Tag Archives: natural dyes

A Journey of Cloth: Amuzgo Weaving on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica

San Pedro Amuzgos is an Amuzgos village nestled in a mountain valley seven hours by winding road from the capital city of Oaxaca. It is closest to Tlaxiaco, but not really. You can get there following MEX 125 by private car or on a regional bus from Oaxaca (or you can come with us).

The road is a ribbon through mountain passes. Here, women have woven on back strap looms for centuries, long before Mexico’s conquest by the Spanish.

Birds and flower in brilliant colors are incorporated into the supplementary weft

Their themes are birds, flowers, vines, trees, the stories of creation, fertility, birth, marriage and rebirth after death. Life here is a continuum. Cloth is a covering but also a journey. Women will be buried in their wedding huipiles. Many of the designs span the Oaxaca-Guerrero border where Amuzgos live.

Odilon Merino Morales’ aunt wears her wedding huipil for us

At the northern border of Oaxaca and Guerrero, San Pedro Amuzgos is not easy to get to. We take the coastal route from Puerto Escondido, diverting northeast from Pinotepa Nacional through hills dotted with banana palms and dusty arteries. In bigger towns along the way, regional schools and rural health clinics offer local services just steps from the main paved highway. We are a good three hours from Puerto Escondido as the ribbon curls. The road narrows as we travel further. You don’t get anywhere fast here.

Odilon’s two aunts consult on weaving and embroidery work

Huipil is three lengths of loomed cotton, joined with a randa/needlework

Our destination is the cooperative Arte Amuzgos founded by Odilon Merino Morales.  He is an innovative organizer and promoter of traditional weavers who work in the highest quality materials, including natural dyes and native cotton.

We are returning in 2019. Want to go? Email us.

An all indigo huipil embellished with caracol purpura

It is not unusual to find blusas (blouses) and huipiles (dresses) woven with native green, coyuche and cream cotton. Cotton dyed with caracol purpura purple, cochineal red, indigo, nanche (a fruit), pericone (wild marigold) and nuez (pecan shells) are staples of the palette here.

Odilon has attended the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for many years. With proceeds from sales there, he reinvested in his community by building a cultural center in San Pedro Amuzgos. It includes three guest rooms and a bath, exhibition and dining space. There are plans for more. He receives visitors for demonstrations, exhibitions and meals.

An array of hand-woven huipiles created on the back strap loom

I know Odilon from Oaxaca city, where his gallery Arte Amuzgos holds beautiful textiles woven by women in the cooperative. They include his mother, sisters, aunts, cousins and nieces. The men in the family are farmers who also raise the local cotton, prized for its rarity and natural beauty. I’ve always wanted to make a pilgrimage to his village and made sure to include it on our Oaxaca Costa Chica Natural Dye Textile Study Tour.

Flowers and animal life adorn this huipil. This is not embroidered!

During our visit, Odilon tells us that years ago before the cooperative was formed, traders came to town to source the most beautiful garments for sale in the city. They bargained hard, offered women a pittance for their labor. An intricate huipil can take six to twelve months to weave. That does not include the time to grow, beat and dye the cotton.

Odilon talks about his passion, preservation of his weaving culture

If the trader bought a garment for 1,000 pesos, they would sell it for 2,000 pesos, then the Oaxaca retailer would mark it up to 6,000 pesos. Fair trade was not a concept then and there was no opportunity for villagers to directly reach consumers. Language was a barrier, too. The grandmothers spoke Amuzgo. Business was conducted in Spanish. They made do with what was offered them.

Our visit includes a natural dye demonstration with indigo and nanche

No more for the women and men of Arte Amuzgos.

An array of natural dyes used to weave some huipiles

Direct markets, from maker to consumer, are difficult to develop for most Oaxaca artisans. They rely on people to represent them and the cost is dear. As a result, the artisanry is either dying out or the quality of materials deteriorates as people look to cutting costs.

Thankfully, Odilon Merino Morales and his wife Laura, have created a market for their people who receive a fair and living wage for their work.

  • Arte Amuzgo, Armenta y Lopez #110-F, in front of Teatro Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Tel: 951-514-0566

Lengths of cloth woven on the back strap loom, joined with intricate needlework

Panorama of Arte Amuzgos Cultural Center


NY Times Mentions Norma Schafer: In Mexico, Weavers Embrace Natural Alternatives to Toxic Dyes

Click here to read article. 

First, a special call-out to Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for all they do to promote the use of natural dyes in the making of their hand-woven tapestries. His sister Juana is a master dyer and his brother-in-law Antonio innovates on design and materials. Congratulations on this feature story!

I was honored to be interviewed a couple of months ago by New York Times Science reporter Erica Goode to offer source information about the natural dye world in Teotitlan del Valle.

Of course, I emphasized that in addition to Porfirio’s family, there are about a dozen other families or family groups who are dedicated to preserving the natural dye culture. This includes my host family, Galeria Fe y Lola, Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellanas. This takes time, commitment and an investment of more expensive materials.

Please join me on a one-day natural dye and weaving study tour to explore our weaving culture in more depth.

WARP Takes a Oaxaca Textile Study Tour with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Last Saturday, 70 WARP conference-goers divided up and piled into four red vans to go on an all-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I organized.

At the Montaño family weavers who make beautiful bags

We left our Oaxaca hotel at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7:00 p.m. (and in a rain storm). It takes much longer to move 70 people than it does to lead a small group of three!

Weaver Alfredo Hernandez wearing a wild marigold-cochineal dyed scarf

Of course, I couldn’t be on all four vans at once, so I had great help from dye master Elsa Sanchez Diaz, applied linguist Janet Chavez Santiago, and blogger Shannnon Pixley Sheppard who staffed the other three.

Lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, Teotitlan del Valle

Thanks to them and a schedule that brought us all together for lunch and an end-of-the-day reunion, the day went off without a hiccup.

Program Chair Judy Newland adds cochineal to her indigo hair

We hopscotched all over Teotitlan del Valle and made a detour to Lachigolo to visit weavers I know who work in naturally-dyed wool and cotton.

Lola (Dolores) and Fe (Federico) demonstrate over-dyeing techniques

We got demonstrations of the natural dye process, tapestry loom weaving techniques using the fixed frame, two-harness pedal loom used to make rugs.

In the studio of Galeria Fe y Lola — Federico and Dolores

We saw the flying shuttle, four-harness loom that can make yards of cotton cloth with more intricate patterning depending on the sequencing of the foot pedals. The cloth woven for clothing and home goods.

Preparing warp threads for flying shuttle loom

Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet each family, understand how they work in collaboration and in family units, and see how they are inspired to make very distinctive products from each other.

Francisco Martinez takes pericone — wild marigold — from dye vat

Every family has their own dye recipes and design adaptations. Some are doing very pioneering work, combining wool and agave plant fiber.

Aztecs used dyed chicken feathers to add color to white cotton – revitalized now

Some are doing very fine wall tapestries with 17 warp threads per inch. It is wonderful to see the range and variety of creativity and inspiration.

Alfredo’s son prepares bobbins for the loom — a family endeavor

Alfredo collaborates with Ayutla embroiderer Anacleta Juarez

Alfredo Hernandez weaves the natural manta with the finest cotton threads. Then embroiderer Anacleta Juarez creates the most detailed, intricate finely stitched work I’ve ever seen.

Wild marigold fixes with a local plant called marush

On day one, cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace talked about the importance of collaboration to further innovation that will sustain tradition.

A shady respite along the way — Judy, Ana Paula, Gail, Patrice

Isaac and his mom, Maria de Lourdes, wash the wool before it goes into the dye bath

Wool tapestries with natural dyes, with Francisco Martinez

We gathered at the end of the day at the home workshop and studio of Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for traditional hot chocolate, bread, mezcal and a demonstration. Big thanks, Porfirio, for your hospitality to welcome 70 people!

Cochineal grows on prickly pear cactus paddles behind Porfirio Gutierrez

The family is working in wool dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. They are innovating with rug designs that resemble a petate that incorporates plant fibers like jute and ixtle.

Two dye masters huddle: Elsa Sanchez Diaz and Juana Gutierrez, Porfirio’s sister

Wrapping up a petate design rug to go — a combo of jute and indigo!

In the courtyard, Francisco and Patrice talk about possibilities

Behind a wall, a flying shuttle loom workshop awaits us

Shopping for napkins and tablecloths made on the flying shuttle loom

Sales assistant in training!

Juana and her 6 months-old granddaughter

Cochineal dyed cotton out to dry on the line

Almost every weaver here knows how to prepare a demonstration using natural dyes. Many have the materials on hand to show visitors. Yet, it takes half the time to prepare wool using aniline dyes as it does to prepare natural dyes. The dye materials are 10 times more expensive.

Cochineal and indigo dye wool

Some say that about 10 to 15 Teotitlan del Valle families may actually use natural dyes in their work. (I don’t know the exact number.)  If this is important to you, you may want to join one of our one-day study tours to take you to them. The price will be higher for these beauties, but there is a distinctive difference in color palette and quality.

On the van, WARP conference Oaxaca

WARP president Cindy Lair with Montaño family

The little red vans that could! Gracias, Silvia and Cesar.

One more post about the WARP Conference in Oaxaca, 2017, and the walking tour of the historic center that Janet and I led last Sunday. We explored the nooks and crannies, found paper earring for Louise, good strong coffee for Diane. In two outstanding galleries, we had talks from owners and managers about quality differences in materials, dyes, and hand-looming.

Tying pom poms on purse zippers, Montaño family

Thanks to WARP for coming to Oaxaca, and thanks to you for reading.

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour 2018

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour is set to start Sunday, January 14, 2018, in Oaxaca city and end Wednesday, January 24, 2018, in Puerto Escondido, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. In between, you will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy great cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This is an eclectic study tour with a focus on textiles and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture. It also includes visits to graphic arts studios in the city.

Sold Out! Contact me to add your name to the waiting list.

Study Tour Itinerary*

1) Sunday, Jan 14. – Arrive in Oaxaca City and check into our comfortable bed and breakfast inn.

2) Monday, Jan. 15 – After breakfast, we will introduce you to Oaxaca folk art and textile culture with a noted local expert. Then, we’ll explore more with afternoon visits to meet textile collectors and artisans, and graphic artists. We will gather for a welcome dinner at one of Oaxaca’s outstanding restaurants. (B, L, D)

Hand-carved gourd art from Pinotepa Don Luis

3) Tuesday, January 16 — Natural Dye and Weaving Textile Study Tour in the Oaxaca Valley, a full-day exploration into the small weaving and dye studios of some of Oaxaca’s greatest artisans. We will travel by luxury van and have lunch at a great village comedor (family restaurant). (B, L)

Wild marigold over-dyed with indigo will become green

5) Wednesday, January 17 – Half-Day Natural Dye Workshop: Indigo Blue. You will understand the principles and chemistry of working with indigo, then make a cotton shibori scarf. Afternoon on your own. Oaxaca is famed for fine silver and gold filigree jewelry. We fit in a silver jewelry expoventa, too. (B)

6) Thursday, January 18 —  Fly from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido very early in the morning, settle in and relax at our hotel on the Pacific Coast beach. Includes airfare from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido. (B)

Tending the dye bath in Teotitlan del Valle

On Oaxaca’s coast, we will be joined by a Cultural Anthropologist who has been working with local weaving villages for the past six years.

7) Friday, January 19 to Sunday, January 21 – – Leave after an early breakfast. Follow the textile trail high into the mountains to visit the famed weavers of San Pedro Amuzgos and San Juan Colorado, where they use back strap looms and natural dyes.  We’ll stop at coops, visit markets, and have a few surprises along the way. On Friday, we’ll visit remote weaving villages of Tututepec and Huazolitlan. Overnight on the Costa Chica.  (B, L)

8) On Saturday, January 20, we will go to Converse workshop where they hand-paint tennis shoes in fantastic floral and fauna, then to San Juan Colorado, then to visit Odilon Morales in Amuzgos, have lunch there, and return to Pinotepa. Overnight on the Costa Chica. (B, L)

Intricate figures woven into Pinotepa Don Luis textile

Odilon’s aunt, from San Pedro Amusgo, embroiders cloth together for huipil

9) Sunday, January 21 – We’ll return to Puerto Escondido leaving Pinotepa Nacional early in the morning to arrive in time to attend Dreamweavers Expoventa, a highlight of our textile study tour, to be held at our hotel. This is a textile extravaganza with the Tixinda Cooperative from Pinotepa Don Luis! They bring their finest garments dyed with murex (purple snail), woven with coyuchi (natural wild Oaxaca brown cotton), and posahuanco skirts You will meet the weavers, see demonstrations, and be amazed by what they make. Plus, the artful hand-painted Converse tennis shoes will be here, too. (B)

10) Monday, January 22 – We’ll take a three-hour early morning or late afternoon birding/ecology tour on the Manialtepec lagoon — beautiful and fascinating — where you will see a rare bio- luminescence…one of only two lagoons in the world to have this phenomena. And, perhaps a surprise visit from Chatino embroiderers (we are working on this).  (B)

Chatino blouse detail, cross-stitch. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

11) Tuesday, January 23 — This is a day on your own to take a day trip to the sea turtle sanctuary in Mazunte/San Agustinillo, or to explore the town of Puerto Escondido, and begin packing for the trip home.  Grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. (B, D)

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

12) Wednesday, January 24 – Transfer to Puerto Escondido or Huatulco airport and your connecting flights home. Please schedule your departure after 12:00 p.m. (noon). (B)

Sunset on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca in winter

Our resource experts are Sheri Brautigam, author of Textile Fiestas of Mexico, and Barbara Cleaver, collector and owner, Hotel Santa Fe, Puerto Escondido. Sheri will travel with us on the coast to offer her textile expertise. You can read more about Dreamweavers Expoventa in Sheri’s book.

*Note: Itinerary is subject to change. You may want to arrive early in Oaxaca city to acclimate to the 6,000 foot altitude. You may also want to stay later at the beach or travel elsewhere in Mexico when the study tour ends. After you register, we will provide you with hotel contact information if you want to make these arrangements directly.

Odilon Morales promotes his people through Arte de Amuzgo cooperative

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • carding and spinning wool, and weaving with natural dyes
  • clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
  • symbols and meaning of textile designs
  • choice of colors and fibers that reflect each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
  • graphics arts to express Mexico’s social, political culture

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me at the Oaxaca coast to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Oaxaca textiles. She is author of the Thrums Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping. (I’ve contributed two chapters with photos, one for Tenancingo de Degollado and the other for Teotitlan del Valle!)

What Is Included

  • 10 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
  • 10 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 2 dinners
  • luxury van transportation for day trips as outlined in itinerary
  • complete guide services
  • airfare from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido
  • transfer from Puerto Escondido to Huatulco airport

Example of very fine Amusgo back strap loom weaving

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 to Participate

  • $2,695 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • Add $400 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Who Should Attend

  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The first 30% payment is due on or before October 15, 2017. The second 30% payment is due on or before December 15, 2017. 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, 2017, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Terrain and Walking: Oaxaca is a colonial town on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot mountains. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, some narrow and some with high curbs.

The stones can be a bit 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 but we do tread with caution.

If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let me know. I would encourage you to consider that this may not be the study tour for you. When you tell me you are ready to register, I will send you a health questionnaire to complete first.


India Journal: Ajrakh Block Prints and Indigo

On the second day after I landed in New Delhi, I went to visit the Sanskriti Museum of Textiles near the Qutub Minar 15th century historic site on the south side of town.

Block printed cotton I collected over weeks in India, mostly indigo

It’s a small, private collection hidden away behind gates on the expansive grounds of an estate that is now an educational center. I was able to combine this stop with one at nearby Nature Bazaar for textile shopping.  You could visit these three destinations in a day!

Assortment of wood blocks, all made by hand, another artisan craft

The Sanskriti Museum of Textiles is important because it explains the process to make ajrakh block printing that ultimately colors the cloth in layers of complexity and depth.  Usually, it is blue and red, combining indigo and madder root. 

Guide Kuldip Gadhvi, wears natural dyed indigo and madder turban cloth

It’s Muslim origins come from the Sindh (Pakistan) and Gujarat, Kutch, India. These areas, now politically distinct, share ancient common artistic, cultural, historical and religious roots.

Turmeric, madder, indigo dye cloth, Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri studio, Dhamadka

Paste of red clay is first used to set the pattern on cotton

Peopled by nomadic herders who traveled on camels in search of grazing lands, the block printed cloth was traditionally used for men’s turbans and wrap-around pants. These block prints are among the most treasured in the world.

Indigo and madder botanical drawing, Sanskriti Museum

The Sanskriti Museum tells the block printing story by showing the stages on cloth panels. You first start by washing the cotton, then you use a mud past to apply the first pattern with a hand carved wood block. A few steps of the multi-step process are below.


After each step, the cloth is washed and then laid out on the ground to dry.

Mud paste for first printing

India is the world’s largest producer of cotton. Some of it, like the finest organic muslin, has the hand of silk, is diaphanous and soft, drapes beautifully.

Applying the first series of designs to cotton, Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri workshop

Block printing, a close-up of the handwork. Each piece of cloth is imperfect, unique

In India, they use turmeric for yellow. In Mexico, it is wild marigold.

Here you can see the next layer of block print being applied.

A new town, Ajrakhpur, devoted only to block printing, was recently established by Abduljabbar Mohamed Khatri. The dominant figure living and working here is his son Sufiyan, who goes regularly to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. Of course, there are other unknown talents to discover here.

Sufiyan Ismail Khatri, son of the master, at his home workshop in Ajrakhpur

I became so overwhelmed by the choice of textiles that I couldn’t focus and only bought one small indigo block printed wool/silk scarf, that is now in the possession of my sister. Fortunately, I managed to concentrate enough to take a few photos!

Washing the cloth after each stage of printing — labor intensive process!

Master Abduljabbar Mohammed Khatri calling card and cloth example

Second step after washing the cotton, printing the design with red clay.

When I was in Ahmedabad, my first priority was to get to the famous block printing shop of the Gamthiwala family, just across the Nehru Bridge in the new city a short distance from House of MG.  They have a smaller shop in the old city, much more romantic, where the selection isn’t as extensive.

Several of these are from Gamthiwala Fab block print textiles, Ahmedabad

In the photo above, the block print on the left (red and blue) is from Khavda, Kutch and is an original Sindh design from Pakistan. From the top right, indigo print from Gamthiwala Fab; indigo and turmeric dyed block print from Rajisthan; next indigo block print, Gamthiwala Fab; next, block print indigo and madder scarf from Fab India made in Gujarat; next, indigo and madder block print from Rajasthan; next from Gamthiwala, an indigo, madder and iron (ferrous oxide) block print; block print dress bought at Fab India.

Having a smoke with friends at the Little Rann of Kutch

And, just so you know that I was having fun, this is a betel leaf cigarette. Do you believe I didn’t inhale? Caught in the act at the Little Rann of Kutch, Dasada, Gujarat. Thanks, Jumed.

Life size terracotta horses Tamil Nadu at Sanskriti Museum, New Delhi

Tamil Nadu is the India state source for indigo. It is in the south, tropical and perfect for production. It is also the place where terracotta figures were discovered. When I saw them, they reminded me of the soldiers unearthed in Xian, China, that I saw in the early 1990’s, though on a much smaller scale.

Tomorrow, I leave Southern California for Oaxaca, where life resumes not as usual either! I am almost recovered from jet lag. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Fascinating that garbanzo beans are used as dye for ajrakh, called gram

Stack of mud printed cloth waiting for next steps

Block printer, Gujarat, India