Tag Archives: rugs

Textile Fiestas of Mexico guide book by Sheri Brautigam, with a little help from Norma Schafer

It was early 2016 and I’d just returned from taking a group of textile travelers to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, to study the ikat rebozos of the region.  Textile maven and friend Sheri Brautigam was in Oaxaca putting the final content and photos together for her upcoming book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico.

With A Little Help from My Friends in Mexico

When Sheri is in Oaxaca (her home is Santa Fe, NM), we like to hang out together.

ONE Space Open: Ikat Textile Study Tour to Tenancingo, Feb. 2-10, 2017

I took her with me and introduced her to the Feria del Carrizo (river reed basket fair) in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca, just across the road from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle. She loved it so much, she decided to include it in her book! At the end of January each year, it’s a special event that includes hand-woven river reed baskets, lampshades, fish traps, music and amazing food. 

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Sheri’s deadline was fast approaching. She wasn’t sure she could get back to Tenancingo to interview and photograph people, something I had well-documented. I suggested that perhaps I could produce that chapter for her.

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

Smokey and steamy dye pot, the alchemy of natural dyes

I also suggested that she include a chapter on the natural dye wool textiles of Teotitlan del Valle, focusing on the process of using indigo, cochineal and other plants and minerals.

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Hands in the cochineal dye bath

Sheri sent the suggestion to Karen Brock at Thrums Books, the co-publisher, and she agreed.

If you are traveling to Mexico for any reason, this is the book you want in hand to explore the rich textile culture. It includes how to get to the textile regions, what to look for, where to shop for the best, where to stay and eat.

Of course, if you want a personal, immediate experience, come with me!

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal from acid (lime juice) dye bath — brilliant color. All natural!

Let me know how you like it if you do get a copy. We are interested in your feedback for the next edition!

 

Oaxaca, Mexico: Source for Natural Dye Textiles

It’s an ongoing discovery. Finding the weavers who work with natural dyes. They live and work in humble homes or grander casas, on back alleys, dirt streets, cobbled avenues, main highways, hillsides and flat-lands. Their studios are filled with the aroma and sights of natural materials — stinky indigo dye vats, wood burning fires, prickly pear nopal cactus studded with insects that yield intense red.

All photos © Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

JuanaGutierrez TreeMoss

In this photo, above left, dyer/weaver Juana prepares ground cochineal on the traditional metate, grinding the dried insect by hand until it is a fine powder, ready to make a dye bath for wool that will be used for rugs. Above right, tree moss waits for the dye pot.

That’s why I’ve organized one-day natural dye textile study tours to explore this artisanal process.

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Above left, ikat rebozo with natural dyes of wild marigold, cochineal and indigo from San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Right, wool on the loom.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

You know how committed I am to the artisans who work with natural dyes. It is a laborious and vertical process — winding the yarn, preparing the dye baths, dyeing the yarn, then weaving it. To create textiles using natural dyes takes time and is a many-step process. I believe the people who work this way deserve special attention and support.

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

They start with the natural wool that comes from the mountains surrounding the Oaxaca valley. The best wool is hand-spun for strength and has no additives, like nylon or polyester, to lower cost.

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Then, indigo and cochineal is bought from local Oaxaca sources. Both are expensive, now about 1,800 MXN pesos per kilo. Synthetic dyes are a fraction of this cost and only requires one-step to produce colored yarn.

DryPomegranates FedericoNuez

Other dye sources are wild marigold, pecan leaves and shells, pomegranate fruit, tree moss, eucalyptus bark, black zapote fruit and much more.  The wool needs to be washed of lanolin and mordanted to absorb and fix the natural dye so it will not fade. To get a full range of color, local weavers and dyers use over dyes, too.

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When the yarns are colored they are then ready to weave. Depending on size and material density, a piece can take from one week to several months.

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It takes a special person who understands quality of materials and finished product to work this way. The process is organic, sustainable and environmentally sound.

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Antiques in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

There is a tall, inconspicuous door on a San Pablo Villa de Mitla side street. Open it and discover a home gallery filled with antique treasures. The inventory is small and includes ancient stone metates, glass vases hand-painted with flowers and edged in gold, reliquaries and ex votos. Señor Epifanio knows his stuff.

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Scott Roth holding an old Mitla hand-woven textile

Upstairs via a narrow, concrete passageway painted in brilliant blue is a gallery filled with blown glass mezcal bottles, remnants of the time when this was how the agave liquor was stored. They are hard to find and very expensive.

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Dolls, old photos, books, chachkeh from Mitla, Oaxaca

Occasionally, there is a jewelry find, like the Mexican silver coin earrings from the early part of the 20th century. I returned a month later to buy them and they were gone. Rule for Shopping in Mexico: buy it when you see it. Usually, these things are one-of-a-kind.

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Hand-blown mezcal and water bottles, most from Oaxaca, 1950’s-1960’s

I’m reluctant to share the address and contact information. Only because I haven’t asked permission to cite the location, plus these things are getting scarce, and with scarcity comes higher prices. As demand rises, prices do, too. So, why am I publishing this?

So you can see the photos, of course.

Faces and Festivals Chiapas Photography Workshop

Scott Roth

Portrait of Scott Roth with old Zapotec textile from Teotitlan del Valle

 

Visiting the Oaxaca Wool Mill: Lanera de Ocotlan

In 1996 Englishman Graham Johnson came to Ocotlan de Morelos from Mexico City to open a woolen mill.  The mill was designed to streamline the production process for making yarn and weaving cloth from local churro sheep wool* without sacrificing quality.

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Graham was a tinkerer. He loved machinery, especially the old carding and spinning machines that were being replaced by computerization. He bought these up, shipped them to Oaxaca from the United States and the United Kingdom, and refurbished them. Often, he would find or make the parts to keep them going. Many were 30 and 40 years old already.

Lanera de Ocotlan Wool-5

Over time the mill diversified and made luxuriously soft merino bed blankets and throws, fancy yak hair mecate horse reins, cinch chord for saddle belts, colorful wool tassels to decorate saddles, horse blankets and rugs for home decor.

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They kept a supply of all types of wool to work with and blend, continuing to experiment to produce soft and durable products. In addition to merino, the mill cleaned and spun cashmere, mohair, Lincoln and other breeds. They still do.

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Then, Graham died suddenly from a heart attack in 2009, and there was a question about who would keep the business going.

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I remember when I first met Graham on one of my early visits to Oaxaca. It was probably 2005 or 2006. The mill was running at full capacity and you could hear the hum of machinery as you walked down the open corridor separating the rooms where the work was done.  It was impressive then what these old machines and talented local employees could do.

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Now, when I revisited with my friend Scott Roth, who has been working with weavers, wool, dyes, and the hand-loomed rug weaving process for over 40 years, I could see the changes. Scott brought with him replacement parts for some of the machines. Machines that were working ten years ago now need repair. Old belts, bearings, wires, cogs and wheels break, wear out.

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For the past two years, Graham’s 37-year old daughter Rebecca has stepped in and is learning the operation. The mill is 25 years old and Rebecca is determined to keep her father’s dream alive.

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At her side are Rosalba (Rosie) Martinez Garcia, who has been there for 18 years and knows just about everything about the mill.  Helping are Angel Laer Ambocio Perez (above) and Alejandro Maldonado Santiago. They know a thing or two, too, although their tenure is much shorter.

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Rebecca loves textiles. She loves yarn. She wants to supply all types of yarns for knitting and weaving and other fiber arts. There are beautiful rugs and blankets stacked on shelves that were made before her father passed that are for sale.

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Spare parts for anything is essential here in Mexico. Equipment can be old. It can still be good, functional, valued. If one has the necessary parts to keep it going. Graham wasn’t the only tinkerer here. People save, cobble together, recycle, repurpose. Things get jimmied together and continue to work. People here learn how to be resourceful with what they have. It’s something I’ve learned being here.

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As Scott and Rebecca worked out numbers to complete their transaction, I wandered the mill, remembering Graham. A cat ran across the corridor to hide. A young tree struggled to grow up from the crack in the concrete. A rusted yarn holder cast shadows on the adobe wall. I loved being there, another part of the textile heaven that is Oaxaca.

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Where to Find It: Lanera de Ocotlan, 119 Benito Juarez, Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, Tel:  951-294-7062. Email: Rebecca Johnson at  becky_madonna@hotmail.com for an appointment to visit. Directions: Continue straight past the Zocalo and the Mercado Morelos two blocks. The wool mill door will be on your left. It is unmarked.

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Footnote: *Local wool is shorn from churro sheep which were brought to Mexico by the Spaniards with the conquest in 1521. The sheep are raised in the high mountains above Ocotlan in San Baltazar Chichicapam. The mountain range separates the Tlacolula and Ocotlan valleys. The altitude there produces a soft, dense fleece. There are still some, like Yolande Perez Vasquez, who use hand carders and the drop spindle to produce the best yarn, but this is a costly, labor-intensive process that yields a premium yarn that is very dye absorbent. Few weavers are able to pay the price.

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Morocco Journal 9: Shopping, Eating, Sleeping, Body Work

Back home in North Carolina after 14 days in Morocco, the quintessential shopping bazaar, with a 2-day stopover in beautiful Madrid, Spain.   Now, I prepare to return to Oaxaca, but not before a final set of Morocco recommendations to share with you.

Tisnet tagines copyright Norma Hawthorne

Tisnet tagines photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Marrakech

  • Riad Bahia Salam, Marrakech, a restored mid-range guesthouse situated within easy walking distance between the Mellah, Jemaa el Fna, and the souqs.  Great food. Serene spa with best massage. Excellent service.  English, French, Arabic spoken. Tell Omar at the front desk I said hello.
  • English-speaking Marrakech taxi driver Abdellatif will drive you anywhere for a reasonable price.  He has a university education in linguistics and can’t find professional work!  Very nice, honest man. Tel  (00212) (0) 6 60 47 98 42
  • For incredible Marrakech hand-woven cotton and agave silk scarves see artisan Ahmed El Baroudi, Souk Serrajine,  No. 69, Tel 06 58 37 19 80
Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Chez Laarabi is in the Mellah, down the street from the spice market and the old Jewish synagogue no longer in use.  It is a mini-bazaar with a fine selection of rugs, leather bags, clothing, old and new Berber and Tuareg jewelry, tea sets, babouche (pointy-toed slippers), and all things Moroccan. Arset El Maach, Rue de la Radeema No. 41 (upstairs). Tel 06 66 09 11 59 email: simolarrabi@hotmail.com  Say Hi to Mohamed for me.
  • Stay outside the city in the Palmerie at Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa for deluxe, grand luxury experience.  The two swimming pools and spa offer a retreat from the hubbub of being in the souq.
  • Chez Chegrouni for the BEST tagine and people watching on Jemaa el Fna.  I had both the vegetarian and the chicken tagine on two different nights.  Cheap and delicious! Recommended by locals in the know.
  • Don’t get kidnapped by the henna artists on Jemaa el Fna.  They are con artists who grabbed my wrist, started painting my hand in motion, and dragged me to their chair before I could protest!  Cost 100 dh to get out of jail. Evidently they are famous.  First price she asked me to pay to be bailed out = 800 dirham.  Don’t fall for it 🙂
They saw a live one coming!

They saw a live one coming!

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Essaouira, Morocco photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Essaouira

  • Taros Restaurant, Essaouira, consistently the best food, views, Atlantic Ocean breezes, great wine.
  • Buy your tagine in the fish market square.  Don’t pay more than 30 dirham!  I bought one made in Tisnet which is just south of Agadir on the Atlantic coast.  It has a beautiful green/brown glaze.
  • Eat dinner at L’Heure Bleue, the luxury Chateaux et Relais hotel at the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) if you want to spend $100 per person for superb food and house label wine.
L'Heure Bleue courtyard, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

L’Heure Bleue patio, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • See Abraham Touarez for great authentic, old Berber and Twareg jewelry at very reasonable prices.  Avenue Sidi Mohamed Be Abdellah on the left side closer to the end of the shopping as you walk toward the old Mellah.  There’s a pool hall directly across the avenue.  Tel 06 70 95 404  He says the best way to clean Berber silver (a metal/silver mix) is to use salt and lemon juice! Map.
Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Best lunches are at teeny tiny Vague Bleu on a side street to the left off Avenue Mohamed El Quon as you walk toward the Bab Marrakech after crossing the BIG main shopping avenue.  Seats 8-10 people.  Get there early.  Daily specials. Terrific.  Went there 4 days in a row.  Not boring.  French ex-pat hang-out.
  • For rugs from a trusted merchant go to Maroc Art, 8 Bis Rue Laalouj, next to the museum.  Ask for Abdel Mounaim Bendahhane or his colleague Abdoul Gnaoui. Tel. 05 24 47 50 50  or email maroc_art@live.fr
  • Bring home Moroccan spices, dates, argan cooking oil and argan nut spread (be sure you buy the authentic kind made with almonds not peanuts) from a young man in a stall on the left side of Ave. Mohamed Zerktouni close to the Bab Doukala.  Very fresh.  Keep your empty water bottles and pour the oil into them.  Then wrap in bubble for safe travels.

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  • Azur Spa & Hammam for great deep tissue massage.  1-1/2 hours for 500 dirham  — an incredible bargain!
  • Visit the Essaouira Synagogue and discover Jewish Moroccan history — deeply embedded in the town’s identity as a trading center.
Mohamed Touarez copyright Norma Hawthorne

Abraham Touarez, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira?  It’s a two to four hour bus ride depending upon which company you choose.  SupraTours and CTM offer first class direct service and have their own stations.  Any bus that you take from the Gare Routiere will stop in every hamlet and crossroads along the way. Avoid El Mahabba Voyages, second class, shabby. Prices are about the same.  You choose.  And, don’t get swindled by somebody who wants a tip to reserve a seat for you!  Bags are extra 5-10 dh each depending on which service you choose.

Below, dinner at L’Heure Bleue.  C’est magnifique.

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