Tag Archives: Embroidery

India Journal: Tribal Textiles in Bhuj, Gujarat

Finally, I have landed in Bhuj, Gujarat, after hectic days in Ahmedabad followed by three nights at a secluded safari camp, Rann Riders, in the wilds of the Little Rann. This borders the town of Dasada where marsh and salt desert are home to rare wild ass and migratory birds. Internet connection impossible.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

I have a lot of catch up to do between then and now. For the moment, I’m highlighting some tribal textiles of western India in the state of Gujarat, where I’ve been for the last six days. It’s hot here, over 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with dust clouds everywhere.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

This area is known as The Kutch (Kuh-ch) and borders Pakistan on the west. The area is populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic herding people who came from Saudi Arabia, the Sindh, and Mongolia. They came with camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle. Some continue their nomadic lifestyle, moving camp each season in search of grazing lands.

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Wandh group

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Maldharis group, the Banni, Kutch

The ethnic mix includes Hindus, Parsi, Ismailis, Muslims and Jews. It is a region of rich religious, cultural and social diversity, and a long tradition of wool and cotton-weaving, fine embroidery, natural dye work and tie-dye. Most women, Muslim or Hindu, wear the bandhani tie-dye head scarf upon marriage, in the language of textiles.

Hand-painted dowry chests, Wandh village

Hand-painted dowry chests, Maldharis village

Many of the artisans and crafts people I’ve met this week have made their mark and participate at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Several, like Jabbar Khatri, attended the 2016 International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca.

Women's ceremonial marriage mask, Wandh community, Bhuj

Women’s ceremonial marriage mask, Maldharis community, Bhuj

Most are friends of Australian Carole Douglas, who has brought small groups of travelers to the region for the last 17 years. Carole recommended that I connect with Kutch Expeditions guide and vintage textile dealer Salim Wazir, who took us to the White Salt Desert known as the Great Rann of Kutch.

A prized cow with Wandh herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

A prized cow with Maldhari herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

To get there, we passed tribal villages of Rabari, Ahir and Jat peoples, stopping along the way to visit a few of the more accomplished artisans. Their embroidery and weaving is distinctive and can be identified by group and sub-group.

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

In the small Maldhari settlement, a group of 43 Muslims live in mud huts with thatched roofs. The men tend cattle and sheep, and collect honey and gum arabic. The women cook, sew and embroider in the Mukko style using metallic threads.

Village elder tells us about her dreams for her family

Wandh village elder tells us about dreams for her grandchildren

Salim explains that the group has lived in this area for over 350 years, migrating from the Sindh, now Pakistan. They prefer mashru cloth, as do all tribal Muslims because the warp is cotton.

Man's beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

Man’s beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

According to Muslim tradition, they are not allowed to wear silk next to their bodies and mashru is a way to have the luxury without violating the law. (We met a mashru weaver in Buhjodi just a couple of days before, one of the remaining few who make cloth in this tradition.)

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

The raised platform floor of the village where the Bungha round houses are situated is hard packed mud, like adobe, soft to walk on barefoot and easy to clean with a broom. The area can flood during monsoon season, becoming a muddy mess, and the tribe then seeks higher ground.

Wandh village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

Maldhari village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

There is nothing for sale here except the exchange of a visit and hospitality. It is a refreshing stop along a tourist route to the Great Rann that is becoming commoditized with synthetics and crudely embroidered or beaded trinkets.

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

I asked the elders what they dreamed of for their children and grandchildren. A better education, they replied. I am as old as you are, another said to me, and I have not seen the world as you have. They want their children to know what goes on in the world.

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

There is no school here and opportunity is limited. They want the government to build them a school, but there are not enough children to populate it. If there is a health care emergency, they travel 45 minutes by bus or auto rickshaw to Bhuj for services. We have no future, they say, but we must be happy with what we have.

A visit to embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Banni, Kutch

A visit to finest embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Kutch, Gujarat

I ask what I can do to help. Salim and I discuss the downsides of giving money, which corrupts values. He suggests a length of hand-spun cotton that they can use for their embroidery work. They can only afford to buy synthetics and this would be a valued gift. It’s on my shopping list and I will give the fabric to him before I leave to present to the village women.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

My experience in India is mixed. I have only met open, warm, helpful and friendly people of all faiths and backgrounds. The interaction with them has shaped my experience. Talented NGO representatives work here to support the weaving and needlework talents of many, to keep the traditions alive. I’m grateful for their dedication and energy.

Example of Wandh embroidery work

Example of Maldhari embroidery work, now embellished with commercial bric-a-brac

Yet, there is dust everywhere. Cattle roam the streets and graze on roadside garbage. Tent cities are filled with the impoverished. The crush of cars, auto-rickshaws and the sound of horns honking is a way of life. Intense. Loud. Persistent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

The food is wonderful and I’m going to bring Indian cooking into my repertoire. I’ve decided to end my visit early and return to the USA five days sooner than planned, to rest, reflect and write more about this experience.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

I want to end this journey in Bhuj, and not in the big city of Mumbai, so that being in textile heaven will be the last of my India memories.

Typical village scene, India

Typical village scene, Gujarat, India

And, of course, I’m in search of a second piece of luggage to carry all these textiles home.

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Where to Stay:  Bhuj House B&B or Hotel Prince, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

How to Get Here:  Fly from Mumbai to Bhuj on Air India or Jet Airways, less than $100 USD one-way. Travel from Ahmedabad overland by private car/driver on 8 hour journey at cost of 6,000 rupees or about $100 USD one-way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FOR THOSE IN THE USA!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day in Xochistlan de Vicente Suarez, Puebla with Merry Foss and Friends

Xochitl is the Nahuatl word for flower and Tlan de Totonaco is the literal meaning for beautiful place. Xochistlan is the beautiful place between the flowers. (You can tell if a word has a Nahuatl origin if it ends in tl.)

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Ducks parade across the embroidered bodice of this blouse made by Radegundis

Here in the Sierra Norte of Puebla state, a lush landscape of rugged mountains, tall grasses, bamboo, canna lilies, orchids, bromeliad varieties, fruit trees and daisies cling to stony hillsides. Waterfalls flow like abundant rivers. The region is a puzzle of caves. Humidity seeps into everything.

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

Xochistlan is nestled at the base of a steep valley in the Sierra Norte, Puebla State

We spent the day with Merry Elizabeth Foss who took us to Xochistlan, the village she stumbled upon seven years ago in search of artisan women who work in fine beading.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

The corn crib. The chicken got away before the shot.

When she met the women of Xochistlan, she knew this was the place for her. She started a cooperative, created patterns to fit American women (yes, we are mostly taller and broader), and invested in relationships that have provided friendship and mutual support.

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

Radegundis with me and Merry. Yes, I bought this blouse!

It’s not surprising that the embroidered and beaded images here mimic the landscape, filled with birds, barnyard animals, flowers of every variety, trailing vines, in subdued and rainbow colors.

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Bedroom and sewing room combo. Nothing more needed!

Xochistlan is not easy to get to. It’s about an hour outside of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla. First you take the winding mountain road along the spine, looking down and beyond at villages tucked into the valleys below.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

A 30 year old blouse with exquisite embroidery, still fine after all these years.

Then, you divert and start descending on a road that was likely once a switch back donkey trail. You have to know where you are going! Turn right, continue straight, now turn left, straight again, Merry instructs the taxi driver.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

Ducks, chickens and cat wander underfoot, peck at the corncrib.

We pull into the driveway of a humble home, filled with family, love, joy and beautiful beaded blouses. Radegundis Casilda Teresa greets us with a huge smile, warm hugs and invitation to come in for atole enriched with Mexican chocolate and milk.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

Making it last! Sipping atole with a spoon.

She runs out with a bag of whole kernels, telling us to take a seat, she’s going to the molina (mill) to grind the corn.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink.

Hot, delicious atole with chocolate, a favorite drink, made in clay over a wood fire.

We meet her husband and grandchildren, sit down by the cooking fire to sip the delicious hot drink, sing and play games, watch the ducks and chickens peck at dried corn.

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

Playing a singing game with the grandchildren!

After lunch at Comedor Betty where we had perhaps the best chicken mole in the state of Puebla (Betty won a prize last year), we stopped to visit Martha and her family.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

Sewing the beaded panels to the blouse fabric.

They sew the beaded panels to the cotton cloth that makes up the entire blouse. Martha, her husband and daughter are master tailors who are very particular about their finish work.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Martha shows us a fine finished blouse, ready for the expoventa the next day.

Merry also helped the cooperative open a retail shop to sell beads and fabric to other artisans in the village, and created a plan to help market the blouses in the USA.  Merry honors and recognizes the work of each woman by asking her to embroider her name on the inside of each blouse. Personalized. Meaningful.

Poster in Betty's comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Poster in Doña Betty’s comedor recognizing her cooking talents.

Merry wholesales these finely beaded blouses, known as the China Poblana style, to upscale shops in the United States whose customers appreciate fine Mexican textiles.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Barbara and Rade with finely embroidered V-neck blouse.

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends

Radegundis and Merry Foss, dear friends.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

The Altar Room. Most rural homes in Mexico have one.

I’ve discovered that sometimes the most wonderful experiences are those when you can meet talented people where they live and work. In Mexico, there is extraordinary talent hidden in often isolated, rural villages.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

La Abuela Radegundis. Grandmother love.

One has to be willing to be open, explore and appreciate people for who they are, what they do, and how they live. I’m grateful to Merry for introducing us to her friends and for helping bring their talent to the world.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis' sewing room.

Brightly colored beaded bodice in Radegundis’ sewing room.

The tradition of beadwork came to Mexico from Europe with the Spanish conquest. Most were trade beads from Venice and Africa, used for ballast on the Spanish galleons that landed in the port of Veracruz. The beads were traded for food and raw materials. Women learned to embellish their garments and the these fantastic blouses were born!

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

A bodice strip of black and white daisies before the dressmaking begins.

 

Cuetzalan del Progreso Hosts Annual Fair, Puebla, Mexico

It’s sunrise in Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla, Mexico. I’m high in the mountains of the Sierra Norte where the indigenous language of Nahuatl is spoken. Beaded and embroidered blouses are predominant here. This is one of the original ten Pueblo Magico‘s and my second visit here. Definitely worth the return!

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

The triangular scarves and ponchos called huipiles (that I know as quechquemitls) are still woven on back strap looms. Local women walk barefoot on cobbled streets that climb and wind vertically through the village.

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

The women and girls are adorned with blouses featuring colorful figures of birds, barnyard animals and flowers, winding vines. Bodice ruffles are edged in turquoise, orange or red. Depending on their village of origin, the cap sleeve could be shirred or plain.  Men wear traditional white shirts and pants, their feet protected by hand-hewn leather thongs, their heads covered in woven straw hats. Traditions are strong here.

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, ruffles, Cuetzalan, Puebla

I’m traveling with my sister Barbara, who I met in Mexico City earlier in the week. We joined up with friend Merry Foss in Cuetzalan for the annual Feria del Cafe, the raucous celebration of regional coffee.  The coffee farms here are plentiful. We are at the right altitude and the beverage is delicious.

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to be made into a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to become a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

I’m using Sheri Brautigam’s guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, to find the textile artisan Pedro Martin at Taller Mazatzin known locally as Casa Rosa. The book has an ample section on Cuetzalan. To get to his village of Cuauhtamazaco, 30 minutes from town on a winding mountain road, Barbara and I hop into the back of a covered pick-up truck that is lined with passenger benches. In remote regions of Mexico, this transport mode serves as the major means of getting around. Cost is 8 pesos each.

Alfredo Pisarro and crew at Pedro Martin Workshop

Alfredo Pizarro (2nd from left) and crew at Pedro Martin Textile Workshop

Pedro, his brother Alfredo Pizarro, cousins and nephews, work magic on a back strap loom. They innovate the traditional huipil design to combine colors and patterns that yields a fine cotton gauze.  For blouses that have the intricate, detailed embroidery, they source the bodice panels from only the finest needleworkers who live in remote villages and work only in 100% cotton.

I'm modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

I’m modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

In the studio, it is the men who cut the patterns, sew and weave.  Pedro Martin and his family participated in the Feria del Rebozo at the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, last year.

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Internet service here is intermittent. So, I’m writing before we go off to another village where Merry Foss started a textile cooperative seven years ago. She is doing an expo-venta tomorrow morning with a group of collectors from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico, who are also here for the fair. The women of Merry’s cooperative make extraordinary beaded blouses, called chakira. The beads originally came to Mexico from Europe and Asia as ballast on the Spanish galleons and the China Poblana shirt was born.

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Most of the embroidery and beadwork around town is made for the tourist market and is of average quality. No fine needlework, no finished seams. You see the finest work being worn by the women themselves. The trick is to be able to locate the best of what is made. You can find a few pieces in the artisan market. (See Sheri’s book for details.) But, I’ve been asking the ladies, Where can I get one like yours? 

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

As the coffee fair started, I wandered to the church courtyard beckoned by the waft of copal incense. I met a group of women gathered waiting for a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The majordoma, or leader of the group, kept the copal incense burner alive with intermittent puffs of breath on the burning coals.

The mayordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

The majordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

How to get to Cuetzalan: It’s a six-hour bus ride from Mexico City on ADO or Primera Plus. Almost four hours from Puebla on Via. Buy your tickets in advance. You can’t do this online! Sorry.

Where to stay: We are happy at Casa de Piedra, a clean, lovely hotel set down the steep hill from the plaza. It looks like a stone fortress. Great breakfast and views.

Taller Mazatzin, Pedro Martin Concepcion, tel: 52-1-233-759-3992. Get the colectivo truck at the station on the street behind the church.

 

Chatino Textiles from Oaxaca at Santa Fe Trunk Show

The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market runs from Friday night to Sunday afternoon the second weekend of July each year. Festivities start days in advance with galleries and retail shops all over town featuring artisan trunk shows from various parts of the world. (Mark your 2017 calendar for July 14, 15, 16)

La Chatina! Vintage blouses. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

La Chatina! Vintage blouses, embroidered + crocheted. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Barbara Cleaver brought a collection of vintage Chatino blouses to La Boheme clothing gallery on Canyon Road, and anyone with a connection to Oaxaca showed up to see what was in store.

Chatina blouse detail. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Cross-stitch Chatina blouse detail. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Barbara, with her husband Robin, run the Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido, and are long-time residents of both Santa Fe and Oaxaca. The coffee farm they manage is not far from the Chatino villages near the famed pilgrimage site of Juquila.

Chatino people have close language and cultural ties to the Zapotec villages of the Oaxaca valley. Their mountain region is rich in natural resources and many work on the organic coffee farms that are an economic mainstay. About 45,000 people speak Chatino. Hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects are still spoken in Oaxaca, which make it culturally rich and diverse. This is reflected in the textiles!

Barbara has personal relationships with the women embroiderers of the region and what she brought to show was the real deal!

Chatina woman wears extraordinary embroidered blouse. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

Chatina woman wears extraordinary embroidered blouse. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

The blouses are densely embroidered with crocheted trim.  The older pieces are fashioned with cotton threads and the needlework is very fine. Newer pieces reflect changing times and tastes, and include polyester yarns that often have shiny, gold, silver and colored tinsel thread.

We see this trend in other parts of Mexico, too, including the more traditional villages of Chiapas where conservative women love to wear flash!

The shoulder bag — called a morral — is hand-woven and hand-tied (like macrame), and equally as stunning.

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

UPDATED INFORMATION

A follow-up note from Barbara Cleaver about the bag:

The Chatino bags have a proper name in Spanish, which is "arganita."

Morral is also correct, in the sense that all Mexican bags are

generically called that. Also, the knotted part ( where they stop weaving and start 

knotting the woven part), is then often embroidered. In Karen Elwell's photo,

the birds in the knotting are embroidered over the knotting, rather

than being created by the knotting.
Underside of knotted and embroidered Chatino bag, from Barbara Cleaver

Underside of knotted and embroidered Chatino bag, from Barbara Cleaver

To enquire about purchasing any of Barbara Cleaver’s Chatino clothing and accessories, please contact her at  Mexantique@aol.com

Chatino shoulder bag, called a morral. Photo by Karen Elwell.

Chatino shoulder bag, called a morral. Photo by Karen Elwell.

Karen Elwell, whose Flickr site documents Oaxaca textiles, says that the flowers and birds border (above) are machine stitched and the parrots and flowers (below) are hand-knotted from the warp threads of the woven bags. (See Barbara Cleaver’s more exact explanation above.)

Barbara has many examples of these. I was just too busy looking to take good photos!

Invitation to La Boheme trunk show, pre-Folk Art Market.

Invitation to La Boheme trunk show, pre-Folk Art Market.