcal together, a ritual, I suppose, to seal their sisterhood. The abuelas get to the market via tuk-tuk, riding in the front seat or flatbed of a battered pick-up or by foot, carrying on laps or under the crook of their elbow the traditional shopping basket woven from split bamboo and trimmed in wide palm leaves. There is a status associated with the baskets: the fineness of weave, size, and added decoration, such as miniature baskets suspended from a garland encircling the perimeter. The grandmothers wear their hair in braids woven with ribbons. Mostly, they are burgundy red. They can also be brown, green, blue and yellow. I don’t know if there is a significance to the color, and this is something I will need to find out and report on. My guess is that each village has its own color preferences and customs. The women from Benito Juarez and Santa Ana del Valle and Tlacachuaya will have a variation on this theme. Sometimes, the braids hang loose and and tied together at the end forming a V down her back. A braid will extend far beyond the waist. Sometimes the braids are wrapped around the top of the head and give the appearance of a crown. This is useful, too, because a basket can be carried on the head, balanced, as the woman walks along with a grandchild in tow or with arms swinging free or carrying a bouquet of flowers for the home altar. The grandmothers wear the traditional handwoven, cochineal dyed wool wrap around fabric that is the skirt (falda). It is tied with a sash (fajas) that has a balled tassel on the end. The blouse (blusa) can be cotton and hand embroidered or commercially purchased. Sometimes, the skirt is a subtle check and the blouse is a polyester floral, having no particular significance other than personal preference. The costume is then complete when it is topped with a checked and machine embroidered or applique apron. In the market, the wife of a local English teacher (a man who lived in the states for 15 years before returning to Teo), sells intricately embroidered aprons. This is the “overblouse” uniform of village women from Mitla to Tule. Most buy aprons at the Sunday market in Tlacalula where the selection is so vast, over 50 different stalls of apron vendors or so it seems, in every shade and color combination. Aprons sell for 120 to 250 pesos depending upon intricacy of design, and whether both the front and back are embroidered. Scallop edges, huge flower or animal designs, embellished pockets and button closures will command a higher price — one more symbol of economic position in the community. To find these stalls in the market, you have to wander way back beyond the food vendors — ask: A donde estan los mandiles? Mandil is the Spanish word for apron. Few of the young women who stay in the village are wearing this traditional dress. Jeans, Gap or Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts and sweat shirts, and Nike tennis shoes are the ubiquitous uniform of teens and young adults worldwide. Young matrons of the village in their mid-20’s to 40’s will wear a store bought dress topped with an apron. Only the grandmothers carry on the traje tradition. In a few more years, will this be a memory captured by our photos as cultural traditions change and adapt and become subsumed by the dominant culture. I marvel as I sit in the market or meander down the streets at the tenacity of these women, their strength and fortitude and beauty, their survivorship, and wonder what the village will look like in 30 years when they have passed on. Will their dress be part of the museum exhibit only to be brought out during the annual July village fiesta that features the parade of the canastas? And I ask myself, am I being a romantic, romanticizing a way of life that is destined to change?

Soledad with new year bread

Abuelas at the baptism