Tag Archives: Mexico

Photo Essay: Oaxaca Cochineal Dye Workshop in Durham, NC

Cochineal dyed wool scarves drying

Yesterday, my Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, godson Omar Chavez Santiago, from Galeria Fe y Lola, taught a cochineal natural dye workshop through INDIO Durham, hosted by owner Wendy Sease.  We had a sold-out workshop.

Acid base using fresh lime juice turns the dye bath orange

Most people don’t know that cochineal is the natural dye that colors lipstick, Campari, yogurt, and wine. Anything labeled carminic acid comes from cochineal. When you manipulate the pH, you can change the dye color.

Cochineal dyed silk

When you over-dye with blue, the cloth becomes purple. When you start with wild marigold and over-dye with cochineal, the cloth becomes peach color. The color of the sheep wool will also determine the shades of red.

Cochineal dyed wool

The wool must be washed/cleaned or mordanted first before it is dyed. This takes out the lanolin and makes the wool more receptive to accepting the color. The cochineal mordant bath is clear water with alum, heated to dissolve the natural rock. Wool dyed with cochineal needs mordanting. Wool dyed with indigo does not.

Taking the wool out of the bath that mordants the wool

Once the wool is cleaned, we prepare the cochineal dye bath dissolving the powdered bugs into hot water and stirring.

A red pullover scarf called a quechquemitl coming out of the dye bath

For a deeper color red, the wool must stay in the dye pot for at least an hour. At home in Teotitlan del Valle, Omar and his family will keep the yard they weave rugs with in the dye bath overnight to get the most intense color.

Another view of a dyed wool scarf coming out of the dye bath

Eight women gathered around Wendy’s kitchen to prepare the mordant and dye pots after Omar gave an introduction and orientation to the cochineal and its color properties.

Cooking it up in Wendy’s kitchen

He brought hand-woven wool scarves with him from Oaxaca that each participant could work with.

Omar coaching participants as they get ready to immerse their scarves

Fresh lime juice is essential because the acid is the necessary ingredient to alter the color of the dye bath. This is exactly how the family does it at home in Oaxaca — an entirely hand-made process.

Everyone squeezed limes by hand!

You can come to Oaxaca for a natural dye workshop or a tapestry weaving workshop. Contact Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We can fit your schedule.

It was a perfect NC day — our outdoor dye kitchen

Wool wet and waiting for the dye pot

When you bring the cloth out of the pot you want to make sure not to waste the cochineal. It cost over $100 USD per kilo, so you squeeze the liquid out over the dye pot to reuse it.

Squeezing the excess liquid

A study in color variation depending on wool type and dye bath

Hot purple and juicy lime, a great color contrast of wool in bowl

Three scarves in black and white

Experimenting with shibori

 

 

 

On Becoming a Permanent Resident in Mexico

Last month I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book about ex-pat women from the USA who have chosen to make a life in Mexico. Tell your story, the editor said. Write about your experience. What was your reason for leaving our land of the free, home of the brave (my tongue and cheek terminology)?

I dug deep. Went back to the story about how I met the Chavez Santiago family thirteen years ago in Teotitlan del Valle and fell in love: with them, with Oaxaca, with Teotitlan del Valle, with the rug weaving culture, with Zapotec life and values, with the climate, archeology, history, artisanry and art.

Monte Alban, Zapotec archeological site, Oaxaca, Mexico

But, I always did, and still do, consider The United States of America my country, where I am vested and invested in language, culture, and especially social justice and political issues.

And, I am now spending most of the year at home in Teotitlan del Valle, with occasional, short stays at my apartment in Durham, North Carolina.

So, I went deep into that question about how did I get to Mexico, and more importantly, why I make it home, am comfortable and love it there. I will save this for when the book is published and you can read it for yourself.

Glyphs at Monte Alban Museum

(As a consequence, I wrote a blog post about the difference in terms: immigrant and ex-pat.)

By writing about this I realized that it is time to declare my commitment to Mexico by applying for a permanent resident visa. It was about time, I told myself. I have been living permanently in Oaxaca for many years but functioning as a visitor, leaving the country and returning. I wrote the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh, NC, and scheduled an interview to make application.

(I confess, too, that the Supreme Court Justice nomination and hearings helped me make this choice, too.)

My application was approved and within two hours I received the official visa in my passport. I knew I had done the right thing after taking a pulse on why I was grinning ear to ear!

Flags for sale in Tlacolula, a size for everyone.

This means I will have 30 days after returning to Oaxaca to present this credential at the immigration office to get the ultimate, official identity card. Permanent means I no longer have to leave the country at the end of 30, 60 or 180 days. It means I can get a bank account and a credit card and own a car, get discounts and free admissions to museums, bus rides, and what else tangible I do not know. But, the intangible is that I belong in Mexico, too, and that feels good.

While I was at the consulate, I met Cecelia Barros, who heads up cultural affairs for the consulate in North and South Carolina. We talked about ways to bring attention to the talent, creativity, rich history and culture of Mexican people to this part of the USA. Our mutual goal: to overcome and disable the stereotypes and shiboleths that so many hold about Mexico and Mexican immigrants.

Chinas Oaxaqueñas at El Tule Guelaguetza 2018

I invited her to Omar’s presentation at Meredith College, and we are cooking up some ideas together about ways to develop educational programs that would offer greater cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. I’m excited about that.

My experience at the Mexican Consulate was positive and supportive, and did not mirror that of my Mexican friends and family who go to the US Embassy in Mexico City and are treated perfunctorily, with disdain and most often with denial.

Before I leave to return to Mexico on November 8, I will vote.

Gathering in the church patio, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

 

Global Day of Clay, Video and National Ceramics School, San Marcos Tlapazola

My father was a potter so I have a special affinity for clay. My kitchen in Teotitlan del Valle holds an assortment of San Marcos Tlapazola barro rojo from for cooking. Shelves are stacked with elegant, simple red clay dishes and bowls from which to dine. I love this clay and the women who make it. The village is up the road from where I live.

For centuries, since pre-Hispanic times, San Marcos women have made clay cooking and eating vessels, forming the shapes by hand after digging (a man’s job) and mixing the clay. They constructed outdoor wood fires to “cook” the low-fire ware, all the while breathing in the fumes.


Recently the cooperative built a smokeless kiln designed by Japanese engineer Yusuke Suzuki.  Maestra Macrina Mateo Martinez and 16 families in the cooperative, Mujeres de Barro Rojo, can now produce higher temperature ceramics, more pieces at once, and have better quality respiratory health. This was possible through help from Fundacion Kasuga, Tajin, Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu, and Andares del Arte Popular FAHHO.

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

They started the non-profit Escuela Nacional de Ceramica (National Ceramics School), to teach others how to build and use the same type of kiln, and celebrate Global Day of Clay with the release of this video.

Mujeres del Barro Rojo, San Marcos Tlapazola

In addition to the women, the video features my godson Eric Chavez Santiago, general manager of Andares del Arte Popular gallery where the ceramics are sold.

While the video is in Spanish, the visuals tell the story. Here is a brief English explanation that goes with the Facebook video narrative:

Today, we join to the celebration of the Global Day of Clay #GlobalDayOfClay we’d like to recognize the work, the passion, ability and interest of all the artisans in our country that make clay a way of life; that every day make an effort to preserve their traditions, maintain the quality of their craft and pass their knowledge, for the new generations to continue this path.

México, concerning clay, is rich in raw materials as techniques and designs that date prehispanic ages.

Today we release this video, a work done by the great editor Martha Úc and part of her talented video recording team conformed by Mercy Portillo and Claudia Pasos. This video is the result of the training that took place last July in San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca with the group “red clay women” and artisans of other pottery entities of the state, to build a “smokeless wood kiln”. This video shows the riches of the clay traditions in the country as the strength of our women.

An Immigrant to Mexico, Not an Ex-Pat

This year, I will live in North Carolina for only a few weeks. I will be here to vote. That is mostly why I bought my apartment condo in Downtown Durham, though you could say I could vote absentee ballot.  But to do that, you need a permanent address. A post office box will not do.

I’m prompted by this fact to remind myself that I am a Mexican immigrant and not an ex-pat. I will explain.

Read this important definition: Ex-Pat or Immigrant

I am here, too, because I have good friends, dear family and a need to have one toe in the water, even though the water now is scalding hot. We are getting burned.

You haven’t heard from me in a while and there’s a reason. My return to Durham was interrupted by Hurricane Florence and the aftermath of clean-up and tragedy, babies loosened from the arms of their fleeing mothers, ripped away by the torrents of rushing water, lost forever. The news captured me. Saddened me.

Then, the drama of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviews of Christine Blasey Ford and a Supreme Court Justice nominee called Kav permeated every fiber of my being. I watched the entire day of testimony from start to finish. Big mistake.

Now, I’m in recovery, big time. I’ve been in near isolation for three weeks. Not much to write about, it seems, in comparison to the big events called politics in the United States of America. I understand why people want to escape. Go on a cruise. Eat ice cream. Not vote. The aftermath disgusts me.

SOLD. intricate embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla. $265. Size L-XL

In the meantime, I was asked to write a chapter for a book about ex-pat women from the USA who moved to Mexico. Did we flee a god-forsaken nation hell-bent on self-destruction or what?

I procrastinated. Then, I finally sat down to write it. As soon as it’s published, I’ll share it with you. But the most important kernel for me is that I came to realize I’m an immigrant, not an ex-pat.

The distinction is subtle and also simple. The standard definition: An ex-pat lives outside her/his home country. The standard definition: An immigrant claims their adopted country and intends to live there indefinitely.

Immigrants put down roots and embrace the culture, consider that the place they have moved to will always be home. Makes some attempt to learn the language and interact with the local community. Realizes that humility goes much further than arrogance. Defers to local customs. Waits for acceptance.

Ex-pats in Mexico are snowbirds, needing a warm and affordable place to spend the winter. Ex-pats might also be those testing the waters of retirement, determining where to live on a fixed budget that will stretch farther. They are far away from home in the USA or Canada, but for most, replicate that sense of home in a new place, sequestered in gated communities, attached to tennis clubs and those who speak the same language.

If I am being judgmental, please share your opinions.

This discussion gave me pause to think about where I fit in the definition, and part of the ultimate question we all must ask ourselves from time to time: Who am I? Where do I belong?

I’ve been part of Oaxaca for 13 years. Not so long in the scope of my life. But long enough to know it is home and I will live there indefinitely.

Next Monday, Omar arrives. He is the youngest of the Chavez Santiago children. He is bringing beautiful hand-woven rugs for sale and teaching cochineal dye workshops. After Durham, we are going to Philadelphia together where he will be hosted at five different venues. You’ll hear more.

Then, for me, I’m back to Mexico on November 8. After I’ve voted. It won’t be too soon.

 

Oaxaca Cochineal Dye Workshop in Durham, North Carolina

Thanks to Wendy Sease at INDIO Durham, Omar Chavez Santiago is coming back to North Carolina in mid-October for a trunk show and natural cochineal dye workshop. He will also be demonstrating at Meredith College in a textile residency program.

Cochineal is the insect that produces carminic acid (think Campari, lipstick, yogurt), that tantalizing RED that the Aztecs, then Spanish adored.

Featured are:

  • Tapestry-loomed rugs hand-made with 100% natural dyes
  • Indigo blue dyed wool scarves and shawls in time for winter
  • Gorgeous hand-bags and totes, all with natural dyes

From October 27 to November 6, Omar is traveling to Philadelphia, Pa, and New York, NY, to exhibit, demonstrate and sell beautiful tapestry rugs at various locations. I’ll be posting the schedule soon. If you live in the NE Corridor, stay tuned!