Tag Archives: Mexico

Chiapas Textile Study Tour 2020

Dates are set. Let’s GO! February 25 to March 4, 2020. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,995 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

For fiestas, wool huipil takes 8 months to weave, San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro explains collection, Museo del Trajes Regionales

We are committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions.

Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

There will be only ONE study tour to Chiapas in 2020.

Detail, embroidered blouse, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • culture, history and identity of cloth
  • cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
  • wool spinning and weaving
  • clothing design and construction
  • embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
  • Maya textile designs — significance
  • village and individual identity through clothing
  • market days and mercantile economy
  • local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
  • quality and value
With Andrea in San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best cultural guides. Patricio’s father was born in Chicago and his mom was Mexican. They met in San Cristobal in the early 1960’s. You will hear his story, and theirs. He was born here, speaks fluent English, Spanish and some Tzotzil. He is one of the most informed and engaging people we have ever worked with.

We will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world.

  • We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
  • We enjoy home-cooked meals
  • We meet the makers and directly support them
  • We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
  • We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
  • We explore three towns on their market days
  • We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs
Carnival in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 25: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

From Cancuc (left) and Oxchuc (right), Maya mathematics on cloth

Wednesday, February 26: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the Textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)

Ancient Maya cemetery, Romerillo, Chiapas

Thursday, February 27: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Shuko wears a soft wool chal (shawl) woven by Maruch

Friday, February 28: After breakfast, we take you to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Ceramic bull candleholders adorn churches and homes

Saturday, February 29: We set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Youngsters learn cultural traditions early — Carnival in San Juan Chamula

Sunday, March 1: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Printmaking at Los Leñateros handmade paper studio

Monday, March 2: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Seen on the street, extraordinary huipil from Chalchihuitan

Tuesday, March 3: After breakfast, the finest agave fiber bags in all of San Cristobal will be on display from the makers who live in Magdalena Aldama. They will also bring flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

From agave leaf to finished bag, three months of work

Wednesday, March 4. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.

What Is Included

• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center and walking streets

• 8 breakfasts • 5 lunches • 1 dinner

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,995 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Payment Schedule:

  • 1/3 of total balance due immediately to register and confirm
  • Second 1/3 payment due on or before October 1, 2019
  • Third and final 1/3 balance due on or before December 15, 2019

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers * Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Worn by officials, handmade straw hat, festooned with ribbons

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2019, there are no refunds. If there is a cancelation on or before December 15, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. Aft that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Our 2019 group with Esperanza in Amantenango del Valle, Chiapas

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Backstrap loom weaving in Tenejapa, Chiapas with Maria Meza Giron

Tamale Day, Candlemas and Masks in Patzcuaro, Michoacan

February 2, or Candlemas, is celebrated throughout the Catholic world as the end of the Christmas season. It marks the 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when Mary goes to the Temple in Jerusalem to purify herself.

In Hebrew tradition, this is the mikveh ritual bath. In Catholicism, it has become embedded in the cyclical annual calendar that marks the story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Who could resist this one? Reminds me of papier-mache masks in Venice, Italy

In the mask-making village of Tocuaro, just outside Patzcuaro along the lake, master wood-carvers make masks depicting the devil. The masks become part of an elaborate costume for Candlemas re-enactment in the church courtyard on February 2, starting at 5 p.m.

Elaborate, wood carved mask with embellishment

The re-enactment is like a play that depicts the forces of good and evil. The hero Michael Arcangel fights and slays Lucifer, represented by three devils, forever banishing them from earth to the underworld. The masks and costumes are elaborate and scary, especially for children.

Getting his mask fitted

During the conquest, throughout Mexico, priests from the Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian orders, integrated Catholic rites with indigenous practices. This is called syncretism.

Mask-maker Maestro Felipe Horta, Tucuaro
This guy is scary — elaborate costume with horned mask

Candlemas marks the end of winter and the beginning of the planting season when days begin to lengthen and the earth warms for plowing. In ancient times, this was signaled by the alignment of the stars of Orion.

A whirling Lucifer with eagle wings spread
Lucifer and the shepherds

With the conquest, the agricultural cycle aligns with the Christian calendar and the beginning of Lent. Spiritual forces of light prevail and overcome darkness, allowing the “light of Jesus” to enter the world.

At the 40-day mark, Mary brings baby Jesus to the Temple for the priestly blessing, bringing candles for the altar. Hence the name Candlemas. The term Pastorela refers to procession of shepherds who accompany her. This officially marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the next cycle, the Easter season.

We learn all this through our Patzcuaro guide Jaime Hernandez Balderas as our Michoacan Folk Art Study Tour participants enjoyed an afternoon with famed mask-maker Felipe Horta and his family before going to the Pastorela at the church.

Why is February 2 called Tamale Day in Mexico?

In Europe, bread is the offering. In Mexico, it is corn. Let’s go back to Christmas and January 6, Three Kings Day or Epiphany. Every family celebrates by eating a piece of Rosca de Reyes. Hidden inside is a baked-in plastic figure of baby Jesus. Whomever gets the little doll is blessed with providing tamales for the entire family on Candlemas. Sometimes, this requires feeding several hundred people. So, now, we can find eight or ten figures baked inside the large round loaf to spread the expense.

Rosca de Reyes, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Elaborate eagle and serpent cape worn by a Lucifer

Afro-Mexicans on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, Museum of Afro-Mestizo Culture

Mexico is a true melting pot. Her people are a fusion of ethnicities, races, and cultures originating from Asia, Europe, and Africa mingling with America’s First Peoples. The Spanish brought slaves from the Philippines and China, while Portuguese traders imported forced labor from Africa to work Mexico’s sugar cane fields and cattle ranches when indigenous people couldn’t survive disease.

Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, Afro-Mexican roots and abolitionist

A very important, and heretofore unacknowledged part of Mexican history, is the slave experience in Mexico and the development of communities on the Oaxaca-Guerrero coast formed by people who escaped from the Veracruz cane fields. The Museo de las Culturas Afromestizas — the Afro-Mestizo Museum — in Cuajiniculapa, Guerrero, just across the Oaxaca border, gives voice to those who helped shape Mexican identity and honors their historic role.

Read here to learn more about Afro-Mexicans.

Spanish-speaking museum guide explains mural significance
Africans built thatch-roofed houses, a reminder of home

Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour group stops here on our five-hour return trip to Puerto Escondido from Ometepec. Knowing all of Oaxaca and her roots is important to us. We learn about and understand the contributions of Afro-Mexicans to Mexico’s music, dance, dress, and cuisine.

Read New Yorker magazine essay about Afro-Mexican life on the Costa Chica.

Slaves escaped to Oaxaca-Guerrero coast from Veracruz, introduced Devil Dance

Please send me an email if you are interested in traveling here in 2020. I will only offer this study tour if there are 6 people making a $500 reservation deposit to guarantee we will hold the trip. Likely dates are January 10-20, 2020.

Close up of Oaxaca’s famous Danza de Los Diablos Devil Dance, a Guelaguetza favorite

Meaning of the Danza de los Diablos.

Portuguese slave ship, tragedy of human bondage

Read Culture Trip article about Afro-Mexican origins and pride.

We also see through the dioramas and explanation from our museum guide that institutionalized slavery has left its mark on Mexico just as it has in the United States. The colonizers, be they British or Spanish, used forced human labor to advance their economic and social agendas. Hundreds of years later, isolation, poverty, lack of education and health care, has left its mark, making this region among the most impoverished in Mexico.

Enslaved blacks in American South sought freedom in Mexico, perhaps a reason for the Mexican-American War?

The marimba, an African import along with slavery

There is a movement to give Afro-Mexicans the federal recognition and support they deserve that will help improve quality of life and economic opportunity.

I stepped up onto the hollow wood box to learn the dance of the region. I’m writing from Morelia, Michoacan, left my Costa Chica notebook at home, and will add the name of our thoughtful guide later.

African slaves employed in Mexico’s sugar cane field, silver mines, cattle ranches
In storage, the Son Jorocho musical style with stringed instrument brought from Africa

A must-read is Afro-Mexicans Exist, So We Must Stop Referring to Mexico as a Mestizo Nation by Shanna Collins. This offers important insight into how embedded African roots are in Mexican life and culture. Her argument is that the term Mestizo completely ignores how the role of slaves influenced modern Mexico.

Contemporary graphic art interprets African experience in Mexico

The small museum, just off coastal route MEX 200, is a testimony to the history of enslavement and courage. It opens our eyes and hearts, gives us perspective and enriches our travel experience.

Devil Dance woodcut by artist
Museum mural gives life to Afro-Mexican experience

Where Flowers Grow on Cloth: Flor de Xochistlahuaca

The Amusgo people span the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in the mountain region of the Costa Chica between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco. They are back-strap loom weavers of an extraordinary garment called the huipil. This particular textile is fine gauze cotton, a loose weave, to offer comfort to the hot, humid climate. Even in winter, a light-weight covering is preferred.

Gretchen with her fabulous native green and coyuchi cotton shawl, doll and weavers
Beautiful embroidered bodice of under-slip

Our group of eleven travelers made our way up the coast over a six-day period to explore the textile villages of the region. Xochistlahuaca was our northernmost destination.

Understanding the weaving process, time it takes to make
Left, textile dyed with indigo with native coyuchi and white cotton, right, natural dyes

I have known about this cooperative Flor de Xochistlahuaca for years. They participated in Oaxaca City expoventas at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Social entrepreneurs and textile consultants Ana Paula Fuentes and Maddalena Forcella worked with the cooperative, too, to help them develop marketing, promotion and economic development plans.

Wearing glorious textiles, surrounded by glorious textiles

When we arrive, the director Yessie greeted us warmly and introduced us to many of the 39 cooperative members who were there to meet us. They range in age from young adults to aging grandmothers. They are talented spinners and weavers, and their design and color sensibility is unparalleled.

Talking and listening, sharing stories about our lives

What was remarkable about this visit is that we sat opposite each other, face to face, gave self-introductions, and had an opportunity to learn about the role and life of women in the village and our experience as women living in the USA and Canada.

Examples of fine supplementary weft weaving from Flor de Xochistlahuaca

I encourage our travelers to think of ourselves as amateur cultural anthropologist, to ask the people we meet about what they love about their work and home life. They are curious about us and we answer their questions. We are curious about them, the challenges they face, the dreams they have for their children, and what they want to improve quality of life. We are there to learn, listen, understand, share and also support by buying direct from the makers.

A native green cotton shawl on the loom, almost completed
A simple vase with native coyuchi and white cotton on stems

We tell them our ages and where we are from. We share our marital status: widowed, married, divorced, always single. We learn that collectively we are similar. One woman says she never married because she didn’t want a husband directing her life and taking her money.

The dialog exchange at Flor de Xochistlahuaca

Among our group are weavers, dyers, sewers, collectors, teachers, writers, lovers of beautiful cloth. They are culture-keepers who spend days taking care of family, cleaning, cooking, shopping, doing laundry. The cooperative gives them the freedom to weave uninterrupted several days a week and get away from the responsibilities of taking care of others. Women rotate being there. They say it gives them a sense of independence and camaraderie.

Innovating new products: Dolls with traditional cloth
Linda with her purchases and the women who made them

Over lunch at a local comedor we talk about life differences and similarities. Some say it appears that village life is more simple and we dig deeper into what that means. I think it is more basic but it is not more simple. As foreigners living in the frenzy of post-industrial, consumer-based, technology-focused environments, we have a tendency to romanticize what many call a simpler lifestyle. Many of us yearn for that.

Completing the finishing touches — seam embellishments

Women’s lives are complex whether we live in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, or Chicago, Illinois. We worry about our children, their education, health care, whether there is enough money for essentials and extras. We work at home or outside the home or both. Maybe we have aging parents who need care or an alcoholic or abusive spouse, or a child with special needs. We have dreams that may never be realized.

As we travel through the textile world of Oaxaca, doors open to us to connect and understand, offering a richer travel experience.

Native white and coyuchi brown cotton on the backstrap loom

Let me know if you would like to travel with us on a January 2020 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Send me an email. I will only offer this trip if there are 6 people ready to make a $500 deposit to secure a reservation.

Only another hour to go!
The most delicious pozole ever for lunch
Locally baked bread, Xochistlahuaca
The restaurant owner wearing her daily commercial lace dress, with daughter

Textil_Zacoalpan, Ometepec, Guerrero — Rescuing Ancient Cloth

In my search to find another weaving group to visit near Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, I stumbled upon 23-year-old Ignacio Gomez on Instagram. He is using the social media site to promote Textil_Zacoalpan. What stood out in the photos were the use of natural dyes and the native cotton — coyuchi brown, verde green, and the creamy white — that distinguish the pre-Hispanic fibers used to make the huipil.

The weaving group Textil_Zacoalpan

I could tell these were quality pieces that deserved a stop and the attention of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour group of very supportive women. We contacted him to set up a visit.

Native coyuchi cotton huipiles. Supplementary weft designs are commercial threads.

Ignacio is a university engineering student. He is passionate about keeping the traditions of his village and helping his family. The women in his family are the hand-spinners, dyers and weavers. The men work the fields to grow corn, beans and squash, and tend the native cotton plants.

Women of the Textil_Zacoalpan cooperative with Ignacio Gomez

Though Zacoalpan is just twenty minutes from Xochistlahuaca, it feels like a world apart, much more rustic and basic. The family speaks Amusgo. Because Ignacio also speaks Spanish, he can bridge the language gap and aim to bring visitors to the house.

We were the first group to visit the family where they live and work. It felt like a personal discovery.

You’ll notice that because Xochistlahuaca is the dominant village, the Zacoalpan women have adopted the traje (dress style) of their neighbors. The original village dress is woven entirely of coyuchi cotton.

Grandmother spins using the malacate that rests in a gourd bowl

As we learned more, we went back and forth between Amusgo, Spanish and English to get a fuller picture of the natural dyes they use, the designs and iconography that tell the story of life in the woven cloth, and how women take their best huipils with them to the grave.

Yes, throughout the Amusgo language and cultural group that spans the Oaxaca and Guerrero border, women are buried in the huipil they were married in. They also take their best ones, sometimes as many as 10 or 20, to the grave to travel with them to the next life.

Rescued cloth still life — supplementary weft and embroidered

Few examples of old, traditional huipiles exist for this reason. So, it is difficult to conserve the ancient patterns. Ignacio showed us scraps of fabric, frayed and faded, from the 1960’s and 1970’s, as examples of past designs that he found and the family is replicating.

Rescued piece of native green cotton

Textiles deteriorate quickly in hot, humid climates. Preservation is almost impossible on the local level. I wondered, how could the 1960’s be considered old?

Ignacio’s display of dye stuffs included skeins dyed with almond leaf, nanche fruit tree bark, caoba, zapote negro fruit, and muitle, a wild, green leaf that will tinge white cotton a blue-green. Muitle, a Nahuatl word, is also found in the Oaxaca valley and used as a dye for wool rug yarn.

Nanche bark is a common dye material here

The huipiles are woven using a back-strap loom weaving technique called supplementary weft. On the bodice, around the collar, there is intricate cross-stitch embroidery, too, that is called punto de cruz in Spanish. The Colonials loved floral motifs and encouraged weavers from this region to make cloth abundant with flowers and needlework.

The iconography includes mountains, the zochipal flower, four-legged animals and sea life, corn plants and seeds, birds, pineapples, squash blossoms, fertility, and the four cardinal points. The result is unique to each maker. Every weaver has a personal story to tell.

This is a coastal, tropical climate, so the weaving is fine and gauzy, comfortable to wear. Usually, three wefts or widths of cloth are used for the huipil. They are sewn together using a triple-point stitch typical of Zacoalapan randas. The randa is needle lace, sometimes simple, sometimes intricate, that connects two pieces of cloth together. In ancient times, the spiny tip of the agave leaf was used as a needle.

It takes five kilos (about 11 pounds) of hand-spun cotton thread to make one long huipil.

Coyuchi brown cotton huipiles hang for sale

Now, it is unusual to find a huipil woven with 100% coyuchi cotton since it is becoming very rare. The same for the algodon verde, the green cotton, that some locals also call coyuchi verde. There were several that Ignacio’s family offered for sale along with several blusas woven with the green cotton. We saw this cotton in other villages used only for embellishment on white.

Cross-stitch embroidered neckline with birds

It takes five-plus hours driving north from Puerto Escondido to reach Zacoalpan. Clearly, this is off-the-beaten path and a destination only for dedicated textile enthusiasts. I hope we will go again.

Drop spindles called malacates, green and brown cotton

If you are interested in joining us for a January 2020 textile study tour to the Oaxaca Coast, please contact me. I will only offer this trip if there are six people committed to go by May 1, 2019 with a $500 deposit.