Tag Archives: tapestry

Teotitlan del Valle Weaver Recognized by Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian

Norma’s Note: Weaver Porfirio Gutierrez called to tell me about his recognition from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  He asked if I would share the news. Congratulations to Porfirio and to all the outstanding weavers of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — many of whom deserve recognition and are unsung cultural heroes. I’m happy to share this with you.


My name is Porfirio Gutiérrez and I am a weaver from Teotitlán del Valle. We follow your blog and refer many friends who want to learn more about Oaxaca. I am writing because I thought you might find my recent award from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to be newsworthy. Once a year candidates for their Artist Leadership Program are selected. I am proud to announce that I have been chosen for 2016. Below is more information about how I became a participant and what this means to our village.

Porfirio on loom #1

Like many people in our village, my family has descended from generations of Zapotec weavers going back as far as anyone can remember. As you know, Teotitlán has been known for its fine weaving since pre-Columbian times. In spite of our long-standing reputation for fine work, the economic downturn and other factors have hurt our livelihood and threaten the existence of our traditional art.

Dying Indigo

In our town, other components of our Zapotec legacy are about to vanish forever. My parents speak Zapoteco, my siblings and I speak Zapoteco and Spanish, but our children speak mostly Spanish. The same pattern is true with our art; my parents spin, dye and weave. My siblings and I have these skills to some degree, but most of us have had to find outside work in other fields to sustain our families.

The youth in our village may never know the all of arts of their ancestors unless they are shown by the remaining masters who are still practicing our ancient techniques. In an effort to sustain our Zapotec art of weaving, I proposed to the NMAI to bring together experts with a group of interested people in our village for a workshop on traditional plant and cochineal dyes.


We are very fortunate that the NMAI wants to support our efforts and is going to help us with a 4-day training program. During this workshop students will see where dye plants grow in the wild, learn how to make them into dyes, and explore color combinations. NMAI will come to Teotitlán to oversee the program and make professional video that will be posted on their website.

The Smithsonian’s NMAI Artist Leadership Program is truly an important step towards sustaining Zapotec culture and our traditional art form. Their video will give a glimpse into life in Oaxaca. Please visit our website for more information.

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

Scott Roth

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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Oaxaca Gold, Silver Filigree Earrings, Plus Woven Tapestry Bags for Sale

After a long day of travel yesterday, by bus from Puebla to the Mexico City airport, then to San Francisco with a connection to Orange County, California, I have settled into my son’s home in Huntington Beach.

Shoulder bag, approx. 14"x16" with leather straps, $85 + shipping.  Dyed with wild marigold and nuts.

Handbag, approx. 15″ high x16″ wide, $85 + shipping. Dyed with wild marigold and nuts, lined with strong zipper closure, strong leather straps approx. 28″ long.

I’m carrying with me two beautiful hand-woven, tapestry wool bags that with natural dyes, made by my friend Lupe from Teotitlan del Valle, and a group of gold vintage filigree earrings and a pair of silver filigree from my personal collection. All are for sale here.

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Lupe is a single mother of three sons ranging in age from elementary school to college. Her goal is that all boys receive a college education. She makes ends meet, uses her small income to pay tuition and has few opportunities to market her work.

Handbag, approx. 14"x16", $85 + shipping. Handwoven, leather straps, zipper, lined.

Handbag, approx. 15″high x16″ wide, $85 + shipping. Hand-woven, 28″ leather straps, zipper, lined. Dyed with cochineal, wild marigold, nuts.

Lupe is talented and resourceful. Recently, she got a grant from the state economic development office to take a course to learn leather-work. The leather is soft, the workmanship excellent. She is making lined shoulder handbags and I offered to help her sell these two.  The leather shoulder strap measurements are approximately 28″ long, end-to-end where they are attached to the bag.

Are you interested?  Send me an email.

Now, for the jewelry!

#1: Frida Kahlo Style 3-Tier Chandelier Earrings: Luscious 10K Gold Filigree, Pearl, Purple Stones, $495. plus shipping and insurance. 2-3/4″ drop from ear hole! Approx. 1-1/2″ at widest point of the two leaves.

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I came by this amazing pair of vintage 10K gold, pearl and stone earrings because another indigenous friend needed money to buy a refrigerator. How could I say no? The filigree work is gorgeous. She says her father gave them to her about thirty-five years ago. These earrings are substantial, elegant, dramatic. A true statement.

Selling these and all the rest  for the price I paid (smile).

#2. Juicy Red Vintage 10K Gold Filigree and Pearl Earrings. $195. + shipping and insurance.  Deep bezel setting. You don’t find workmanship like this now! 1-3/4″ long from the ear hole and 3/4″ wide.

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FiligreeJewelry_WovenBags-23#3. Mario Perez Sterling Silver Filigree Earrings, new. $225 + shipping and insurance.

Among the finest, most intricate filigree workmanship in Oaxaca. Mario has his gallery on the Macedonio Alcala walking street in Oaxaca. These earrings have secure French-style hooks. The dangling drop is about the size of a quarter. 1-1/2″ long from the ear hole, 1″ wide. For more detail, click on the photo.

#4. Vintage 8K Gold and Pearl Earrings. These dramatic dangles have a huge, oval, clear cubic zirconia stone that sparkle with every move. $165+ shipping and insurance. 1-3/4″ long from the ear hole and 3/4″ wide.

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#5. Vintage 10K Gold Filigree Traditional Zapotec Earrings from Teotitlan del Valle. These are probably at least forty years old. They were part of a family collection and the owner needed to raise money for home improvements. $385. + shipping and insurance. Hook goes from back of ear to front, with gold disk facing forward. 2-1/4″ drop from ear hole, 1-7/16″ wide.

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Flexible Schedule, Intensive Weaving Workshops and Studio Time, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator can arrange and schedule intensive tapestry weaving workshops and independent studio time that fits into your travel schedule.  You learn from the Chavez Santiago family weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, with private or semi-private sessions.

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We are happy to offer you this opportunity to come to Teotitlan del Valle to learn from one of the most accomplished master weavers of the village.  The workshop can be scheduled as a private experience to suit your schedule.  Studio residencies are flexible and can be scheduled for as long as you wish to stay — one day, several days or several months.  This includes independent time at your own dedicated loom to work on your own projects.

Here is what we can offer you:

  • Weaving Workshop: Intensive beginner to intermediate level 4-day workshop at $585 USD per person.  This includes all wool and 4-6 hours of instruction daily. At the end of the workshop you will have completed a tapestry sampler about the size of a pillow cover or small wall-hanging.  You will make your own lodging, food and transportation arrangements.  Note: Weaving workshop may overlap with other participants.
  • Optional:  We can make all-inclusive arrangements for you when you register for Tapestry Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom. 
  • Studio Time: Up to six-hours a day of studio time in the workshop at a dedicated loom. The cost is $100 a day.  This includes naturally dyed wool, plus coaching and instruction to weave more complex designs. Note: Studio time may overlap with other participants.
  • Long-Term Residencies:  If you would like to stay longer than one-week, contact us for special pricing.
  • Materials/Yarn for Purchase:  You may purchase additional naturally dyed locally sourced, hand-spun churro wool directly from the family.  The cost is $20 USD for 100 grams or 260 pesos for 100 grams.

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You can bypass the Intensive 5-day Weaving Workshop and go directly to studio time IF you are an experienced tapestry weaver or IF you have taken the beginner-intermediate workshop from the family at another time.


If you are interested in making these arrangements, please contact Norma Hawthorne at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.   We can set up the studio residency for as many days or weeks as you wish.  You would make all payments to reserve the workshop and studio arrangements with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. We will send you a PayPal invoice for 1/2 the total cost with the remaining amount due 45 days before the workshop/residency begins.  You would need to specify the dates you prefer for the workshop and/or when you want the residency.