Tag Archives: San Miguel del Valle

Ringing the Bells: San Miguel Arcangel Church, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca

San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, calls to me. Perhaps because it is hidden — escondido — beyond Santa Ana del Valle and Diaz Ordaz, tucked into the fold of the foothills leading to the Sierra Juarez on the way to the eco-tourism center of Cuajilomoyas.

Stepping up into the church patio

Illuminated Saint Michael on the altar

There are dazzling, artful aprons there that talented women embroider with birds, flowers, animals, and plants in a cascade of color. Wearable art! It is all from their imagination. There is no design that shows up twice. You can find them from this distinctive dress each Sunday at the Tlacolula Market, a 15-minute trip from the village.

Welcome to San Miguel Arcangel

Merry modeling an artful apron

I went back last week with my young friend Lupita. She rarely leaves Teotitlan del Valle and its a big world out there along the Pan American Highway MEX 190. We were lucky. When we arrived, the gates to the church patio were open to me for the first time. This was my fourth visit in recent weeks.

Watch the video!

Inside, I said hello to the man who was doing his church volunteer service. I asked him if we could step up to the altar and then enter an anteroom where there were reliquaries and antique treasures from centuries past. He welcomed us. Invited us in, told us to take our time.

Antonio Miguel invites into the anteroom for a look around

Ancient frescoes were painted on lime plastered walls. Deeply carved wood embellished Zegache-style mirrors. A broken clay figure perched under a gilded miniature pergola. Priestly robes hung in a glass case. It was a feeling of old, mystical, medieval. Without restoration, the space felt even more sacred.

Hand painted frescoes of saints adorn walls

Clay figure perched under gilded pergola

I explained to Lupita that it was her people, the Zapotecs, who were conscripted to become stone masons, wood carvers and painters, doing the labor to decorate these buildings of the new religion after the conquest. This was like being inside a fortress, sturdy, solid, everlasting.

Frame of the antique organ

Ascending through the turret, a rest stop for a view

Antonio asked if we wanted to see the antique organ from the same era as the one in Tlacochahuaya. We would have to climb the narrow winding stairs up the turret to the second floor. He went first. The organ was a wood frame with no musical parts. It must have been splendid once.

From the organ balcony, looking into the sanctuary

Lupita makes her way down steep stone steps. I follow her.

He kept looking at his watch. I have to go ring the bells, he said. It’s noon. So we scaled another round of steps to the top of the bell tower, greeted with spectacular views.

Rope bell is suspended with twisted cowhide

Zapotec symbols decorate church support beams

Antonio rang the bells announcing to the entire village it was twelve o’clock. Then he gave me an interview. He lived in Pomona, California, working as a landscaper for 10 years. He is happy to be home in his village!

An inscription, from 1560?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere, the patron saint of Mexico

 

 

Flouncy Aprons of San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle.  The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.

Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.

This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.

Four Aprons For Sale, Below.

Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday

But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.

Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)

These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.

Work in progress on the sewing machine

I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.

Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD

When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.

SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.

Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece.  Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.

SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.

How to Buy

  • Send me an email. norma.schafer@icloud.com
  • Tell me your name and mailing address
  • Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
  • I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
  • I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA

Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?

SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.

Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.

I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.

#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.

A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel

We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).

Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.

Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.

Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.

Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.

In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!

Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.