Tag Archives: rugs

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

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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.

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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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Morocco Journal 8: Magic Carpet Ride Rug Buying Guide

Rules for rug shopping in Morocco and other advice from a seasoned shopper who admits to being a naive novice when it comes to bargaining in the Land of a Million Carpets.

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Carpet merchants fill the souks in every Moroccan city.  Then, there are the random carpet shops on high traffic tourist pedestrian avenues.  There was one store I visited in Marrakech that was filled floor-to-ceiling with at least three thousand carpets.  How many carpets are there in Morocco would you say? I asked the proprietor. Five million?  Maybe more, he answered. I imagine the weavers in the High and Middle Atlas Mountains are busy night and day!

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The weaving and carpet culture in Morocco is totally different from that of Mexico, where the original purpose of wool woven textiles was for blankets or serape to cover horses and humans.  The nomads of Morocco use carpets to cover the floors and walls of their tents for warmth and comfort.  Some Moroccan carpets have longer wool weft threads so they can be tied as a shawl in winter.  Many also cover the backs of camels, horses and donkeys to cushion their riders.  I saw lots of Boucherouite rag rugs (below left) sticking out from under camel saddles.

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In Oaxaca, the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle is conveniently located just 40 minutes outside the city.  A trip to the weaving villages of Morocco requires an expedition of several days from either Marrakech or Fes.

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In both Mexico and Morocco, cheaper knock-offs from China inundate the market.  Buyer beware!

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In the High Atlas Mountains the carpets are knotted, a heavy sheep wool pile.  In the Mid-Atlas, the carpet design combines the knotted higher pile with flat weave or kilim style using camel-hair.  Some have added embroidery for embellishment and include the symbols of sun, moon, animals, fertility, womanhood, and water.  At lower elevations near the Sahara, the carpets are all flat and woven from camel-hair.

Why?  Sheep only prosper and develop a thick coat at colder, higher elevations while camels are desert animals who love the heat.

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Most carpet traders have an inventory of old and new rugs.  Carpets are everywhere. The older rugs cost much more because more likely the older wool fibers were prepared with natural dyes.  It’s hard to tell if natural dyes are used for newer rugs, although, as in Oaxaca, most here claim it is so.  I’ve heard that some dealers will put a rug out in the sun to fade and look older to sell it at a premium.

Natural dyes, I’m told, include saffron, henna, cinnamon, wild mint, kohl and indigo. The color is fixed with vinegar and the wool is washed in mountain snow.  Over-dyeing is employed to get a wider color range.

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Carpet shopping in Morocco is tricky.  Anyone is capable of taking the vulnerable tourist on a magic carpet ride.  It is difficult to know who to trust. Referral is the best guarantee that you won’t be ripped off.  Luckily, I got a referral to an Essaouira carpet merchant from a friend who worked for the U.S. State Department in Rabat for over 12 years.  I visited this man a week into my trip and got a great carpet at a fair price.  Who can leave Morocco without a carpet? Only the most disciplined. (See contact information below.)

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Based on advice from friends, I made the huge mistake of hiring a guide to take me through the souq on my first day in Marrakech.  He led me into a carpet store that I could not escape from. Honest. And, of course, I realized later that I overpaid because I was not yet familiar with the local currency conversion.  Yep. Buyer beware!

Carpet salesmen are determined.  They have it in their blood. They have the genetic instincts of thousands of years of being at the trading center of North Africa — Morocco.  They hang out on sidewalks, street corners.  Some will even say, Have you seen the painted ceiling of this historic building? The rabbi once lived here.  Once you enter to see the intricate work, the rugs start to unfold. Tourist beware.  What is your best price? they ask.  Customer responds. Salesman says, Oh, I need a little more.  Can you get a little closer?  And you come closer, and the next round continues.  After buying my first rug on the first day in Marrakech, the salesman said he would offer me a really special price on a second rug because I was the first customer of the day and that will bring him good luck.

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You can’t believe how many times I heard that in the weeks to come.  Then, I heard, You are my last customer of the day and the last customer brings good luck for tomorrow.  By that time I said, you’ve got to be kidding me!  It took me about a week to learn to be a skeptic.

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As I said in an earlier blog post, nothing, I mean NOTHING, has a price tag. Food, taxis, herbal medicine, carpets, clothing, jewelry, nada.  This is the land of bargaining and you have to be good at it to play the game.  It is wearying and that’s the idea.  Who has more stamina?

So, I ended up overpaying on some things until I got the hang of it, and then I did a little better.  Rule of thumb — be willing to walk away.  It is not offensive.

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Rules for Souq and Rug Shopping in Morocco

  1. Never hire a guide.
  2. Go into the souq on your own.  You won’t get lost.  There are plenty of signs that direct you back to Jemaa el Fna — the central square.
  3. People are friendly.  Even shop keepers will give directions, although they will try to get you into their shop after that.
  4. Never buy anything on your first day. Get the lay of the land. Practice negotiating.  You need practice.  You need to feel confident.  You need to start at a price less than half of what they first name.
  5. Take your currency converter and USE IT.
  6. Stand your ground. By the second week, I could respond to What is your best offer? with the first price I named and not budge.  Not even 20 dirhams higher.  When the merchant got too pushy, I said thank you, and walked out.
  7. It’s hard to know the REAL PRICE.  You can test the real price by always naming a low price, lower than mid-point and then see the response.
  8. A friend coached me.  The real cost could be 6 dirham but they ask 50 dirham, you respond with 25 dirham, they go to 30 dirham and you say yes, thinking you got a great deal.  Maybe!
  9. Do your research in advance.  Shop around.
  10. Be patient.  The negotiating and buying process can take at least an hour or two and at least 2 glasses of mint tea.  Maybe more!  If you are in a hurry it will cost you more.
  11. Don’t be impulsive.  Shop around.  Be sure to see many styles and colors before you buy.  Have the mint tea if you are somewhat serious.  If not, politely say no thank you.
  12. Always be courteous.  You are in a Moslem country and people are respectful and gracious.  Say no thank you– merci beaucoup — with a smile.
  13. People welcomed me when I said I was from the USA.  We’re glad you’re here, they said.  I believe they meant it.

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By the time I returned to Marrakech after ten days in Essaouira, I was ready for the souq on my own.  I ventured in with some trepidation, I confess.  The passageways are narrow, most are obscure, shadowy, there is the unfamiliar, and the crush of stuff and people.

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It is daunting, the labyrinth of winding, narrow alleys lined with leather goods, painted furniture, Berber jewelry, textiles, dried fruit stands, brass and copperware, cooking utensils and turbaned men who speak Arabic and French.  I got lost.  I wandered.  I meandered.  I discovered hidden courtyards.  I was alone.  I found my way around and out.

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My huge camera was slung around my neck.  I never felt fearful though I did encounter a few unexpected turns and dead ends where I met some amazing craftsmen and a snake charmer with cobra in hand.

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And I discovered treasures that I could digitally capture and bring home to share with you.  But, not before finding a good glass of Moroccan red wine, available to visitors at selected hotel bars. Saha: to your health.

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Rug Shopping in Marrakech

  • Chez Laarabi, Arset El Maach, Rue de La Radeema, No. 41, 1st floor, ask for Mohamed Twarig, Tel 06 66 09 11 59 or email simolaarabi@hotmail.com

Rug Shopping in Essaouira

  • Maroc Art, 3 Rue el Hajali, ask for Abdullah Imounaim or Abdoul Gnaoui, Tel 04 44  47 50 50

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Big Oaxaca Rug Sale at Fiber Fiesta, May 17–Siler City, NC

Mark Your Calendar! Oaxaca Cultural Navigator’s Big Folk Art and Textile Sale in historic downtown Siler City, NC at Fiber Fiesta, Friday, May 17, 6:00-9:00 p.m. I have a stash of naturally dyed, hand-woven rugs from the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca weaving studio of Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas.  Spread the Word. Pre-show sales by appointment, send me an email!  Federico said, Offer big discounts to clear the inventory. So, I will.fiberfiestaposter-1

Examples of tapestry woven rugs available for sale in all sizes, small to large:

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