Tag Archives: San Cristobal de las Casas

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, Francisca Hernandez, one of the better embroiderers, invited us to visit her mother’s house. We have larger sizes there, she said. Lanita immediately said, YES. Cynthia endorsed the high quality of her work.How far is it, I asked. Only three blocks, she said.

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 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.


2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

  • We have THREE spaces open for February 13-22, 2018.
  • We have ONE space open for February 27-March 8, 2018 for a shared room at $2,495.

Send me an email. Here is the program description:

Chiapas Textiles + Folk Art Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World — 2018

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume, hand-woven straw hat

I am committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending nine nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions.

Our day trips will take us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro with vintage textile collection

Take this study tour to learn about:

• the culture, history and identity of cloth • spinning wool and weaving with natural dyes

• clothing design and construction

• 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

• mystical folk medicine practices that blend Maya ritual and Spanish Catholicism

• Chiapas folk art and handcrafts

• Chiapas amber — rare and affordable gemstone

• market days and village mercantile economy

• local cuisine, coffee and chocolate

• how to determine the best textile quality and value

• cultural history, nuances and the sociopolitical history of Maya people

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Chiapas Maya 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!) Recommended reading for the trip!

San Cristobal is international crossroads for great food

I have also engaged one of San Cristobal’s most well-informed guides, born and raised in San Cristobal, a fluent English-speaker who will travel with us to give bi-lingual services. His interest is in cultural anthropology and local history.

We will travel in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as we go deep into the Maya world.

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 13/27: Travel day. Arrive and meet me at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. I will send you complete directions for how to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet or Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Cost of transportation (about $55USD) from airport to San Cristobal is on your own. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

Textiles from the weaving villages of Cancuc and Oxchuc

Wednesday, February 14/28: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the Textiles in the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, and meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church. We will then guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. (B, L, D)

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Thursday, February 15/March 1: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags here. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Pedro Meza and his mother Doña Maria Meza Giron.

Romerillo cemetery is rocky, steep, protective and festive

We’ll also stop in Romerillo to see the larger than life pine-bough covered Maya blue and green crosses. Return to San Cristobal del Las Casas for lunch and dinner on your own.  Lunch along the way. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

An amazing ceremonial cloth, handwoven, modeled by Sheri

Friday, February 16/March 2: We go to a wonderful weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Textile museum figure, traditional clothing

Saturday, February 17/March 3: Amantenango del Valle and Aguacatenango to see the whimsical and functional wood and dung fired pottery – the way its been done for centuries. Wonderful roosters, spotted jaguar sculptures and ornamental dishes. This is a textile village, too, where women embroider garments with designs that look like graphic art. In neighboring Aguacatenango, we will pull up to the small zocalo in front of the church. Within moments, ladies with their beautiful embroidered blouses will appear. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Sunday, February 18/March 4: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Then, we’ll meet weavers and embroiderers in their home workshops. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. We will then continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamulan woman in her rural home surrounded by sheep and goats. She will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider.(B, L) Dinner on your own.

San Juan Chamula Sunday market

Monday, February 19/March 5:  We will set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home/of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic and jewelry collections. We walk the gardens and learn about Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at the hand-made workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

Tuesday, February 20/March 6: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse your-self with a family of weavers in a rural home. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host an expoventa for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Rosa with Barbara, and a Pantelho blue emboidered top

Wednesday, February 21/March 7: Men from Magdalena Aldama who weave bags made from ixtle, agave cactus leaf fiber, join us at our hotel after breakfast. Accompanying them are the women who make flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Our 2016 group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Thursday, February 22/March 8: Depart. We will coordinate departures with included van service from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. Please schedule your flight departure time for mid- to late afternoon. You will connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country. If you are going from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, you can fly direct on AeroMar. We will coordinate departure times and your trip will cover the cost of transportation from the hotel to the airport.

What Is Included

• 9 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center

• 9 breakfasts • 6 lunches • 2 dinners

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

• transfers to Tuxtla Gutierrez airport from San Cristobal on March 8

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 • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) 

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice that is due on receipt.

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

Market scene, Chiapas

Reservations and Cancellations.  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.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have 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 because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This  may not be the study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Detail, cross stitch needlework bodice

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 30 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 30 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 30 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time from San Cristobal.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips. Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Indigenous, organic, non-GMO corn — staple of life