Tag Archives: sustainable

Travel Oaxaca’s Natural Dye Textiles + Weaving Trail: One-Day Study Tour

We introduce you to weavers of wool, cotton and silk who work with organic natural dyes. This one-day educational study tour gives you in-depth knowledge about the artisanal process for making hand-woven cloth using sustainable technologies. We visit home studios and workshops to meet some of Oaxaca’s outstanding weavers in this curated day trip. See the real indigo, cochineal and wild marigold dye process. Meet artisans who create beautiful rugs and clothing.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.

You reserve for the dates you prefer. This  is designed as a private program. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We will do our best to match your travel schedule with our availability.

Pricing is for a full day, starting at 9 a.m. Customized programs on request.  The rate is based on the time we pick you up and return you to your Oaxaca hotel. Please provide us with hotel/lodging address and phone number.

  • 1 or 2 people, $265 USD flat rate total, includes lunch, transport
  • 3 or more people, $125 USD per person, includes lunch, transport
  • For larger groups, please contact us for special pricing

Dyeing_Australian_Chicas_Eric-94

Oaxaca has many talented weavers working on different types of looms: the two-harness pedal loom, the flying shuttle loom and the back-strap loom. They create many different types of cloth from wool, cotton and silk – to use, wear and walk on.

Wool Coch Red Bobbins62K

The yarns or threads can be hand-woven and made into tapestry carpets or wall hangings. They might become lighter weight garments such as shawls, ponchos and scarves or fashion accessories and home goods like handbags, travel bags, blankets, throws and pillow covers.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Most weavers dye their material using pre-mixed commercial dyes. Some buy their yarns pre-dyed. This streamlines and simplifies the production process, making the finished piece less costly. Often, there are wide quality differences.

DyeWkshp_1-24

A growing number of weavers are going back to their indigenous roots and working in natural dyes. They use a time-consuming process to gather the dye materials, prepare them with tested recipes, dye the yarns and then weave them into cloth. These colors are vibrant and long-lasting. There is a premium for this type of hand work.

Dyeing and then weaving can take weeks and months, depending upon the finished size of the textile and type of weaving process used.

Preparing indigo for the dye pot -- first crush it to powder

Preparing indigo for the dye pot — first crush it to powder

For each visit, we will select artisans who live and work in small villages scattered in the countryside around Oaxaca where families have co-created together for generations to prepare the yarn and weave it.

indigo-dye-pot

Natural dyes we will investigate include plant materials like nuts, wild marigold, fruit (pomegranate, persimmon, zapote negro), wood bark and indigo.

Shades of cochineal -- a full range of color

Shades of cochineal — a full range of color

Another important dye source is cochineal, which is the parasite that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. The Spanish kept the cochineal secret well hidden for over 400 years, calling it grana cochineal or grain, so that English and Italian competitors could not detect its source.

Cochineal dye bath -- the most vibrant red of the natural world

Cochineal dye bath — the most vibrant red of the natural world

During this one-day outing, we will visit four weavers, see complete natural demonstrations of yarns and threads, learn about over-dyeing to get a full rainbow of colors, and savor the beautiful results that master weavers create.

We may not always visit the same weavers on each tour, based on their availability. At each home studio you will see some of the steps that go into the completed process. By the end of the day, you will have gained a fuller understanding of the difference between natural and commercial dyed cloth as well as the various weaving techniques. This will help you become a more educated collector, able to discern nuances in fiber and dye quality.

Ikat wool rebozo colored with pomegranate and cochineal

Ikat wool rebozo colored with zapote negro (black persimmon) and cochineal

More than this, you will learn about the local culture, the family enterprise of weaving, how weavers source their materials, the dedication to keeping this ancient practice alive. You will see how using natural dyes is a small-batch, organic and environmentally sustainable process. And, you will try your hand in the dye pot and at the loom, too, if you like.

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath -- turns cochineal bright orange

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath — turns cochineal bright orange

During this complete one-day study tour you will:

  • Meet master weavers and their families in their home workshop/studio
  • See the raw materials used for coloring wool, cotton and silk
  • Watch the weaving process and try your hand (and feet) at the fixed frame 2-harness pedal loom and flying shuttle loom — if you wish
  • Discuss the origin of cochineal, its impact on world trade and its many uses today
  • Learn how to tell the difference between dyed fibers – are they natural or chemical?
  • Observe processes for dyeing with indigo, cochineal, wild marigold and other organic materials
  • Understand quality differences and what makes a superior product
  • Discover the meaning of the various designs, some taken from ancient codices
  • Have an opportunity to shop, if you choose, at the source
  • Order a customized size, if you prefer

You are under no obligation to buy.

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

This is an educational study tour to give you more in-depth knowledge about the weaving and natural dye process. We offer a stipend to the weavers who take part to compensate them for their knowledge, time and materials. This is included in your tour fee.

Weavers do not pay commissions on any purchases made and 100% of any sales go directly to them.

Also consider these educational options:

About Norma Schafer, your study tour leader

Norma Schafer has organized educational programs and workshops in Oaxaca since 2006 through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She is an educator, not a tour guide, and is recognized for her knowledge about textiles and natural dyes.

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Norma is living in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, since she retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. Before that, she made frequent visits each year beginning in 2005. Norma has access to off-the-tourist-path small production family workshops where the “manufacturing” process is vertical and hand-made.

  • Earned the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge
  • Holds the M.S. in business administration from the University of Notre Dame
  • 30-year career in higher education administration and program development
  • Created/produced international award-winning programs at Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Recognized by the International University Continuing Education Association for outstanding educational program development
  • Founder/creator of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC arts workshops/study tours in 2006
  • Contributor to Textile Fiestas of Mexico, with chapters about Teotitlan del Valle and Tenancingo de Degollado
  • Founder/author of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog in 2007
  • Learned to weave and use natural dyes as a graduate student in San Francisco too many years ago to count!
  • Has an extensive personal collection naturally dyed textiles
  • Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
  • International textile conference advisor to Weaving a Real Peace (WARP) organization
  • Consultant on tourism/economic development, State of Guanajuato, Mexico Office of Tourism
  • Embedded in the cultural and social history of Oaxaca’s Zapotec village life

IMG_4423 Dolores with Shadows

Note: From time-to-time, we will invite other distinguished and knowledgeable natural dye experts to join us or to substitute for Norma to lead the study tour, based upon schedules and availability. If Norma is not available on the date(s) you request, we will give you the option to take the study tour with another qualified leader.

Pricing is for a 7-8 hour day. Customized programs on request.  The rate is based on the time we pick you up and return you to your Oaxaca hotel.

  • 1 or 2 people, $265 USD flat rate total, includes lunch, transport
  • 3 or more people, $125 USD per person, includes lunch, transport
  • For larger groups, please contact us for special pricing

Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in Teotitlan del Valle, lunch and honoraria to artisans. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We will pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca). Alcoholic beverages are at your own expense.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. We will do our best to accommodate your requests.

Silk worms dining on mulberry leaves, Oaxaca, Mexico Wool dyed w moss

Reservations and Cancellations

We require a non-refundable 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve. The balance is due on the day of the tour in USD or MXN pesos (at the current conversion rate). The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for.

After 30 days before your scheduled study tour, your deposit is not refundable. We will have made transportation arrangements and secured the dates/times with the weavers, plus paid them a stipend in advance for participating. We have learned, living in Mexico, that it is essential to keep commitments to sustain relationships. Thank you for understanding.

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Book Review: Weaving, Culture and Economic Development in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico

Book: Weaving Yarn, Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico; published by Almadia, 2010; photography by Tom Feher, text by Judith Lockhart-Radtke; ISBN: 978-607-411-059-3

Book Review by Norma Hawthorne

Stunning photographs and intimate personal interviews of indigenous Mixtec women weavers accentuate what it means to keep culture, community, and weaving traditions alive in this remote mountain village of Oaxaca, Mexico.

One of my favorite photographs in this book is a close-up of the calloused, gritty soles of a woman’s feet elegantly peeking out from under the hem of a fanciful floral skirt as she sits on her knees.  While I only see her feet and hemline, I know she is at work weaving on a back strap loom.  It is a sensitive depiction of both the obstacles and the hopefulness of an ancient culture struggling to survive and thrive.

The glorious full-color photography is by Tom Feher and the written narrative is by Judith Lockhart-Radtke.  The book is a culmination of almost a decade of work between the volunteer group, The Circle of Women in Boston, MA, and what developed into a self-sustaining cooperative of women weavers in the Alta Mixteca, far from Oaxaca City.   The book was published to coincide with an exhibition for the weavers at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca in 2010.  It documents and is a beautiful testimony  to a cultural interchange that encouraged learning and literacy, economic independence, and access to better health care.

Eleven Mixtec Women Share Their Life Stories in Their Own Words

The charm of this book is in its ethnographic storytelling.  Each of the eleven Miramar women who are members of the cooperative are interviewed and share their personal experiences about being a Mixtec woman, a weaver, a wife or mother or daughter.  Some are eloquent in describing the experience of their empowerment by learning to read and write. Others poignantly describe the pain of separation and isolation from husbands, sons, and brothers who are, by necessity, working in El Norte and sending money back where there is no work.

Through these visual and written stories we see and hear the struggles of poverty, deprivation, and limited access to health care.   We are also clearly reminded of the universality of womanhood: when women support each other through mutuality and connection they have much greater opportunity to thrive, especially in traditional patriarchal cultures where women have always been physically, economically and emotionally dependent.  The photographs are powerful, simple, and elegant. They are complete stories in and of themselves.

Text is in both English and Spanish

The layout of this book — left side of the page in English, right side in Spanish — creates a bridge to understanding.  The forwards by Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana, the director of the Textile Museum, and famed Mixteca singer-songwriter Lila Downs, add considerable heft to the story.  The book is definitely for those with an interest in women’s studies, grassroots organizing, intercultural exchange and the role of the outsider, economic development and sustainability, weaving, textile art and design, and anyone interested in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Effecting change and making a difference in another culture

Judith Lockhart-Radtke, a clinical social worker and writer, gives us an honest and clear account of the risks, rewards, disappointments, and joy for volunteers from other countries who want to make a difference and effect change. Ultimately, she reminds us, the generation of ideas and their implementation must originate from within to take root and have lasting impact.

The addendum, written in 2010, provides a concise summary of the village economy, the community’s approach to income earning and distribution, the ongoing challenges of maintaining a Boston-Oaxaca collaboration and a move to self-sufficiency, and the impediments to bringing these handmade textiles to foreign markets.

For Information and Book Orders – Contact: Judith Lockhart-Radtke, President of The Circle of Women, Boston, MA; judithlockhartradtke@gmail.com

www.thecircleofwomen.org

www.mixtecaweavers.com