Tag Archives: fashion

Textile Felt Fashion Designer Teaches Oaxaca Workshop

Maddalena Forcella is an Italian fashion designer who has lived in Mexico most of her adult life. She works in felt and creates beautiful, comfortable clothing that is Art-to-Wear. In the workshop we create the felted nuno cloth and then design garments using indigenous Mexican textile patterns including the quechequemitl, huipil, rebozo and blusa. You can adapt these to your own fit and style!  When? Felt Fashion Workshop, January in Oaxaca, where the sun still shines in winter.  See Maddalena’s work at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.


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.

Felted Fabric Fashion Oaxaca Style

Making felt is one of the oldest forms of fabric known to humankind–a process more than 6,000 years old.   Felt happens when sheep wool is moistened, heated and agitated.  

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For our Felted Fashion Workshop with Jessica de Haas in Oaxaca this week, we used merino wool dyed with natural plant materials — pericone and indigo, and the cochineal insect.   At the end of the week, we had collectively created shawls, scarves, rebozos, wall hangings, pillow covers and enough ideas to feed our creative energy for some time to come. 

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We gathered in the pomegranate tree-shaded courtyard, first to see examples of great garments, including published examples of Jessica’s.  Then, we jumped into two days of preparing sample fabric swatches to experiment with the colors and materials we brought.  Jessica warned us: always make samples first to see how the fabric will look before you make a larger piece.

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On day three, we jumped into tuk-tuks to have lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant.  (Can you see five of us packed into that little electric go-cart?)

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Afterward, I commandeered a pick-up truck to take us up the hill to see examples of indigenous clothing made by Arte y Seda.  We were ready to delve into the process of making felted yardage that could become a garment.

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Here in Teotitlan del Valle, people weave with wool every day, but using roving (wool that is not spun) for making felt is not familiar.  Zapotec  women who came into our workspace during the week were fascinated with the process.  I am hoping to give a demonstration of the process to local women later this spring.

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Some who participated were accomplished artists, like Linda Jacque, who paints guitars for famous rock musicians.  Her colorful vision was immediately evident in the pieces she created.

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Most of us were novices or beginners to the felt making process, so the experience was both instructive and fun.

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Working with bubble wrap, soap, water, plastic baggies, and lots of elbow (and sometimes foot) grease, we rolled, pressed, and agitated the wool until it began to felt.  The fibers of the wool move together and interlock.  Our instructor, felt fashion designer Jessica  checked, demonstrated, and encouraged us every step of the way.

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By the end of each day we were ready for a TMM.  Some of us chose to keep going even after dark.

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The local color inspired us!  Oaxaca’s great food gave us sustenance. The camaraderie kept us motivated.  We learned from and supported each other.  It was a fantastic experience.

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We hope you will join us next time!

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Jean Paul Gaultier, Bad Boy of Fashion, Madonna and the Virgin of Guadalupe

In 2007, French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier introduced his Spring/Summer 2007 Haute Couture Collection – Virgins on the Paris runway. It was controversial, ethereal, and evocative, garnering applause and criticism throughout the world.

                             This week I saw this collection, along with others on exhibition at The deYoung Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in Golden Gate Park.  It immediately brought to mind Mexico’s most revered saint, our Virgin of Guadalupe.

The animated mannequins draped in Gaultier’s vision of Virgin were singing hymns and crowned in areolae so magnificent, I could feel the aura.  Costuming a saint-like human figure takes imagination and courage.

In 2007, Gaultier selected a Paris strip-tease queen to wear one of his virginal outfits on the runway — a statement about repentance or redemption, perhaps?  He designs clothing to make you think, question, respond to society’s issues, ideals, undercurrents. (Gaultier clothed Madonna for her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, see sketch below, introducing his famous cone bra — the epitome of punk style.)


In her book, Madre: Perilous Journey with a Spanish Noun, author and linguistic anthropologist Liza Bakewell discusses the Mexican man’s pre- and post-marriage image of woman.  Before marriage, she is The Malinche, the whore, sexual and fiery.  After marriage, she becomes the Virgin, revered mother of his children, unapproachable.

Gaultier captures both identities and blends them perfectly into an alluring, sexual goddess who is both approachable and revered.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk closed at the deYoung on August 19, 2012, but will travel to other locations worldwide.

Check out our two upcoming fashion design workshops in Oaxaca, Mexico, set for winter 2013.  (1) Felted Fashion Design and (2) Painting on Silk Art of the Rebozo clothing design.

When Indigenous Oaxaca Dress Becomes Inspiration for High Fashion

Years ago I discovered Mexican designer Carla Fernandez and her sweet little book (out of print) that taught me the difference between indigenous and Western clothing design.  Rather than form fitting construction with darts, waistbands, zippers, buttons and collars, pre-European style clothing of the Americas is made for easy fit and comfort.  The emphasis is on the weaving techniques and designs integrated into the fabric or embroidered rather than the cut.

[Left:  Odillon, owner of Arte Amusgo, a cooperative on Calle 5 de Mayo in the historic center of Oaxaca, holds an intricately handwoven huipil. The pattern is woven, not embroidered, as part of the cloth. This one sells for about 7,000 pesos.]

Indigenous clothing is flowing, soft, loose, relaxed.  Slip-it-on-0ver-the-head and you are dressed!  The dresses, or huipiles, are made as (more or less) one size fits (almost) all!  Patterns are rectangles, triangles and squares sewn together often with an intricate crochet stitch that can be as beautiful as the cloth.

Indigenous Fashion Inspires Mexican Runways  Now, an Associated Press story picked up by the New York Times tells how Mexico City contempo-Mex designers like Lydia Lavin are incorporating indigenous clothing design elements into high-end fashion.  (Click on her name to see the runway models.] Price tags are upwards of $1,000USD. (One can buy a lovely Oaxaca huipil for under $100USD.  The weaver may get 40-70%.)  Of course the look is entirely different! In Lydia Lavin’s work,  you will recognize bits and pieces of indigenous textile in the couture. [Our friend Ana Paula Fuentes, director of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, adds to the story’s commentary.]

[Left:  Women at the Guelaguetza wear indigenous dress, all handwoven, from the Alta Mixteca, in Oaxaca.]




Is this an issue of Fair Trade or Fair Game?

Ultimately, it is the consumer who must decide if the indigenous artisan is being fairly compensated for her/his work or role in clothing production.   We all make choices.  I constantly struggle with the question about what is authentic, since adaptation is part of evolution and creativity.  Yet, our choices may be clearer when offered a high-fashion knock-off that incorporates synthetic fabric, is made on a commercial rather than back-strap loom, and perhaps is made in China!

[Left: Santa Fe, NM textile designer Sheri Brautigam describes huipil designs on display at Los Baules, the shop owned by Remigio Mestas on Macedonio Alcala in the Los Danzantes restaurant patio.]