Tag Archives: learn to weave

Rhythms of Zapotec Weaving

The thump, thump, rhythmic cadence of the loom awakens me on the mornings that Federico Chavez Sosa is at his loom. It is a gentle beating against the warp threads that have just been inserted, back and forth, back and forth, an ancient harmony like a drum beat that calls to me. The sun has not quite risen. The sky glows red orange. Out my bedroom window I see the clay pots holding geraniums, the tiled and tin roofs of adjacent adobe homes, the curl of a morning cooking fire, the tips of Sierra Madre del Sur, and a farmer carrying his burden of alfalfa to sell at the daily market. There is comfort in that sound of the loom and I can lay in bed knowing that this is an enduring rhythm, one heard throughout this village for many generations past.

I will never be a Zapotec weaver because I am not Zapotec. Even as I learn to weave on a two-harness loom using my hands and my feet to dance on the loom, to create weft that tries to mimic a generations-old tradition, I will never be able to accomplish or replicate what weavers in the village of Teotitlan del Valle are able to create. Nor do I want to. What I want to do is create an experience for non-Teotitecos to explore and appreciate the technique and skill that goes into making a Zapotec textile by trying their hand at it themselves. Photos below: El Maestro Federico Chavez Sosa. Note the curved detail of Federico’s lizard — very difficult to execute.

Weaving in Teotitlan is a cultural accumulation of family and village identity, considerable skill, and tutelage that begins at a young age. Children sit by their parents feet, watching the treadles raise and lower, gathering and dyeing yarn, spinning it into bobbins, cleaning and washing wool, long before they begin the actual weaving process. In many families, children begin to weave on the cross spindles of over-turned chairs, wrapping the warp threads across the spindles and using scraps to create the weft. For some, weaving is not an interest or skill, and they will go on to do other things, such as farm, butcher animals, sell tortillas at the market, go to work in the city or el norte.

The phrase, “it’s in your blood,” comes to mind when I think about weavers in Teotitlan. I hear of great weavers who learned from their grandfathers, uncles or cousins as apprentices, when they wanted to know more than what their fathers and mothers had accumulated. The village is a veritable weaving heaven. The anecdotal count is 2,000 looms and 7,000 people that reside there. Most will begin to weave at age eight or 10, and age 15 is considered late to start. It is a professional undertaking in which people take pride and ownership of their work.

We have just ended a four-day “Dancing on the Loom: Oaxaca Weaving Workshop,” in the home of Federico and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas. What can people learn in four days? Certainly, they will not develop the lifetime of practice, experience, and cultural accumulation that it takes to become a master weaver. They will not learn the painstaking process to dress (warp) the loom, laying out yards of warp threads, winding them on posts in the courtyard, exactly counting how much they need, then carefully bringing this bundle to the loom to tie onto the harnesses by hand, one by one.

In four days, we did not even come close to making complex curves and figures that differentiate the textile produced by a master weaver from more easily executed geometric shapes found on most Teotitlan rugs.

Zapotec weavers earn their livelihood by their craftsmanship. This is not our métier. We come as visitors, explorers, wanting the multicultural experience to understand, learn, share and appreciate. I spend four days dancing on the loom and I am slow, deliberate and ponderous. I fumble, make mistakes, unravel, try again. Federico’s fingers fly, his bobbins move fluidly in the space between the heddles, his patterns are in his mind and heart, taken from pre-Hispanic images, the shadow and ground from carvings on the Mitla temple. I have no designs on becoming a professional weaver, and I love the process of being with a group of other weavers, some more and less experienced than I. Together, we are sharing this journey of learning, having fun, working with color, understanding the natural dyeing process, and respecting the work produced by our host family because we now understand through “doing” what it takes to create an outstanding textile.

It took four days (interspersed with dyeing lessons and frequent breaks) to weave a 24” wide by 22” to 30” long textile. The quality of our work is novice, at best. Trust me. We are no competition for the weavers in the village! We did laugh a lot.

During our four-day weaving workshop, we became comfortable with winding bobbins, exploring the use of color and texture, learned to dye with cochineal, indigo and pericone (wild marigold), and attempted undulating and geometric block patterns by manipulating the warp and weft. We also came to love the daily comidas (lunch) prepared by Dolores and her sister, Chalah, a sequence of food textures and flavors that are typically Oaxaca:. homemade chicken tamales with Amarillo mole sauce, sopa de flor de calabassas (squash blossom soup), spicy garbanzo soup with a plate of rice, tasajo (grilled beef), and fresh salsa. Plenty of avocado, fresh made tortillas, and tropical fruit (mango and papaya) adorned the table at each meal. Federico brought out cervezas and freshed squeezed limeade, and we learned to appreciate Micheladas.

I’ve been mulling over what makes an “authentic” Zapotec weaving, and will write more about this in another article. If you are interested in textiles, and especially in Zapotec and Navajo weaving, comparing them, and understanding the economic viability and marketability of handmade textiles in a global economy, I suggest you read, “Made in Mexico: Zapotec Weavers and the Global Ethnic Art Market,” by W. Warner Wood (Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-21986-2). It is a wonderful discussion of the issues around how the work of weaving is organized from a social, political and cultural perspective, and factors that determine success and failure.

Most importantly, it is an education for those of us who want to be certain that we are supporting people who are using more environmentally sustainable practices in the wool preparation process by using natural dyes, and wool that is not commercially produced with nylon or polyester threads. Price differentiation is a great test for quality!

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We have two new weaving workshops scheduled for late November and mid-December 2008. Please see www.oaxacaculture.com for workshop information and registration form.

Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Day 4

On the last day of the workshop, Karen worked with Federico and Janet to complete her tapestry, a glorious rainbow of red, warm yellow and orange, cream and blue. She cut the piece she will use for a wall hanging off the loom, and learned how to finish off the rug in the traditional Zapotec technique of rolling the warp threads into fringes and then tying them off.

As an instructor with her father, Janet Chavez Santiago had this to add about the four-day experience: It was a great experience for me to do the workshop with Karen. It was very satisfying to see how she learned and how she was able to create a beautiful finished product — her rug! The dyeing day was perfect. Karen said she appreciated the process of our work and how we take the time to dye the wool by hand using natural materials. I was very happy that I could teach her the mordanting process, and dyeing with acid, alkaline and a neutral base. The indigo was a challenge because it is a difficult process, but we did it and without mistakes and she was able to see the different blues and how the color changes when it comes in contact with the air. I am very excited about the next workshop we have scheduled to start on August 11. It’s full with five people and it’s going to be wonderful, too.

We are now accepting reservations for workshops starting November 22 and December 13. See the website or blog post: Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom, for more details.

Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Day 2

The second day of the workshop started at 9 a.m. on Tuesday with Karen and her Chavez Santiago Family hosts and teachers gathered around the worktable in the covered and paved courtyard for an orientation to the natural dyeing process. On hand were baking soda, alum, fresh squeezed lime juice and skeins of undyed wool shorn and spun from Churro sheep. Janet Chavez Santiago explained about and showed the different materials used for the dyeing process: cochineal bugs, indigo, moss, lichens, and pericone. The propane-powered burners were topped with stainless steel and enamel pots filled with water coming to a boil.

Dolores Santiago Arellanas and her 14 year old son, Omar Chavez Santiago were standing by, ready to mix the dyes after selecting the acid (lime juice) or neutral (baking soda) to mix with the dye stuffs to determine the shade and intensity of the color. Federico and Janet guided Karen after they demonstrated how to measure and add the dye liquid to create the dye bath. Wearing a mandil (traditional Zapotec apron) and protective rubber gloves, Karen stirred and poured, while the family and her son, Sebastian, looked on. It was clear that everyone was having a great time. Since it takes an hour of “cooking” the wool in the dye bath to achieve the desired color, Karen went back to her weaving and accomplished quite a bit during the day. She is well on her way to finishing a beautiful wall hanging by the end of the four-day workshop.

Here’s what Karen says about her experience:

“I wanted to be realistic about my expectations, I looked online and thoroughly re-read Norma’s blog. I had my information packet from her and had a basic idea that I would be coming to work with this multi-generational family of weavers. I was impressed by the quality and diversity of the family’s weavings. I had seen the looms before and was familiar with what things looked like. I am really pleased about how patient and agreeable the family is because I don’t have hands-on weaving experience. I appreciated that they offered me the choice of wool from an extensive selection of colors from which to create my piece.

“It was wonderful for me to have this experience at the loom – it was a dream. It really was dancing on the loom. There were certain techniques I couldn’t get right away at the beginning and Federico, Dolores and Janet were patient about repeating the instructions. They wanted me to relax and enjoy what I was doing. They looked at my work and gave me a lot of encouragement. This is a wonderful spontaneous atmosphere in which to learn. It is very exciting to look at and be with the natural colors. I came open-minded and didn’t have too many preconceived notions about what I would do. Federico and Janet talked about weaving with your heart – choosing the colors and their flow in a way that speaks to you — and that was a great approach. At another time, I would like to make more of a design.

“It is also lovely here, beautiful, the food is really gorgeous and delicious. For people who have no experience with Mexico, I believe this would exceed their expectations. It is very clean. Sometimes people might be fearful of coming to a village but once here they would see that it is not that rustic. They are not going to get sick because a lot of care is given to making well-prepared food. Anyone could feel very confident about what they would eat or drink at this house.”

Karen’ son, Sebastian, added his comments:

“I had no idea what would happen, then once I got here, I saw everyone who was here was really nice, and very cool. I like being here with my mom because I got to learn a lot about weaving and dyeing, and watching how the looms work. It was fun taking photos, too. I’d like to be able to do this myself and make something. Omar, who is my age, is really nice and it was a lot of fun to get to meet him. We both rode in the back of the pick-up truck to go get corn grown at Omar’s grandmother’s house for the soup, and we spun the yarn together to make the bobbins that my mom is using for her weaving. My dad, Fernando Olivera, is an artist and he is teaching me how to do woodcuts and etchings. I like everything about Oaxaca – the people, food, culture and art. Everyone here is very friendly. I like it a lot.”

Accepting Registrations Now: Mid-December 2008,

Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom

Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom–Oaxaca

Imagine! A hands-on weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, with master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa.  Federico’s daughter Janet, who co-teaches the workshops, is fluent in English and a university student of languages and linguistics.  All instruction is translated for easy understanding. The Chavez family’s oldest son, Eric Chavez Santiago, is director of education at the new Museo Textil de Oaxaca (textile museum).   Photos on this page are from recent workshop.  Most participants had never been at a loom before!  We welcome both experienced students and beginners for an extraordinary week living in a Zapotec village and weaving on a tapestry loom.

Click here:  See Norma’s complete Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom Photo Album

“The workshop was an incredible program. I have enjoyed the whole process! Thank you very much for your hospitality and for sharing your talent, knowledge and wonderful teaching.  A special thanks to Dolores for her succulent meals.  I would recommend this program to any friend.  This has been an unforgettable week.” –Giovanna Balarezo, New York City

Upcoming Dates — Accepting Registrations Now:  Beginners Welcome!

  • Saturday-Friday, December 26, 2009-January 1, 2010 (Workshop is Mon-Thur, Dec. 28-31)
  • Saturday-Friday, February 20-26, 2010 (Workshop is Mon-Thur, Feb. 22-25)

Workshop tuition is $965 per person, including lodging (double occupancy) and many meals.  Workshop is limited to 5 participants.  4 days of instruction, Monday-Thursday.  6 nights lodging, Saturday-Thursday.  Arrive Saturday and depart Friday.   Bring a friend and you will both receive a 15% discount.

Please see my website:  www.oaxacaculture.com for registration form

Includes 22+ hours of personalized instruction, 5 participants maximum enrollment, for weavers, knitters, natural dye aficionados, artists, teachers, university students, parents and children (over age 10 when accompanied by an adult).

Cost includes 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, supplementary notebook of information and resources, plus lots of extras.

If you don’t see dates to fit your schedule, contact me. We can arrange a customized schedule. email: normahawthorne@mac.com

Dancing on the Loom” was a marvelous experience; not only did I learn the essentials of weaving and dyeing, but I have the opportunity to see people engaging in the building of a sustainable production.” — Akilah Zuberi, Philadelphia

Workshops are limited to 5 participants, with personalized instruction from master weavers Federico Chavez Sosa and his family. You are invited into the Chavez family home and studio workshop. Not only will you learn the way Zapotecs have been weaving for over 500 years, and dyeing for millenia, you will be experiencing village life through a very unique and personal perspective.

The Chavez family have traveled and exhibited throughout the United States, are in the permanent collections of galleries, museums and artists, including the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. They have exhibited and lectured widely, including at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the San Jose (CA) Quilt and Textile Museum, the American Tapestry Alliance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Purdue University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Andrea Ford’s Photo Album: Oaxaca Weaving and Natural Dyeing Workshop at the NC Arts Incubator, October 2008

“The very best workshop I ever attended.  The sincere generosity of the Chavez family is just astounding. The patience, expertise and instruction were of the high level!  Many thanks to Federico, Dolores and Janet, and our coordinator, Norma Hawthorne, for making this all possible.” — Sue Szary, Siler City, NC

See www.oaxacaculture.com website for bios about me and the family

Who Should Attend: weavers, artists, knitters, designers, teachers, university students, anyone interested in weaving and natural dyeing techniques, and sustaining indigenous art forms using ancient technologies

Level of Experience Necessary: These are small group, hands-on workshops that can accommodate varying levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced student. Because the size of each group is limited to 5 people, you will receive individualized instruction and coaching from the master weaving family of Federico Chavez Sosa. More experienced weavers can create more complex projects.

Each student will be assigned her or his own loom for the session. The loom will be dressed (warped) and ready for you to begin weaving upon arrival. Materials include your choice of naturally dyed wool yarn from which you will weave a sampler textile that can be used as a wall hanging, pillow cover, or comprise the body of a purse or shoulder bag. You will select the wool from colors dyed with pomegranates, pecans, mosses, indigo, and cochineal.  Our participants have created amazing textiles that range from 18 inches to 30 inches in length.

What People Say … Kathy Trent from California arranged a customized, one-day workshop with her 7-year old daughter during a recent visit to Oaxaca.  Here’s what she said,

“Dear Norma, Kristin and I had a lovely time with the Chavez family.  Janet is a “gem!”  She is so patient and gives great instructions.  I enjoyed the whole experience and would like to visit again.  Thank you again for arranging everything.  The whole day was one that my daughter and I will never forget!”

What You Will Learn:

  • Traditional Zapotec weaving techniques, patterns and motifs that produce squares, stripes, diagonals, circles and color gradations;
  • Use of the two-harness pedal loom and shuttles;
  • Practice weaving simple or more complex patterns, depending upon your level of experience;
  • The cultural history of rug weaving in Teotitlan, ancient wool preparation techniques, natural dyeing methods, and how to discern synthetic dye use
  • Participate in natural dyeing demonstrations to see how the range and variety of color is developed from native plant materials;
  • Complete a finished textile: cut the sample tapestry from the loom, clean the wool tapestry, twist and tie the fringes; and
  • Work under the expert guidance of weavers whose family has been creating extraordinary textiles for generations.

Arrive in Oaxaca on Saturday, travel to the village and settle into your B&B.  Sunday is a free day to arrange an optional guided visit to the Tlacolula market or to explore the region on your own.

Weaving Workshop: Days One Through Four

9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Day One, Monday: Arrive at the Chavez Family Studio for an orientation and demonstration of Zapotec weaving patterns and techniques to create squares, stripes, diagonals and circles. Choose your loom and select the colors for your tapestry. Prepare the bobbins. Begin your project. More experienced weavers will work with Federico and and his family to create more complex patterns.

Days Two to Four, Tuesday-Thursday: Participate in demonstrations and then practice using the two-harness pedal loom using a variety of shuttles to make more complex patterns and greater variety of colors, experiment with using the equipment on your own, learn dyeing techniques using cochineal, indigo, wild marigold (pericone) and moss. Learn how to count threads to create a circle or square within the overall design. Finish off your piece by cutting it off the loom, rolling and tying fringes.

What Is Included:

  • All weaving equipment and supplies to create a finished wool tapestry sampler that is approximately 18” wide by 24” long
  • 22+ hours of supervised instruction in English by renowned master weavers
  • An educational reference notebook of workshop materials to take home with you
  • 4 lunches: Afternoon lunch (Comida), snacks, beverages daily for four days
  • 6 nights lodging (double accomodations) with daily breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle at a lovely and comfortable bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of the Chavez Santiago Family studio
Optional:
  • Guided visit to Tlacolula Sunday market, afternoon village walking excursions that may include visits to an organic farm and weaving cooperative, meeting renown painters and weavers; guided visits to Friday Ocotlan market; guided visit to Mitla archeological site and village
  • Additional nights lodging and single supplements available.

Complete Itinerary

Saturday: Arrive in Oaxaca, travel by taxi (on your own) to your bed and breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle. Explore the village on your own.

Optional Sunday Guided Visit to the Tlacolula Market (pre-workshop): Your guide will meet you at 10 a.m. at your bed and breakfast for the bus trip to the Tlacolula market. Transportation costs not included. Take comida (lunch) in the Tlacolula market.  Additional $40 USD per person.

Monday-Thursday: Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom at the home and workshop of the Federico Chavez Santiago family.

Options Can Be Arranged: visits to the archeological site Mitla, additional nights of lodging, day trips to outlying crafts villages. Transportion included.

Cost for the 6-Night/5-Day Program is $965 USD per person, double accommodations.  Additional nights lodging can be arranged at $40 per night per person.

Contact: normahawthorne@mac.com for more information and to register.

How to Register: A $300 USD deposit is required to reserve your space.

Final payment of the balance is due 30 days before the start day of the workshop. If the final balance is not paid within 30 days before the start day of the workshop,we reserve the right to treat the reservation as cancelled. Any registrations made within 15 days of the workshop date must be paid in full at the time of registration.

If cancellation is necessary, deposits are refundable, as follows:

Any cancellation by a participant must be made in writing by email. Deposits may be refunded

  • up to 30 days before the workshop start date, less a $100 cancellation fee.
  • After that, deposits are not refundable.
  • If cancellation is necessary, you may apply the deposit to a future workshop scheduled in the same calendar year. We reserve the right to cancel or reschedule workshops, in which case you may choose a 100% refund or to apply the tuition to a future workshop.

Personal checks are accepted. We can also accept payment with PayPal. Contact us for details.

What Is NOT Included:

  • Transportation in/to Mexico, Oaxaca and Teotitlan
  • Local transportation costs (bus, taxi, collectivo)
  • Gratuities and fees
  • Trip insurance, medical expenses, hospitalization, and other fees
  • Evening dinners, snacks, liquor
  • Optional afternoon side trips and excursions

Upon registration for the workshop, we will provide you with:

  • Transportation options to get from the Oaxaca airport to Teotitlan del Valle and your bed and breakfast
  • A walking map to the Chavez casa and contact information.
  • A list of recommended lodging in Oaxaca, in the event you wish to extend your stay or arrive earlier.
  • A list of recommended reading, a seasonal packing list, and travel tips to make your journey easier and more fun
  • Immunization, Visa and passport information, How to Get There, weather information, money exchange

Note: Zapotec weavers use the pedal loom, which they stand at to work. People who have difficulty standing for any period of time, or who have back problems are discouraged from attending. Many of Teotitlan’s streets and alleyways are cobble stone and/or dirt, with many uneven surfaces. It is a several block walk between lodging options and the weaving workshop. Please bring appropriate walking shoes.

Optional Activities:

Friday Market, Ocotlan with stops in San Martin Tilcajete and San Tomas Jalieza; cooking classes; temezcal bath; Spanish lessons; hiking to Mt. Picacho and the Presa; birdwatching in Benito Juarez; visit to Cochineal Farm; a day in Arrazola and Atzompa; handmade paper factory in San Augustin Etla; visits to 2,000+ year old Zapotec archeological sites: Mitla, Dainzu, Yagul. Customized day trips can be arranged before or after the workshop. Prices quoted upon request.

Optional Fee-Based Services to Be Arranged:

  • Pre- or Post-Workshop day trips to craft villages and regional markets, that includes transportation and visits to renowned artists and artisans in San Martin Tilcajete, Arrazola, San Tomas Jalieza, and Ocotlan

Documentation

U.S. Citizens traveling to Mexico are required to carry a current passport, valid for at least three months after your re-entry to the U.S. It is your responsibility to obtain proper documentation. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, contact the Mexican embassy, consulate or national airline of Mexico for entry requirements.

Trip Insurance

Please consider purchasing travel insurance. Unforeseen circumstances of getting to Teotitlan del Valle could cost you more than you expected. In the event of an emergency or natural disaster caused beyond our control, trip insurance will cover any unexpected expenses.


Oaxacan artists return to North Carolina.

We’re expecting Eric Chavez to return to North Carolina this spring.  He’ll be coming on March 22 with his friend, Elsa Sanchez Diaz, to participate in an art fair and exhibition at East Carolina University, in Greenville.  The University has  invited him back for a second year because of the success of his presentation last spring.  During the time they will be here, Eric and Elsa will also meet with Molly Matlock and Chris Bouton of the Chatham Arts Council to plan a fall 2008 arts in education program for the public schools, artists and weavers, and the general public, including a major exhibition and sale at the community college.  The program looks like it will include workshops for teachers, with students in elementary, middle and high school, and master classes in collaboration with local artist cooperatives.   Because Eric is a fluent English speaker, he is able to speak eloquently about his Zapotec people and culture, the influences of the Spanish conquest, the impact of tourism on the economy of Oaxaca state, and the ancient weaving and natural dyeing traditions of his village, Teotitlan del Valle. 

 These programs are wonderful cultural bridges to understanding the artistic traditions of Mexican culture and the rich history of immigrants who live and work here.  We have found that wherever we make presentations, give workshops and exhibit in the U.S., people are welcoming and interested.  Often, cross-cultural appreciation, understanding and respect is facilitated through the arts.   

 Eric is planning his exhibition and presentation schedule for fall 2008 at museums, galleries and universities in the U.S.  Often, he is sponsored by through Latino Studies programs,  university art museums, departments of global studies, education, textiles,  art and design, weavers and textile guilds, or a collaboration of these and other community groups.  If you or your organization would be interested in hosting Eric Chavez, please reply by posting your comment to the blog.