Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Textile Fashion Show: Journey to Remote San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca

For the past six days I have been on a textile journey through the Cuenca del Papaloapan Region where the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range meets the coastal plain of Veracruz. This has been off-the-beaten-path travel into remote villages where textile traditions: back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery techniques manage to survive in a dominant culture invaded by polyester, machined fabrics and low-wage, Chinese-made clothing.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-8Travel took us overland starting from Veracruz, the oldest port in Mexico, south along the Gulf of Mexico to Tuxtepec, a jungle wonderland and gateway into Oaxaca state from the east.  Today, I’m featuring the indigenous dress of San Felipe Usila, the most isolated village of our tour.

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From Tuxtepec, it takes us three hours to get to Usila on a winding mountain road, half of which is unpaved. But, the gift of meeting some extraordinary weavers who are incredibly hospitable make the trip worthwhile.

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We are greeted with the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful pieces followed by a lunch of chicken and mole amarillo, and handmade tortillas fresh from the comal. Dinner is a delicious, home-cooked traditional stone soup that is a pre-Hispanic recipe originating from Usila. Overnight lodging in Usila is basic and clean. A hotel is located on the outskirts of town down a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. It’s a rainforest here, so the climate is tropical, damp and lush.

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Many of the plants and animals of the region are reflected in the weaving designs including flowers, squirrels, corn, butterflies and the tree of life.  Everyone woman has her own interpretation of the mythic and actual world that is translated to cloth, so each weaver creates a different and very distinct design.

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We learn that the two headed eagle represents the duality of life, the good and the bad. We see quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and the eye of god that offers protection. We are told about the four cardinal directions and how they are incorporated into the woven story.

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We hear that traditional women want to be buried in their wedding huipil so that their husbands will recognize them in the afterlife. We see that only the grandmothers continue to wear the huipil as a daily garment.

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For holidays, festivals and special occasions there is more elaborate dressing with the media-gala and gala huipiles, adorned with flowers, ribbons, lace and intricate detailing that is unparalleled.

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Many of the ancient techniques of back strap loom weaving to create traditional clothing has been lost by some villages. There is a dedicated effort to teach young women the techniques to keep the tradition alive. But, it’s a challenge. People everywhere want an education and higher paying jobs.

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Today, the major markets for these garments are textile lovers and collectors who purchase them in many fine Oaxaca galleries. Few dare to venture into the hinterlands to find these treasures on their own.

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Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers in-depth, educational workshops usually based in one location to establish a sense of place. We are not a tour or guide service. I decided to travel with Tia Stephanie Tours to discover the source of this beautiful, ancient, woman-centered tradition. We moved from village to village across a wide swath of territory to get an excellent introduction to the region.

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If you are more inclined to get there as an independent traveler, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.

You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle NacionalThere are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Pedro Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz. This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.

Textile Felt Fashion Designer Teaches Oaxaca Workshop

Maddalena Forcella is an Italian fashion designer who has lived in Mexico most of her adult life. She works in felt and creates beautiful, comfortable clothing that is Art-to-Wear. In the workshop we create the felted nuno cloth and then design garments using indigenous Mexican textile patterns including the quechequemitl, huipil, rebozo and blusa. You can adapt these to your own fit and style!  When? Felt Fashion Workshop, January in Oaxaca, where the sun still shines in winter.  See Maddalena’s work at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

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Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.

Another Tlacolula Market Sunday, Fiesta of Our Lady of the Rosary

The festival of Our Lady of the Rosary — Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario — is a big deal in Tlacolula de Matamoros, the county seat for the Tlacolula valley part of the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.To give you a sense of it, I’ve changed the blog header once again.

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Last Sunday huge crowds gathered under a huge tent for a noon mass in the church courtyard. The sanctuary isn’t large enough to contain everyone who gathered here from the surrounding villages.

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Sunday market day in Tlacolula is always a treat and a special day to meet up with family members and friends, and to buy supplies. This Sunday feast day was even more so.

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The streets were impassable because they had been set up with carnival rides, sideshows and a midway filled with carnival games. It was a juxtaposition to see women in traditional indigenous dress walking alongside bumper cars and pitch ball games.

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What caught my attention was the big top tent right beside the church dome on the skyline.

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We could tell this day was special. Women wore their most glittery rhinestone jewelry. Their blouses, skirts and aprons were embellished with sequins.

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Families strolled with ice cream cones filled with Leche Quemada and topped with frozen Tuna nieves. That is NOT fish, folks! Children everywhere love cotton candy and Oaxaca is no exception.

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Men come to shop for things like cane and iron tools. Women shop for scarves, shawls, aprons and food.

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Sheri and I met up at the rebozo section where she was on a quest. These shawls are ikat dyed and woven with either cotton or artecel, a silky natural fiber that is a recent substitute for more costly silk.

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The ikat shawl is a utilitarian part of the local costume used to wrap babies, groceries, wipe perspiration and shade the head from the sun. We often see women who wrap it turban-style and then perch a basket on top, child in in one hand, a satchel in the other.

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What never ceases to fascinate me are the handwoven, tassled belts that hold up heavy wool loomed skirts, and braids tied with colorful ribbon.

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After lunch at Comedor Mary, including some of the best Mole Coloradito in the world accompanied by a shared cold Victoria beer, we headed down the main thoroughfare on foot to fill our shopping cart with fresh papaya, mandarin oranges, limes and avocados to take home.

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By now, it was late afternoon and time to go home. Sara and Woofy joined us later on the rooftop terrace as we sampled the San Juan del Rio mezcal I had bought the day before, accompanied by a fine sunset to close the day.

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Tlacolula Sunday Market Low-down:

  1. I like to get there early by ten-thirty or eleven in the morning to avoid the crush of people and get deep into the market without elbowing my way through.
  2. If I eat lunch at one-thirty or two in the afternoon, this is earlier than the traditional Sunday comida, so I usually always can get a seat and a good selection of menu items at Comedor Mary.
  3. There’s always a line at the Banamex ATM (located near the pharmacy, the ice cream lane, and across from the church). Be prepared to wait a long time!
  4. If you have a car, park in the lot across from the Pemex on the main street for twenty pesos. This is where the buses from Teotitlan del Valle and San Miguel del Valle go in and out.
  5. Prices drop at the end of the day, by four in the afternoon, when people want to pack up and go home.
  6. Best Finds: embroidered aprons, hand-woven shawls, woven bamboo baskets, red clay pottery from San Marcos Tlapazola, handmade wood toys, painted gourds from Guerrero

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30, 2015

 

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015