Tag Archives: Ikat

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Textile Fiestas of Mexico guide book by Sheri Brautigam, with a little help from Norma Schafer

It was early 2016 and I’d just returned from taking a group of textile travelers to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, to study the ikat rebozos of the region.  Textile maven and friend Sheri Brautigam was in Oaxaca putting the final content and photos together for her upcoming book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico.

With A Little Help from My Friends in Mexico

When Sheri is in Oaxaca (her home is Santa Fe, NM), we like to hang out together.

ONE Space Open: Ikat Textile Study Tour to Tenancingo, Feb. 2-10, 2017

I took her with me and introduced her to the Feria del Carrizo (river reed basket fair) in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, just across the road from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle. She loved it so much, she decided to include it in her book! At the end of January each year, it’s a special event that includes hand-woven river reed baskets, lampshades, fish traps, music and amazing food. 

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Sheri’s deadline was fast approaching. She wasn’t sure she could get back to Tenancingo to interview and photograph people, something I had well-documented. I suggested that perhaps I could produce that chapter for her.

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

I also suggested that she include a chapter on the natural dye wool textiles of Teotitlan del Valle, focusing on the process of using indigo, cochineal and other plants and minerals.

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Sheri sent the suggestion to Karen Brock at Thrums Books, the co-publisher, and she agreed.

If you are traveling to Mexico for any reason, this is the book you want in hand to explore the rich textile culture. It includes how to get to the textile regions, what to look for, where to shop for the best, where to stay and eat.

Of course, if you want a personal, immediate experience, come with me!

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath — brilliant color. All natural!

Let me know how you like it if you do get a copy. We are interested in your feedback for the next edition!

 

Textile Fiestas of Mexico: New Guidebook for Smart Travelers

The book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping by Sheri Brautigam and published by Thrums Books, is hot off the press. It’s a comprehensive guide to some of Sheri’s favorite Mexican textile villages and towns. I contributed two chapters!

Textile Fiestas of Mexico, book cover

Textile Fiestas of Mexico, book cover

Sheri invited me to cover Teotitlan del Valle, the Oaxaca rug weaving village where I live, and Tenancingo de Degollado, the ikat cotton rebozo weaving center in the State of Mexico, where I often visit and lead study tours. Of course, the answer was Yes!  I’m happy to say I contributed both the descriptive narrative and photography for these two sections.

Evaristo Borboa Casas, age 92, ikat rebozo backstrap loom weaver

Grand Master Evaristo Borboa Casas, age 92, ikat rebozo backstrap loom weaver

Sheri and I share our secrets with you because our first priority is to support the wonderful, talented Mexican artisans — many of whom are Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art. Whether you join a tour or get there on your own, you want this book in your back pocket or tote bag for insider tips.

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from the tapestry loom

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from Porfirio Guttierez studio

How You Can Order the Book!

ISBN: 978-0-9964475-8-4
$24.95 trade paperback
120 pages
200 color photographs, map, glossary, and index

Buy your copy at Amazon, ClothRoads, and at your favorite Indie bookstore. Distributed to the book and library trade by Independent Publishers Group. If you live in Oaxaca, the book is soon to be available at Amate Books on Macedonio Alcala.

How to Buy in Mexico

Patrice Wynn is the Mexican distributor for Textile Fiestas of Mexico. She is also selling the book to buyers in Mexico, both at AbraZos, Zacateros 24 in Centro Historico, San Miguel de Allende, and also by mail. Please write to ventas@sanmigueldesigns.com to get details of how you can have it shipped to you in Mexico, either as an individual or as a store.

Here’s a preview of photos I contributed to the chapters on Tenancingo de Degollado and Teotitlan del Valle.

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Come with me to Tenancingo, February 2-10, 2017 for an ikat textile study tour. We have a few spaces open for single and double occupancy. You’ll meet everyone I talk about in the book!

Knotting the rebozo fringes can take two or three months

Knotting the rebozo fringes can take two or three months

The beauty of the book is that you can use it when you travel independently or as a resource on a guided visit.

Weaver in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market

Weaver in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market

One-day Natural Dye Textile & Weaving Study Tour–November 3, 2017

We tell you how to get there, the best artisans (in our humble opinion) to visit and when the major festivals are scheduled.

We recommend how to negotiate purchases in the markets and from artisans in their homes. What is the fair and ethical way to shop in Mexico? Sheri explains it!

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle

We help you discern the good from the bad, the better quality from the mediocre.

At the Sunday rebozo market, Tenancingo

At the Sunday rebozo market, Tenancingo de Degollado

And, we give you restaurant and lodging tips — because where to eat and sleep means you will have a more enjoyable experience.

Ancient Zapotec temple stone, Teotitlan del Valle Community Museum

Ancient Zapotec temple stone, Teotitlan del Valle Community Museum

Through description and photos, you can see what to expect before you get there and plan your travels so your time is well-spent.

Carding sheep wool, a woman's tradition to prepare for spinning, dyeing then weaving

Juana Gutierrez cards sheep wool, a woman’s tradition to prepare for spinning

Chapters include Oaxaca, Chiapas, Uruapan and Puebla, plus Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico). You go deep into local markets, cooperatives and regional celebrations.

Ikat rebozos by Evaristo Borboa Casas, Tenancingo de Degollado

Ikat rebozos by Evaristo Borboa Casas, Tenancingo de Degollado

Author Sheri Brautigam owned a textile design studio in San Francisco for twenty years. She has worked as an English Language Fellow for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and as a serious collector and purveyor of fine indigenous textiles from Mexico and Guatemala. She sells collector-quality textiles through her online shop, Living Textiles of Mexico, and writes a blog, Living Textiles of Mexico.

Explaining the symbology of the weaving patterns

Omar Chavez Santiago explains the symbology of the weaving patterns

FYI: Many of you know that Teotitlan del Valle is a town of about 6,000 people and 2,000 looms. The major “industry” here is wool tapestry weaving. In the book, I concentrate on a handful of weavers who work only with natural dyes. We are committed to promoting environmental sustainability and respiratory health.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool–Federico Chavez Sosa

Tenancingo Rebozos: Pop-Up Sale Online

It’s easy to get carried away and fall in love with ikat cotton rebozos in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. Of course, I bought a few too many during our recent Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Tour Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More! 

Ikat: a design technique where the warp threads are first dyed before they are tied onto the loom and create the pattern in the cloth. Very time intensive!

I also love to sew and so … I have three rebozos I have repurposed, designed and sewn into pullover ponchos. These are all cotton, have French seams and open sides — one size fits all. Just slip it over a tank top or bathing suit for a summer cover-up, or wear over a light-weight Tee and jeans to add pizzaz. Makes a nice evening wrap, too.

This post offers 3 pullover ponchos and 7 rebozos, scarves or shawls. Keep scrolling to see all.  Send me an email if you want something!

Pop-Up Sale: Buy Before March 29, 2016.

After that, the sale goes away! I’m leaving Oaxaca on March 30 for a several week visit with friends and to take care of business in North Carolina. I’ll take what you buy with me and ship to you (USA only) as soon as I get there. Send me an email and I’ll let you know how to pay. Many thanks.

  • Pullover Poncho #1–Tomato Red and Black. Ikat cloth hand-woven on the counterbalance pedal loom. 28″ long from the shoulder seam, 26″ wide and a 5″ collar that drapes beautifully. French seams. Open sides (sew them closed if you like.) One size fits all. $95 + shipping.
  • Pullover Poncho #2 —  Spring and Olive Green. Ikat hand-woven cloth made on the counterbalance pedal loom. 27″ long and 29″ wide with a 7″ cowl collar. French seams. Open sides. One size fits all. $95 + shipping. See below.

 

  • SOLD! Pullover Poncho #3–Periwinkle Blue. Ikat cloth hand-woven on the counterbalance pedal loom. 32″ long from the shoulder seam, 28″ wide with a hand-stitched scoop neckline. French seams. Open sides (sew them closed if you like and voila, a dress!) One size fits all. $95 + shipping.

  • Rebozo #1: Blue and Brown by Fito Garcia, one of Tenancingo’s masters. 74″ long. 29″ wide. Plus a 13″ punta (hand-knotted fringe). Below. $185. + shipping.

  • SOLD! Rebozo #2: Black and Brown. Dramatic ikat design with impressive hand-knotted 13″ punta. 74″ long, 29″ wide. $165 + shipping. Below.

  

  • Rebozo #3: Very finely woven by master Jose Luis Rodriguez, soft as silk chalina in two-tone dark and light blue. 65″ long, 29″ wide with an intricate 13″ punta. $155 + shipping.  See below.

 

Please send me an email if you want to make a purchase. Thank you!

  • Rebozo #4: Forest green and navy blue ikat rebozo, 68″ long, 26-1/2″ wide, with a knotted 5″ punta. $125 + shipping. See below left.

Blue-Green rebozo (left), $125 + shipping.

L-Blue-Green rebozo, $125+ shipping. R-scarf with chaquira beads, $75+shipping

  • Rebozo #5: Red and camel ikat scarf, 20″ wide, 61″ long with 9″ punta. $85+ shipping. See below.

 

  • Rebozo #6: Mango scarf with blue ikat accent stripes and chaquira beads hand-knotted into the fringe. Great accent piece! $75+ shipping. See below right.

 

  • Rebozo #7: Above left is a beautiful, soft silky cotton ikat scarf, 58″ long and 18″ wide, with loose fringes. I loved this one because of the ikat gradations along the center panel of the scarf. $65+ shipping.

Please send me an email if you want to make a purchase. Thank you!

Come along with me on the next Rebozo study tour in September for the annual Rebozo Fair in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico.

Butterflies on the Rebozo: Jesus Zarate’s Ikat Shawls

It’s not easy to describe how Jesus Zarate from Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, prepares the cotton weft threads to weave an ikat rebozo or shawl filled with 125 multi-colored butterflies.

Complex ikat dyed cotton rebozo or shawl by Jesus Zarate

Complex ikat dyed cotton butterfly rebozo or shawl by Jesus Zarate

This rebozo is made on a traditional back strap loom. Jesus ties one end around his waist and the other to a fixed pole or wall. He stands while weaving. The loom is wide and heavy, which is why men do this type of work. It is usually constructed of oak or another hardwood, built to last a lifetime.

Jesus holds the butterfly rebozo on front of a pedal loom

Jesus holds the butterfly rebozo on front of a pedal loom

It takes Jesus two or three months to weave this textile, working about six hours a day. That’s before he prepares the weft threads, first tying the knots where the design will be, marking the pattern on the threads that are held together with a cornstarch glue, then dipping the tied area into dye, then untying and washing the threads before he puts them on the loom. It can take a week to warp the loom before the weaving begins.

A Jesus Zarate ikat rebozo is like a Monet painting -- innovative, comforting

A Jesus Zarate ikat rebozo is like a Monet painting — innovative, spectacular

Jesus works with his son Hugo by his side. They both weave more traditional patterns on the fixed-frame pedal loom, also called the counterbalance or flying shuttle loom brought to Mexico during the Industrial Revolution.

Cindy, a North Carolina weaver, tries the pedal loom with Jesus' son Hugo

Cindy Edwards, a North Carolina weaver, tries the pedal loom with Jesus’ son, Hugo

Many of these looms are more than 100 years old. They are in need of continuous repair and their age is a testimony to their durability as a tool for textile creation.

Mexico Textile + Folk Art Study Tour: Rebozos and More

September 8-16, 2016 includes Rebozo Fair — Feria del Rebozo

A traditional ikat design by Jesus Zarate includes gold threads

A traditional ikat design by Jesus Zarate includes gold threads

The first time I visited the home studio of Jesus Zarate was in September 2015. I went along with a group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico — people who love Mexican folk art. Three women bought the finest rebozos from Jesus. He cried. He hadn’t sold a fine rebozo in two years.

Jesus shows his rebozo filled with tulip designs

Jesus shows his rebozo filled with tulip designs — or are they yellow rose buds?

I decided to change the LADAP itinerary to go deeper and focus primarily on rebozo weaving with a side trip to Taxco. I’m now offering a September 2016 and February 2017 tour. It is a perfect experience for weavers and textile lovers alike. We also include an in-depth discussion about and demonstrations of the natural dye process.

Pattern marked chord stiffened with cornstarch glue called atole

Pattern marked chord stiffened with cornstarch glue called atole

Jesus recently lost two sons and is in mourning. He tells me he never smiles. It is difficult for him. His son, Hugo, is his remaining heir to the tradition of ikat weaving in Tenancingo de Degollado.

Son Hugo weaves at pedal loom

Son Hugo weaves at counterbalance pedal loom

Jesus has only two pedal looms, not a sign of prosperity in a weaving culture. He is one of a handful who still know how to work the back strap loom. These pedal looms cram into a small workshop at the front of the humble house where he lives with his son. He is no longer married. Often, as we know, the tragedies of life take its toll on relationships.

Ikat pattern taking form on the flying shuttle pedal loom

Ikat pattern taking form on the flying shuttle pedal loom with Jesus looking on

Very few international visitors come to Tenancingo. It is about two-and-a-half hours from the center of Mexico City. To go independently requires a combination of bus and taxi travel with transfers at the Mexico City west bus station and again in Toluca.

Linda wears white roses, an innovative Zarate ikat design

Linda wears white roses, an innovative Zarate ikat design–note the texture!

I recently took a group of 10 women to meet many famous rebozo weavers of Tenancingo, including Jesus Zarate. We traveled together from Mexico City and spent a week going deep into the textile culture of the region to see and understand the process. You can read the rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

Please come with me on the next Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Rebozos of Tenancingo, set for September 2016 to coincide with the annual Feria del Rebozo or rebozo fair. Registrations are now open!

Cross draped with white rebozos in Zarate's workshop corner, a comfort

Cross draped with white rebozos in Zarate’s workshop corner, a comfort