Tag Archives: San Cristobal de las Casas

Far and Away: Maya Weaving Village Magdalena Aldama

The locals call it Aldama, preferring to honor the 1810 Mexican Revolutionary War hero Juan Aldama, rather than the saint name imposed by Spanish conquerors. They are revolutionaries themselves here with most of the village sympathizing with the Zapatista movement.

Zapatista meeting house, Aldama

They are also extraordinary weavers of traditional huipiles and finely woven agave bags. The largest and finest bags take three months to make. The gala, celebratory fiesta huipil, made on the backstrap loom using supplementary weft technique to create the designs, can take eight months to weave.

Gala huipil from Magdalena Aldama, a heavy brocade woven on the back strap loom

I’m taking our Chiapas Textile Tour travelers on an adventure. As we climb the winding mountain road, we pass through Chamula territory where women are wearing the traditional wooly black skirts and men sport wooly white tunics and white hats. At the Y in the road we divert left. To continue right would take us to Chenalho and Chalchihuitan.

It takes Francisco three months to weave one agave fiber bag

As we climb, the mist thickens and droplets cover the windshield of our van. We are covered as if by a shroud. This is territory where wool and heavily woven cotton offer protection from the chill.

Children receive a ninth grade education, become weavers and farmers

In Aldama, women become weaving masters by age twelve. Their designs are mathematic. They count the warp threads. Dream their designs. Wrestle with design problems as they sleep. Wrestle with angels. The designs talk to them through Santa Marta, Magdalena and Maria.

This is a densely woven, cotton blouse used for daily wear

The patterns that emerge are magical and surrealistic. Lady Xoc appears as a figure hidden in cloth, transferred from the frescoes at Yaxchilan. You see her symbol in the cloth of the three villages — San Andres Larrainzar, Aldama, and Santa Marta. Triangles represent the universe. Frogs symbolize the coming of rain. The diamond contains a sacred sense of location. Put your head through the opening of the huipil and the wearer is at the center of the universe.

The symbol of the sunrise is a syncretic symbol of the birth of Jesus. Corn plants tell us the story of the dry season and also of fertility. Indigenous cultures depend on rain and sun to grown corn, squash and beans. To survive and thrive.

Our hosts, Rosa and Cristobal in Aldama

The textiles tell us this.

Other symbols are incorporated in the work we see: rabbit tracks and dog paws, foxes and butterflies. Clothing is part of the natural world.

Obscure light in cooking area. Photo by Mike Schroeder.

With the conquest, Dominican priests isolated each town, forcing them to dress in a way that would control their identity and their freedom of movement. We learn this from the cultural anthropologist I engage to travel with us. We learn that dress is part of cultural identity and carries with it political control.

In some villages, like in Zinacantan, we find out the colors and designs can change regularly — more associated with fashion trends than with anything else. There is pride now in what people make and wear to distinguish themselves.

Festival hat, handwoven bands sewn together, nine months to make

However, young people are moving toward blue jeans and T-shirts. Women are the culture keepers. Men leave their villages to find seasonal work elsewhere, adapting their dress to the dominant culture.

In Magdalena Aldama, there is a strong desire to keep the traditions and pass them along to the children. We saw ten year old girls weaving and embroidering along with their mothers, aunts and cousins.

Ancient guava tree, just leafing out. Photo by Mike Schroeder.

After being treated to a show and sale of their family’s work, Rosa and Cristobal invite us into their wattle and daub (mud and stick) house to sit down for lunch. There are seventeen of us. We are served delicious organic free range chicken soup, rice and steamed vegetables.

The hill town, San Cristobal de Las Casas

The kitchen-dining area is open hearth. Wood smoke fills the air. The fire heats a huge cauldron of broth and chicken pieces. It has been cooking for days and is fork tender. Toddlers run underfoot or are slung around the backs of their mothers, held tight by a handwoven rebozo. Our eyes water. Our mouths water. Cristobal brings out the pox and we sip the corn-sugar cane distilled beverage. It reminds me of mezcal.

Sunset in front of the cathedral

I am grateful for the women and men who traveled with me. They were generous of heart, spirit and resources. They understood that when then made a purchase, they give support to culture, tradition and the continuation of indigenous cloth.

Registration for the 2020 Chiapas Textile Study Tour will open soon. Dates will be February 25 to March 4. If you are interested, please send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Making PomPoms in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

Wandering around San Cristobal de Las Casas last week I discovered Punto y Trama, on Belisario Dominguez #13b, just two blocks off the Andador Real de Guadalupe walking street. What drew me in was the sign on the door that announced PomPom workshops.

Lazaro Ramirez trimming a PomPom to perfection

Then, once inside I immediately noticed the furry wool Chamula woven shawls adorned with PomPoms. A new fashion trend, I noted.

First, you wrap 6 threads of yarn around a tube 150 times.

Slide the yarn off the tube.

PomPoms are big here in San Cristobal. They dangle from everything: necks, ears, wrists, shoulder and handbags, woven string shopping bags, and garments. They serve as functional ties and outrageous adornment. Sometimes they are combined with hearts, beads, Frida portraits, tassels.

Tie the yarn tight with waxed linen

I decided to take a PomPom making workshop, fascinated by another way to work with fiber as part of textile and clothing design.

Cut all the loops open

Cut, cut, cut, holding the yarn ball at the poles

This is a three-hour one-day workshop OR six-hour two-day workshop taught by Lazaro Ramirez, whose family is originally from Magdalenas Aldama. The cost is 350 pesos per session. That translates to about $18 USD at the current exchange rate.

Keep cutting around the equator, turning the ball constantly

Use a sharp scissor. You’ll be cutting bits at a time, like shaving

At the end of three hours I had made three PomPoms. I decided to order the quantity I wanted from Lazaro instead of making them myself.  The class exercise gave me a great appreciation for the time needed to craft one PomPom, which he sells at 15 pesos each. And, each one is perfect.

The green one is almost done but still ragged. Yellow is perfect.

Fifteen pesos each equals about eight cents. That’s eight cents an hour, including labor and materials.

Here is the PomPom and tassel I made. Lazaro made the heart.

Lazaro says you can use wool to make the PomPoms, but synthetic polyester yarn is finer and gives a tight, compact product with glorious colors — electric, like the people here prefer.

Included in the class are heart making and embroidery techniques

I learned all the wrapping, tying and cutting techniques. The most time consuming is to hold the PomPom at the “north and south poles” and to cut along the “equator,” constantly turning until a perfect ball forms. Not an easy task, I learned.

Choose your style of PomPom and heart, examples to make

Inspired, Juanita takes the class tonight.

I intend to use the PomPoms to decorate the checked wool shawls I bought in Chamula last week. They make great pillows, bed throws, or a shoulder covering on a chilly night — with pizzazz.

PomPom adorned wool shawl hand-woven in Chamula, back strap loom

Punto y Trama owner Manuela Trevini Bellini supports #fashionrevolution

#fashrev: It’s estimated that 80 billion pieces of clothing are shipped from factories and distributed around the world.

I constantly ask: Who made my clothes?

 

Textile Flower Bouquets of San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Zinacantan is about thirty minutes by taxi from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. They grow flowers here. Large greenhouses dominate the landscape like a checkerboard rising from the valley to the hillsides.

Flower growing Zinacantan garden embroidered on cloth

This is a prosperous community that exports this produce throughout Mexico, as far as Mexico City and Merida.

Toddler cradled in an embroidered rebozo carrier with scalloped chal

Local dress reflects this love of flowers. Women’s skirts and chals (shawls), men’s pants and ponchos, and rebozos to cradle babies are densely embroidered with flower motifs.

Machined cross-stitch embroidery. Can you tell the difference?

It used to be that this work was all done by hand. Now, the embroidery machine has taken over the life of the cloth, which is often completely covered in intricate flower motifs so dense you can hardly see the base fabric.

Family shop together on market day

It used to be that the base cloth was woven on a back strap loom. This is now rarely the case. Most is either woven on the treadle loom or by commercial machine.

Bling blouses–machine embroidered bodices on shiny synthetic cloth. Beautiful.

It used to be that the village was identified by its hot pink cloth. Now, we see purples and blues. It’s common to see shiny colored threads in both the woven cloth and the embroidery thread. Fashions change and the Zinacantecas innovate new designs, use new color variations, and new embroidery motifs.

Woman working her needle by hand on the street, a rarity

Far beyond Mexico City, Mexican women love their bling.

Sheri Brautigam and I went early to Zinacantan yesterday on a discovery trip to check out new places to take the next Chiapas Textile Study Tour group. Sunday is Zinacantan market day but you have to get there early. The women with textiles have spread out their wares on the street at 6:00 a.m. and start putting their things away by 10:30 a.m.

New designs this year, short scalloped collar shawl

Our best advice is go there first before Chamula.

My find of the day: hand embroidered chal, front and back

2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Taking reservations now.

Wander the streets off the Zocalo. There are homes and stalls that sell good new and vintage textiles. The old pieces might be ten, fifteen or twenty years old. People stop wearing them because the colors are outdated not because the cloth is worn.

Costume is worn with cultural pride everyday

You can easily spend an hour here.

A rainbow of threads for embroidery machines in the market.

Here you will find hand embroidered cloth woven on back strap looms. This could include cross-stitch (punto de cruz) and French knots, in addition to other traditional needlework. How can you tell? Turn it over and look at the underside.

Meandering the streets we come across handmade leather shoes

The embroidery machine has come to Chiapas and can replicate cross-stitch and everything else. The village women now wear the work made by machine and it’s beautiful, too. Everything is a personal choice!

Market day goes on under the destruction of San Lorenzo Church

The obvious tragedy is the damage to the Church of San Lorenzo during the September 7, 2017, earthquake that rattled Chiapas and the southern Oaxaca coast. The destruction dominates the horizon. The church is closed until further notice by INAH. People say it may be impossible to repair. There is talk in the village about building another church.

Saints in temporary corrugated home. Photo by Carol Estes.

I remember entering the candlelit space in years past where all corners were adorned with flowers, abundant, fragrant. The altar was like a floral arrangement unlike any other I had seen. The aroma made me swoon. Now, the saints have been removed to a corrugated shed. INAH is responsible for all historic churches in Mexico. Few in and around San Cristobal de Las escaped damage. There is years of work to be done. Will Mexico have the will to repair?

September 2017 earthquake toppled houses, too.

Back on the street we find hand-woven and embroidered bags, silky polyester blouses machine embroidered with complementary colors, belt sashes and skirt fabric. Since it’s market day, tarps are also covered with piles of fruits and vegetables, and staples for the home.

1930s wedding, San Lorenzo Zinacantan

The Aztecs ruled this territory before the Spanish. They dominated as far south as Nicaragua. The Zinacantecos had strong links with the Aztecs, and enjoyed a privileged trading relationship. The village served as political/economic center for Aztec control of the region before the Spanish reached Chiapas in 1523. Our friend Patricio tells us that many locals intermarried with Nahuatl speaking Mexica’s.

The Zinacantan feathered wedding dress is a carry over from this past.

Leaving San Cristobal at 9:00 a.m. for Zinacantan

Taxi to get there, 150 pesos from San Cristobal de Las Casas.  Taxi to return, 100 pesos. Get it at the back corner of the church before you enter the market street.

On our hotel street, end of day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It costs about 150 pesos to get there.

Chiapas Textile Study Tour Snapshot: Saturday Serendipity in Aguacatenango

The idea was to drive to Aguacatenango which is about thirty minutes beyond the pottery village of Amantenango del Valle. We were a good hour or so beyond San Cristobal de Las Casas. Few tourists come in this direction.

The church at Aguacatenango, Venustiano Carranza

The idea was to pull up at the church, park the van, gather under the big tree and wait. Perhaps some of the village women would show up with their beautiful embroidered blouses to sell.

Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

I did this with our group last year. I hoped the serendipity would repeat. It was fun meeting local women whose skillful sewing resulted in blouses covered in intricate needlework. Within five minutes, perhaps thirty or forty women clustered around us. Word spreads fast in a small pueblo.

A gathering of women embroiderers. Photo by Carol Lynne Estes

This year was a special treat. Not only was it a glorious day, the workmanship was especially fine.

A particularly fine blouse with finished seams, all hand-stitched

Our only problem was that most of the blouses were too small. One woman insisted that her blouse was a large and when I said it was too small for me.  We went back and forth about this a couple of times.

Lanita snags this amazing blouse covered in French knots.

Finally, I thanked her, complimented her work, and told her it might be size large for women in the village, but it was a size small for us gringas. I’m tall here and I’m a chaparrita!

We also met and bought from Catalina Juarez Hernandez who has participated in the Feria Maestros del Arte at Lake Chapala.

We did our best to try on and buy. Most things did not fit. Photo by C.L. Estes

Then, Cynthia discovered Francisca Hernandez, one of the better embroiderers. Francisco invited Cynthia to visit her mother’s house. We have larger sizes there, she said. Cynthia came over and said, Can we do this? I said, Yes. How far is it, I asked. Only three blocks, she said. Sure, why not?

An embroiderer blouse making with a bundle to show us.

We were hooked.

Down the street three blocks to larger sizes

Eight women from the USA and Canada followed Francisca down empty streets in midday. We passed a house with corn drying on the roof. We passed women and children peeking out of doorways. Behind us trailed women and girls from the village interest in what we were up to.

Close up of corn drying on the rooftop

These were long blocks.

We entered a humble home after climbing through a stick and wood fence where  Francisca’s mother and father welcomed us.  We walked across an uneven stone path.

Francisca Hernandez demonstrates embroidery techniques

Out came the larger embroidered blouses. We tried them on, standing next to bags stacked four high, fill with corn cobs. The space was dark and narrow, illuminated by one raw bulb. The French seams were perfect, all hand-stitched, finished perfectly.

Out came the larger sizes, each one equally as beautiful

We formed a ring around Francisca and her mom. A ring of village women, two deep, looked on.

Francisca’s mom. Note the exquisite bodice work.

Francisca gave us a demonstration of how she makes French knots. Nudos de francesa. Catherine, president of her embroidery guild, was mesmerized since the technique was different and equally as beautiful. I promised to return in two weeks with our next group.

Bagged corn cobs. Photo by Carol Lynne Estes

Being open to serendipity provided us with a memorable experience and a connection none of us will forget.

Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour: Deep into the Maya World

Catherine checks the sleeve length to see if this one fits.

Chiapas Textile Study Tour Snapshot: Thursday In and Around Tenejapa

On Thursday, we spent the day outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas, on the road to Tenejapa village, Romerillo Maya cemetery and then to the home of Maruch and her son Tesh in the Chamula district of Chiapas.

First stop, Tenejapa for the Thursday market and textile cooperative

Cynthia with Maria Meza, coop manager

Taking registrations now for 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

Walking along the village market street, Gail spots a huipil hanging inside a shop

Look inside doorways to see textiles are hanging from the rafters

Small doorways open from the street into hardware stores, pharmacies, bakeries, tienditas (little stores), dry goods suppliers. The inside is often obscure. Sometimes, there are textile treasures — hand embroidery, traditional clothing made on back strap looms — hanging on clothes lines. You have to look for them.

Out on the street the market is a crush of people, fruit, veggies, meat and more

Tenejapa. Still remote enough that foreign visitors are an anomaly. Children and adults are curious, shy and distant. I saw about six Europeans in addition to our group during this market day.

Market day in Tenejapa means handmade textiles for sale, too.

The population of Tenejapa is 99.5% indigenous. About 99.8% speak an indigenous language, and almost 53% speak only their native language and do not speak Spanish. Health care services and educational opportunities are limited. Maya culture and traditional folk practices are strong.

She is minding the store and watching the passersby.

The village celebrates Carnavale with pre-Lenten festivities on February 15

Traditional dress of a Tenejapa man, once commonplace. Now for ceremonies only.

Adults and children participate. Mayordomos and their wives observe.

Next we stop at Romerillo cemetery to understand Maya burial practices

The Maya practice syncretism, a blend of mystical pre-Hispanic beliefs and Spanish Catholicism. Mostly, they are spiritual and keep their connection to ancient traditions.

The Maya cross represents the four cardinal points, a pre-Hispanic symbol

The Romerillo cemetery is on a grand hill overlooking a valley. Wood planks cover graves so that the living can communicate with and ask advice from the dead.

Evangelization was easier for the Spanish; the symbol existed before they arrived.

After lunch, we take a dirt road to rural Chamula territory to meet Maruch

Maruch and her family raise their own sheep, shear and wash the wool, card and spin. Sheep are sacred, raised for their fleece and not for food.

Carding, hand-spinning with the malacate and weaving on the back strap loom 

Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. We are accepting registrations now.

Hand carding local sheep wool for spinning

Using the malacate drop spindle to spin wool and prepare it for weaving.

We are an hour away from San Cristobal de Las Casas, but it feels as if time stands still here and we are standing in a place that could have been 500 years ago. Isolation preserves culture, but it also marginalizes native peoples.

Lanita models a furry capelet woven by Maruch

Sheep wool skirts and capelets are made to look like a furry animal, repel moisture and keep people warm. There is no heat and it’s chilly at 7,000 feet altitude in February.

At cooperative Huellas Que Trascienden, Lanita and Cynthia

We finished off the day with a visit to a new cooperative in the city that names the weaver of each garment with a featured photo on the hang tag. Recognition is finally coming to the women who do the work! We did our best to support them.