Tag Archives: Mexico

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.

Purple Snail Dye, Pinotepa de Don Luis and Identity Markers

The caracol purpura is losing ground and so are the tintoreros, the dyers who milk them, applying the dye directly to the cotton cloth on the rocky Oaxaca coast to give up its extraordinary purple color, keeping the mollusk alive. The dyers, led by 78 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, come from the Mixtec town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, high in the mountains on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. It’s the women of the village, the wives and daughters, who spin and weave this cloth into some of the most coveted textiles in Oaxaca.

Nancy examines purple snail dye skein with Don Habacuc

The snail is close to extinction.

One of 4 skeins dyed in 2018. Before, 40+ skeins.

We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.

We arrived on Don Habacuc’s 78th Birthday with a Mañanitas song

We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.

Mexico’s cultural anthropologist Martha Turok Wallace has worked tirelessly over her career to help preserve the natural dye culture here, support villagers, and suggest ways they could adapt their work to reach new markets. Without sales to visitors, the textile culture will be lost. Without conservation and public education, the snail will become extinct.

Gauze-weave huipil from Pinotepa de Don Luis

As recently as the 1970’s, the traditional dress for Pinotepa de Don Luis women was a posahuanco (wrap-around skirt), woven in three-lengths of cloth on the back-strap loom, the lengths hand-stitched, and the cloth dyed with caracol purpura, indigo and cochineal. That’s what the purple snail dye was used for. Topless for this hot, humid climate, they wore a finely hand-woven, transparent white huipil that draped from head to shoulders. The cloth was held in place by an inverted dried gourd, worn much like a crown with a veil.

Hand-carved gourd (jicara) with sea life

Martha suggested that the gourd could be carved and used as a container. It is now finely carved with intricate figures of birds, flowers, sea life and used as wall decor and lamp-bases, too.

I’ve heard Martha speak at conferences about how important it is to innovate and adapt in order to keep the traditions of a culture vibrant. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing people to blue jeans and polyester. But for me the question always remains, What is authentic and does this mean we behave as colonials to keep people fixed in their place? Progress means change. Progress means better education, health care, access to economic prosperity.

Posahuanco with apron cover-up

Today, women in the village cover themselves with bra-type aprons that drape over the posahuanco. The posahuanco has also changed. It can include native coyuchi brown and white cotton. I’ve seen it worn as a mini-skirt with a zipper by younger women.

The skirt is the main identity marker of the village along with the purple shell dye.

Bitty looks over the vintage posahuanco and intricate weave

What is an identity marker?

An identity marker is how one defines self in relationship to the group(s) we belong to. It is cultural and distinctive, based on a common language, values, ethnicity, religion, social class, age group, where we live, or the type of dress we choose to wear. Walk into the regional market in Pinotepa Nacional and you know immediately that the woman wearing the posahuanco with the apron top is from Pinotepa de Don Luis.

Linda is thrilled with this indigo dyed blusa

What about the hand-woven long dresses (huipiles) and tops (blusas) from Pinotepa de Don Luis?

Gretchen’s Blusa: Fertility figures, double-headed turkeys, flowers on supplemental weft

These are designed and made for foreigners — those who live outside the village. Sometimes, you will see a local woman wearing this huipil at shows or special tourist sales events, but it is rare. This is another form of adaptation to use the native hand-spun cotton produced in the village, woven on the back-strap loom, the threads often dyed with indigo or touches of the shell dyed cotton or silk.

Purple snail dye on the coast of Oaxaca
Rafael, Don Habacuc’s son, the next and perhaps last generation of dyers

I’ll be writing more about this region in days to come. So stay tuned. On Wednesday, I’m off to Michoacan to lead another folk art study tour.

Artful Aprons of San Miguel del Valle Talk at OLL, January 25

The artful aprons of San Miguel del Valle are an elaborate confetti of embroidered designs. I was invited to give a talk at the Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL) on January 25, 2019 at 5 p.m. Please come! You can read more and register HERE.

Of course, you have to BE in Oaxaca, to join us!

Joining me for the talk are Jacki Cooper Gordon, who is an Envia cultural guide and Mickey Gardner, who lived in the village ecotourism cabins for a month, working with local women.

Hard to decide which one!
  • Textiles as cultural identity, and aprons in particular
  • Aprons as contemporary dress — innovation, adaptation
  • History of San Miguel del Valle and apron-making
  • Economics, production, quality
  • Cultural appropriation or cultural admiration
  • Life in a small Zapotec hill town
  • Where it is and how to get there

I got to San Miguel del Valle because I took an ENVIA tour with Jacki. She knows a lot about the history and economic development opportunities. We will talk about:

Laura and Mary in the workshop

Special Feature: We have invited embroiderers Maria Zacarias Hernandez Hernandez and her cousin Laura Miguel Hernandez to answer questions and to sell their stunning aprons. Maria is a recipient of Envia microfinancing.

Free-form, hand-guided machine embroidery

PLEASE BRING YOUR PESOS. Aprons range in price from 500-1,000 pesos, depending on complexity of design and density of embroidery. There will be about 20 pieces for sale at the OLL on the night of the talk, including bags and napkins. Sales go directly to the makers.

Traje includes two undergarments, one lacy, plus apron
Abuelas prefer a simpler style

Winter in Oaxaca, Dog & House Sitting Opportunity

It’s going to be 81 degrees Fahrenheit today in Oaxaca with a low of 55. I have no complaints now after returning here four days ago from very chilly North Carolina, which is not as cold as where many of you live! My bones are warm. Am I trying to tempt you? Yes.

I am seeking a reliable, clean and tidy, culturally sensitive, respectful and mature (this has nothing to do with age) person to stay in my Teotitlan del Valle casita and feed my three adopted dogs two-times daily, morning and night. This opportunity is for ONE person. If I know you, all the better!

Contact me for more information.

I have a Tip Sheet to share with those who are interested. If I don’t know you, then I ask for three references.

Set 1 Dates: Arrive January 30, depart February 14

Set 2 Dates: Arrive February 26, depart March 7

During this time, I am away in Michoacan and Chiapas leading textile and folk art study tours. The dogs must be fed!

Teotitlan del Valle is an indigenous Zapotec village about 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca city in the Tlacolula valley. It is home to 6,000 people, most of whom are tapestry rug weavers. This is a great opportunity to explore Mexico’s amazing weaving culture and live with people who have inhabited this region for 8,000 years. The city is accessible by private taxi, colectivo and buses.

I live on the land of my host family who are weavers. They work exclusively with natural dyes. I do not own the land I live on — they do. I built the casita I live in. And, because this is a Usos y Costumbres village, my casita is legally owned by my family. Being understanding and respectful of this environment is a key ingredient to being here. Relationship and communication are everything.

I am also seeking a dog/house sitter for March 13 to April 13 and April 28 to May 15, 2019

Casita rooftop terrace

Reasons to Come:

  1. Warm your bones!
  2. Giving care to loving animals: Dog-lovers know why!
  3. Practice your Spanish
  4. Explore weaving and natural dyeing
  5. Immerse yourself in local Zapotec culture
  6. Find peace and solace in amazing, pristine, high desert beauty
  7. Write, hike, meditate, retreat
  8. Cost-effective opportunity

This opportunity is for ONE person.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Itzel Guadalupe Weaves Her First Rug

Itzel Guadalupe is my sobrina and I am her tia. We have adopted each other. In truth, this fourteen-year old is the daughter of my friend Ernestina who lives down the lane from me. Her name Itzel translates as Star throughout Mesoamerica. Her namesake is the Virgin of Guadalupe, and she goes by Lupita.  There must be millions of women named Guadalupe in Mexico, but this one is very special!

Lupita just finished weaving her first complete rug. Because I am her madrina, Ernestina came to me first to ask me to buy it. This is what happens here and I was happy to say yes as a way to encourage her to develop her artistry, craft and skill. I’d say she did a very good job for the first one. 

SOLD and going to Canada!

My friend Scott, a California expert in tapestry loomed rugs here in Teotitlan del Valle, and one of the original exporters of Southwest Style, said that the weaving is very good and the color palette very pleasing. It is natural color Churro sheep wool with synthetic dyes. 

I took Lupita with me on Sunday for the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec to expand her perspective. It was her first visit to this village.

The show featured finest woven tapestries from Teotitlan del Valle.  In the main floor galleries was an exhibition sponsored by FOFA (Friends of Oaxaca Folk Art) featuring the work of talented young artisans ages 10 to 30 in all media.

Children start playing with yarn here very early. By the age of six or eight, their parents have turned a chair upside down and a child starts weaving warp and weft using the four legs. By the time they are pre-teens, many of them can weave a small rug.  They learn more complex techniques with practice, perseverence and dedication. Weaving on a floor loom where one stands for hours requires stamina. 

At the exhibition, Lupita and I paid special attention to the weaving work done by the young people of her village. We talked about their designs and I asked her if she knew any of them. She does. My hope in taking her was to give her confidence that she could aspire to reach for more.  

I’ve known this young woman since she was two years old. I’ve watched her curiosity and intelligence develop. Perhaps she will go to college and/or become a very accomplished weaver or teacher. She told me her New Years resolution for 2019 was to go to the USA and to make more rugs to sell.

Would you like to buy Itzel Guadalupe’s first rug? $200 plus $15 mailing. I’m bringing it to the USA tomorrow in my luggage. I’ll be in North Carolina for a medical procedure and then return to Oaxaca on Christmas Eve.