Tag Archives: fiber

Making PomPoms in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

Wandering around San Cristobal de Las Casas last week I discovered Punto y Trama, on Belisario Dominguez #13b, just two blocks off the Andador Real de Guadalupe walking street. What drew me in was the sign on the door that announced PomPom workshops.

Lazaro Ramirez trimming a PomPom to perfection

Then, once inside I immediately noticed the furry wool Chamula woven shawls adorned with PomPoms. A new fashion trend, I noted.

First, you wrap 6 threads of yarn around a tube 150 times.

Slide the yarn off the tube.

PomPoms are big here in San Cristobal. They dangle from everything: necks, ears, wrists, shoulder and handbags, woven string shopping bags, and garments. They serve as functional ties and outrageous adornment. Sometimes they are combined with hearts, beads, Frida portraits, tassels.

Tie the yarn tight with waxed linen

I decided to take a PomPom making workshop, fascinated by another way to work with fiber as part of textile and clothing design.

Cut all the loops open

Cut, cut, cut, holding the yarn ball at the poles

This is a three-hour one-day workshop OR six-hour two-day workshop taught by Lazaro Ramirez, whose family is originally from Magdalenas Aldama. The cost is 350 pesos per session. That translates to about $18 USD at the current exchange rate.

Keep cutting around the equator, turning the ball constantly

Use a sharp scissor. You’ll be cutting bits at a time, like shaving

At the end of three hours I had made three PomPoms. I decided to order the quantity I wanted from Lazaro instead of making them myself.  The class exercise gave me a great appreciation for the time needed to craft one PomPom, which he sells at 15 pesos each. And, each one is perfect.

The green one is almost done but still ragged. Yellow is perfect.

Fifteen pesos each equals about eight cents. That’s eight cents an hour, including labor and materials.

Here is the PomPom and tassel I made. Lazaro made the heart.

Lazaro says you can use wool to make the PomPoms, but synthetic polyester yarn is finer and gives a tight, compact product with glorious colors — electric, like the people here prefer.

Included in the class are heart making and embroidery techniques

I learned all the wrapping, tying and cutting techniques. The most time consuming is to hold the PomPom at the “north and south poles” and to cut along the “equator,” constantly turning until a perfect ball forms. Not an easy task, I learned.

Choose your style of PomPom and heart, examples to make

Inspired, Juanita takes the class tonight.

I intend to use the PomPoms to decorate the checked wool shawls I bought in Chamula last week. They make great pillows, bed throws, or a shoulder covering on a chilly night — with pizzazz.

PomPom adorned wool shawl hand-woven in Chamula, back strap loom

Punto y Trama owner Manuela Trevini Bellini supports #fashionrevolution

#fashrev: It’s estimated that 80 billion pieces of clothing are shipped from factories and distributed around the world.

I constantly ask: Who made my clothes?


Cultural Meaning in Magdalenas Aldama: Chiapas Textile Study Tour

Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.

Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa

Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.

Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom

This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.

Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom

On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.

Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes

Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.

A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make

Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:

  • The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
  • The sacred forest — pine trees
  • The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
  • The Toad — harbinger of the rainy season
  • The Vision Serpent  — to guide the way
  • Plus any personal designs preferred by the weaver

The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas

During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.

  • How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
  • Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
  • Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
  • Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?

First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).

Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth

Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.

The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo

After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.

Young nursing mother waits for a sale

Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.

Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)

  • Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.

Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough

  • Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different. 

Children entertaining themselves. No television here.

  • Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.

Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes

  • Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?

Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes

Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.

Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children

Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.

Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes

Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz

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





Beating Wild Cotton on the Oaxaca Costa Chica

We’ve been traveling on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica for the past four days. This is the stretch of territory that starts at Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Ocean and goes north to Acapulco along Mexico’s Highway 200.

Women of the Jini Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado, wear posahuanco skirts

A highlight of our 12-day Oaxaca Textile Study Tour that started in the central valleys of Oaxaca, was a visit to San Juan Colorado, a remote Mixtec village at the end of the road in the fold of a mountain above Oaxaca’s coast.

Taking the seeds out of the coyuchi native brown cotton

In this weaving village, women work with three varieties of native cotton: coyuchi, natural and green. They use natural dyes from tree bark, flowers, indigo and cochineal.

Native Oaxaca pre-Hispanic cotton, coyuchi brown and green

Interested in going in 2019? Send me an email.

Our breakfast at the cooperative–sopes, eggs with hierba santa

On occasion, they will insert thread dyed with purple that comes from the caracol púrpura snail, endangered and harvested from ocean outcroppings of rock. Legally, only a few indigenous men are licensed to harvest the snail. They gently squeeze the ink onto cotton or silk and return the live snail to its home.  Poachers threaten its existence.

Zenobia Zenaida beats cotton to soften and lengthen the fibers

They weave geometric designs on back-strap looms using a supplementary weft technique of counting and adding threads to the cloth. Their work is prized and many whom we met are featured on posters that hang on the walls of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department.

Cloth woven on back strap loom with supplemental weft

Cotton is prepared by first washing it, drying it and removing the seeds.  A woven palm leaf mat, called a petate, is draped over a roll of corn husks that is tied with a long palm frond.  Everyone here knows how to clean, wash and beat cotton.  Not everyone spins using the drop spindle malacate. It is a special skill.

Detail of weft thread counting to add supplemental weft design

Seventy-five year old Zenobia Zenaida Lorenzo is the cotton beating expert  her cotton is the softest and easiest to spin, all the women agree. Beating the cotton achieves the same result as using a carder for wool.

Dale tries her hand at cotton beating–force and rhythm

Work is differentiated by gender.  The men grow and harvest cotton, planting in August and harvesting in December.  They make the wood tools and parts for the back strap loom.  Women weave in between cooking, cleaning and caring for children.

Spinning and cleaning wool in San Juan Colorado

Identity is interwoven with cloth here. Women imbed ancient symbols of fertility and images of the natural world into the cloth. Each adapts a uniform design to make her own fabric unique.

Welcome to the Jini Nuu Cooperative of 300 women, existing since1990

Traditional traje, or dress, consisted of a back strap loomed skirt woven with cotton dyed with cochineal (red), indigo (blue), and purple (caracol purpura). The weather is hot and steamy.

Corn husk roll, cover it with a petate for beating cotton

Marsha tries the back strap loom, leans back against the strap, comfortable

This is a traditional topless culture. Today, in the regional market, we see a few older women covered with gauze transparent shawls, doubled and draped over their bosom.

Now, it’s time to shop. Denise has her hand on a huipil with all natural dyes

Remote villages throughout Mexico have been able to keep their traditions and identity because of their isolation from the contemporary world. Now, very few places are inaccessible and the pressure to conform with western clothing is intense.

I get in on it, too, with help from Zenobia Zenaida


Chiapas Notebook: Tenejapa Textiles and Thursday Market

Tenejapa, Chiapas is a regional center in the highlands of Chiapas about an hour- and-a-half beyond San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a regional administrative center, about midway between the city and the remote village of Cancuc, past Romerillo. Most roads splay out from San Cristobal like spikes on a wheel hub, dead-ending down a canyon or mountain top at a remote village where traditional weavers create stunning cloth.

Tenejapa supplementary weft on cotton warp, with handmade doll

There are two reasons to go to Tenejapa.

Tenejapa market scene, the perfect village tianguis

First is the Thursday market that covers the length of four to six blocks (depending on the season) where everything needed to maintain a household is sold, including fresh roasted and ground coffee cultivated from bushes on nearby hillsides.

Rich, roasted, fresh ground coffee in the market, locally grown

This includes fresh dried beans, ground and whole chili peppers, ribbons and lace for sewing, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and an occasional textile find.

See highlights from 2017 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested in itinerary and price. Taking a wait list!

Beautiful handwoven bag, a market find, random delights

Most of the textiles on the street are woven for local consumption. So, fabric and the materials to make it reflects the current fashion tastes of traditional ladies who weave to adorn themselves and their neighbors. Cotton takes longer to dry, so cotton thread has been replaced by synthetic. Now, the shinier the better.

Chili peppers, whole or ground, take your pick

We see this throughout the villages in the Chiapas Highlands where glittery threads are incorporated into the weft and warp, and polyester gives the textile a sheen that is now preferred.

Inspect carefully. Bright colors can be synthetics, as are these. Glorious, nevertheless.

Where to find the traditional textiles of five, ten, twenty years ago? Sometimes, you can find them hanging from ropes strung from wall to wall inside the shops along the market avenue. Sometimes, they are folded under a stack of the more contemporary pieces that Tenejapa fashionistas like.

Corn for sale, displayed in traditional handwoven ixtle market bag

The second, and perhaps more important reason to visit Tenejapa is to spend time in the cooperative operated by Maria Meza Giron. The building is next to the church, across from the zocalo and municipal building.

Sheri Brautigam, author and our textile tour resource, chats with Maria Meza

Maria and her son Pedro Meza, are co-founders of Sna Jolobil textile cooperative with anthropologist/friend/guide Walter “Chip” Morris.  We bumped into him there that day as we were deep into textile heaven.

An amazing ceremonial cloth, hand-woven, snatched up by Kathleen

These textiles — huipils, ponchos, purses, blankets, rugs, shirts, belts, woven ixtle bags, skirts and ceremonial garb — are the finest examples with the most traditional quality of weaving found in Tenejapa.

What will this become? Textile in progress on back strap loom.

Some pieces are dense with wool supplementary weft woven onto a one hundred percent cotton warp. All created on the back strap loom. Garments are always as wide as the loom they are woven on.

Barbara looks at fine detail work on this Tenejapa sash

It was hard to choose. Hard to focus. Hard to pull away and say goodbye when the time came. The examples available for sale would sell for twice the price in San Cristobal de las Casas in finer galleries. It was well worth the trip for this, and for the experience of mingling among the people.

Tenejapa woman shopping for a comal — clay griddle

Just a note: Not many visitors come here. We were the only foreigners walking through the market. People are resistant to having their pictures taken. Photographs of fruits and veggies are okay. I always asked if I could take a photo (the people, not the vegetables). Most said no. Once, I shot from the hip and felt guilty.

Handwoven bags on display stand for sale.

Our anthropologist guide advised us to never photograph inside a village church. We didn’t. I did not shoot from the hip there. I attended to watching where I stepped. Lit candles blazed on the floor in front of altars to saints.  As a consequence, you will see lots of textiles, tomatoes, oranges, and shoes.

Zocalo is also the taxi station, constant round trips to San Cristobal

The people who travel with me tend to be those with a deep appreciation for Mexicans and their creativity. Folk art or popular art in Mexico is made one piece at a time, one thread at a time. By coming here, we gain an understanding for craftsmanship that is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son.

Our guide explains Maya-Catholic Church traditions and what we will see inside

There is no magical way of being appreciative, warm and gracious. The feelings between visitor and host are reciprocal. We value the inspiration, hard work and dedication to keeping hand-made craft alive. Those who make and sell value our support and appreciation for what they do. It’s a bonus if we buy.

Being a locavore isn’t trendy, it’s a way of life

But shopping isn’t everything and that’s not why we are here. We are here because creative people are tucked in every corner and behind every hillock, using their open hearts and strong hands to bring color and joy into the world.

Beautiful, intricate Tenejapa huipil, wool weft for the design on cotton

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested with itinerary and price.