On our textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) we met ikat rebozo weavers, called reboceros, who use up to 6,400 cotton warp threads on a back strap loom.
Evaristo Borboa, grand master of Mexican folk art, weaves on a back strap loom
About 3,000 to 5,000 cotton warp threads are used on the fixed frame pedal floor loom.
Rebozo weaver Gabriel Perez at his floor loom
The technology is simple. The fabric created is complex.
The floor loom is faster. Weavers can produce a rebozo in about a week using this loom. It takes three months or more to make a rebozo on the back strap loom.
Weaver Jesus Zarate defies imagination with his ikat butterfly design
Because fewer warp threads are used on the floor loom, the cotton threads can be thicker and the finished cloth might be coarser.
A weaver’s took kit
As you might imagine, the cost for a rebozo made on a back strap loom is much more than one woven on a pedal loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate! What do rebozos cost? From 400 to 16,000 pesos.
Bits and pieces of supplies that might be needed for dyeing
Would you work six months to earn $800 USD?
The pattern can be more blurred and not as detailed as those created on the back strap loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate!
Fermin Escobar marks stiff bundles of thread with ink to make a pattern
There are fourteen different steps required to make an ikat rebozo. The most difficult and time-consuming part is the preparation of the threads before they are dressed on the loom.
Threads are soaked in starch to dry and stiffen before marking.
Ikat pattern markers are coated with ink, rolled along stiffened cords.
The weavers we met all repeated that the actual weaving is the simplest part of the process.
Weavers throw hardwood bobbins between the warp sheds to make the weft
Dipping the yarn into the starch to stiffen it
A better view of the pattern marked on the stiff cotton cords
Separating the cords so they dry evenly
Each mark must be hand tied to create the dye resist
Once the cords are marked in ink with the pattern, each mark is hand tied. The cloth will then be dipped in the dye bath. It is then washed and dried. The knots are cut and the pattern emerges on the warp thread, ready to be threaded on the loom.
Mexicans innovate and cobble together materials to keep things running
For rebozos with multiple colors, they can be hand-dipped in the dye pot or the part that is already colored will be tied off so it does not absorb the new color.
Over 4,000 warp threads pass through the hettles of these looms
The loom might be considered low technology, but it is a complex system for making cloth. Today, industrial cloth is made totally by machine. We are interested in the hand-made process.
Bobbin making system — a bicycle wheel
Making ikat for a rebozo on the pedal loom
One of Evaristo’s beautiful blue ikat shawls in blue, finely detailed
The enpuntadora hand ties each knot to create fringe, the finishing touch
Knotting the rebozo can take equally as long as weaving it — three months or more, depending on intricacy. We know one enpuntadora who takes a year to tie a complex fringe.
The fringe must equal or exceed the beauty of the shawl
The rebozo is to Mexico what the sari is to India — integral to cultural identity. Worn by women, the rebozo or shawl has its Mexican origins in the Spanish conquest. Many historians and cultural anthropologists believe the rebozo was adapted from the Philippines, which adapted it from China’s silk shawls.
Lanita with 90-year old Evaristo Borboa, and his new graphic design.
Last year, after our rebozo textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, I wrote at length about the history of the rebozo.
Camelia Ramos shows Elizabeth how to wrap a rebozo
We just finished an intensive nine-day study tour through the rebozo capital of Mexico, Tenancingo de Degollado. Here, beautiful ikat cotton shawls and scarves are woven on pedal and back strap looms.
Patti with rebocero Gabriel Perez and his work
We also took a day trip to visit Violante Ulrich at the Spratling Ranch in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero. I’ll write more about that later.
Cookie loves this blue beauty.
Meanwhile, our group of fourteen enjoyed meeting the rebozo weavers, visiting the Sunday rebozo market, watching women hand-knot the fringe of the rebozo into a web of lace.
This is Linda’s butterfly rebozo woven by Jesus Zarate
The fringe, called the punta, is equally as important as the woven cloth. Fine, tightly knotted, long puntas of eight inches or more can make an average rebozo into something magnificent!
Sandi and Janet learn to tie fringes with empuntadora Fidelina, while Cheri looks on
We visited eight different rebozo weavers during our time in Tenancingo de Degollado. Each has a different weaving style. Only two we visited are working on back strap looms, a dying art form.
Sandi with rebocero Luis Rodriguez who works in shibori
The back strap loom is able to hold over 6,000 warp threads, so the ikat design on the fabric is much more detailed and the material is denser because it uses a finer cotton thread. It can take three months or more to weave a rebozo using this method.
Christine wears a fine rebozo woven by Jesus Zarate on the back strap loom
An ikat rebozo woven on the pedal loom is much less expensive and can be completed after about a week on the loom.
Sandi loves purple and this rebozo by Gabriel Perez is a stunner
That does not take into account the preparation time, which includes counting the threads to form cords, washing them in a paste to harden the cords, marking the cords with a design, then tying the cords, dying them, and then threading the loom. All tallied, it’s a 14-step process.
Cynthia found this lovely one in Malinalco
We found some great spots for lunch, like Don Chano’s and El Meson, and some nights we were so tired from visiting rebozo weavers that we opted for pizza and a mezcal or soft drink on the terrace.
Rebozo shopping at the workshop studio of Adofo Garcia
At the end of the trip we were going to offer up confessions of how many each of us bought. We never got around to it, but I heard that one of us went home with eleven rebozos.
Susanne studies the details of this rebozo as she decides whether it’s for her
Ikat rebozo weaving in Mexico is a dying art. In the 1960’s there were over 250 rebozo weavers in Tenancingo. Now there are fewer than thirty. With the strength of the U.S. dollar in Mexico now, it was easy to justify an extra purchase to give one of these beautiful textiles as a gift.
Cheri with rebozo woven by Gabriel Perez. He showed us how to wear them.
Most importantly, each of us felt we were supporting artisans whose hand-work is special and valuable. Without tourism, we risk losing Mexican artisans to an industrial economy where the labor of creating beauty, one article at a time, will fade into non-existence.
Janet, our translator, shows us how to wear yellow!
Thanks to everyone who participated this year. It’s likely I won’t be offering this study tour again until 2019 or later. Stay tuned for new 2018 textile study tours with destinations to Oaxaca and Michoacan and/or Chiapas.
Complex ikat dyed cotton butterfly rebozo or shawl by Jesus Zarate
This rebozo is made on a traditional back strap loom. Jesus ties one end around his waist and the other to a fixed pole or wall. He stands while weaving. The loom is wide and heavy, which is why men do this type of work. It is usually constructed of oak or another hardwood, built to last a lifetime.
Jesus holds the butterfly rebozo on front of a pedal loom
It takes Jesus two or three months to weave this textile, working about six hours a day. That’s before he prepares the weft threads, first tying the knots where the design will be, marking the pattern on the threads that are held together with a cornstarch glue, then dipping the tied area into dye, then untying and washing the threads before he puts them on the loom. It can take a week to warp the loom before the weaving begins.
A Jesus Zarate ikat rebozo is like a Monet painting — innovative, spectacular
Jesus works with his son Hugo by his side. They both weave more traditional patterns on the fixed-frame pedal loom, also called the counterbalance or flying shuttle loom brought to Mexico during the Industrial Revolution.
Cindy Edwards, a North Carolina weaver, tries the pedal loom with Jesus’ son, Hugo
Many of these looms are more than 100 years old. They are in need of continuous repair and their age is a testimony to their durability as a tool for textile creation.
September 8-16, 2016 includes Rebozo Fair — Feria del Rebozo
A traditional ikat design by Jesus Zarate includes gold threads
The first time I visited the home studio of Jesus Zarate was in September 2015. I went along with a group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico — people who love Mexican folk art. Three women bought the finest rebozos from Jesus. He cried. He hadn’t sold a fine rebozo in two years.
Jesus shows his rebozo filled with tulip designs — or are they yellow rose buds?
I decided to change the LADAP itinerary to go deeper and focus primarily on rebozo weaving with a side trip to Taxco. I’m now offering a September 2016 and February 2017 tour. It is a perfect experience for weavers and textile lovers alike. We also include an in-depth discussion about and demonstrations of the natural dye process.
Pattern marked chord stiffened with cornstarch glue called atole
Jesus recently lost two sons and is in mourning. He tells me he never smiles. It is difficult for him. His son, Hugo, is his remaining heir to the tradition of ikat weaving in Tenancingo de Degollado.
Son Hugo weaves at counterbalance pedal loom
Jesus has only two pedal looms, not a sign of prosperity in a weaving culture. He is one of a handful who still know how to work the back strap loom. These pedal looms cram into a small workshop at the front of the humble house where he lives with his son. He is no longer married. Often, as we know, the tragedies of life take its toll on relationships.
Ikat pattern taking form on the flying shuttle pedal loom with Jesus looking on
Very few international visitors come to Tenancingo. It is about two-and-a-half hours from the center of Mexico City. To go independently requires a combination of bus and taxi travel with transfers at the Mexico City west bus station and again in Toluca.
Linda wears white roses, an innovative Zarate ikat design–note the texture!
I recently took a group of 10 women to meet many famous rebozo weavers of Tenancingo, including Jesus Zarate. We traveled together from Mexico City and spent a week going deep into the textile culture of the region to see and understand the process. You can read the rave reviews on TripAdvisor.
This study tour is designed as an intensive personal learning experience. Here in Tenancingo de Degollado and beyond, you will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, understand family traditions and culture, and help honor and preserve craft.
Rebozo seller, Tenancingo Town Market
Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), is the source for handwoven ikat rebozos or shawls made on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. Some count only 27 remaining reboceros — the men who weave the cloth. Not long ago there were hundreds. We will also meet the puntadoras — the women who hand-knot the intricate fringes. The experience of being there is so inspiring that I want to keep sharing it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.
Jesus Zarate ikat rebozos are like a Monet painting — innovative, full of movement
February 2-10, 2017. 8 nights, 9 days. $1,995 per person shared room with private bath. Single supplement is $300 more per person. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.
Cost includes luxury van transportation from Mexico City to Tenancingo and back, daily excursions, all hotels, 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 5 dinners, private guide services, gratuities for artisans, guides, drivers and service staff. Does not include alcoholic beverages and optional expenses not included in the itinerary.
Group size limited to 10 people.
Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Evaristo Borboa Casas at his loom
You will arrive and leave from Mexico City.
Meet together in Mexico City on February 2 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 3-9 at a bed and breakfast oasis
Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knottedfringe called punta or rapacejo, and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)
Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
Spend a day in Malinalco, a Pueblo Magico, to discover archeology, ancient frescoes, weaving traditions, natural dyes and more
Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico. Climb the archeological site of Teotenango, meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
Spend the last night in Mexico City to depart on February 10 for home OR stay on longer to enjoy museums and world-class restaurants
Puntadora Amalia shows how to tie the finest knots
Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.
Primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.
Ikat rebozo handwoven on the back strap loom from Rapacejos gallery
Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.
Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.
The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.
Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.
It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.
After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.
8 nights lodging
Round trip transportation to/from Mexico City center and Tenancingo
Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations
Tips for most services, including hotel rooms, van driver, guides
Day 1, Thursday, February 2: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!
Study tour group tries gives fringe-making a try in hands-on workshop
Day 2, Friday, February 3: Travel by luxury van to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Group dinner.
Day 3, Saturday, February 4: In the morning, meet some of Tenancingo’s best master weavers. We will confirm who later! The group can include Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Adolfo “Fito” Garcia Diaz, Fermin Escobar Camacho and Luis Rodriguez Martinez. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. (B, L, D)
Day 4, Sunday, February 5: Today we will visit the big, weekly rebozo market where weavers and puntadoras, the women who hand knot the rebozo fringe, sell their wares. Then, we have lunch at a beautiful outdoor family restaurant in the countryside, followed by a demonstration in late afternoon. (B, L, D)
Day 5, Monday, February 6: We leave early to spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop. First, we will have breakfast at the famous Spratling Ranch followed by a tour and silversmith demonstration. We’ll return to town for a late lunch Spratling’s home and first workshop, Las Delicias, now S’Caffecito. Then, you can roam Taxco on your own. We start our 2-hour return to Tenancingo in early evening. (B, L)
Day 6, Tuesday, February 7:Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerica carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. See how to dye and prepare ikat threads. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. (B, L, D)
Day 7, Wednesday, February 8: After breakfast, we will have a demonstration of another type of weaving, the fiber made from the Joshua Tree leaf called izote. An indigenous family will join us from the countryside to show the process that is made into beautiful, finely crafted bags, some dyed with cochineal. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebocero, do last-minute market shopping and begin packing. (B, D)
Day 8, Thursday, February 9: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico. First, we will stop to climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the adjacent museum. Then, we will visit the Museo del Barro ceramics museum to see the finest examples of Tree of Life sculptures and highly decorated, sturdy cooking pots called cazuelas. After lunch, we will have time to explore the artisans market before returning to Mexico City. Overnight in Mexico City. (B, L)
Day 9, Friday, February 10: Depart our Mexico City hotel by taxi (at your own expense) to catch your flights home. Or make your own arrangements to stay in Mexico City a little longer and enjoy the Independence Day festivities around town.
The study tour includesround trip transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City and Tenancingo, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services and most gratutities/tips. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.
The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, return taxi from Mexico City to the airport, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.
Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.
If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After the 45-day cut-off date, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.
International Travel Insurance Required.We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.
It was our last day of nine days in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, studying the ikat rebozo of Mexico. It was a free day when our ten textile study tour participants could return to visit a weaver they met earlier in the week if they wished or roam the town market.
On the backstrap loom, a stunning red, black + white ikat rebozo by Evaristo Borboa, sold to one of our participants when it is finished in six months.
Britt and I went back to visit grand master of Mexican folk art Evaristo Borboa Casas. Britt had a particular ikat (also called jaspe) rebozo on her mind all week and wanted to see if it was still available for sale. It is a difficult task to write any words in cloth using ikat technique, but Evaristo did it with a border on each side that says, Tenancingo Mi Tierra (translated to Tenancingo My Land).
After several searches through his humble home, the 90 year-old rebozero (rebozo maker) took a hike to his sister’s house fifteen minutes away, where he keeps his stash safe. But, when he got back, the ikat rebozo woven with the words Tenancingo Mi Tierra wasn’t in that pile either. We started to panic. Then, one more hunt into a dark, secret room off the bedroom and Evaristo returned with his masterpiece!
Evaristo stands upright to weave. A leather strap connects around his hips to the loom. The other end is secured to a hook on a vertical (sort of) piece of wood secured to wall and ceiling beams. He tilts back to tighten the warp threads. The warp, or the threads running through the cloth vertically, have been pre-dyed to form a pattern before the loom is dressed.
A tedious process, Evaristo only weaves 2-hours a day now instead of eleven.
A master weaver like Evaristo has perfect registration and can work many colors into the cloth if he wishes. Each weaver marks the threads with an inked pattern and everyone has their own variation on the ikat design. People around town can tell who made the cloth by its particular pattern.
The rebozo is an iconic emblem of Mexico. It is used as a protection from the sun, for evening warmth, to carry babies and transport food from the market. In the past, depending on color, one could tell whether a woman came from the country or a town or was working class or upper class or a woman of disrepute.
This Evaristo rebozo is so fine, it can be pulled through a wedding band!
It is the men who weave here because rebozos are wider than the typical Oaxaca back strap loom used by women and the wood parts are much heavier. Below is an old loom used by Evaristo. We notice in Mexico nothing is ever discarded. There might be a use for it someday.
During the 1910 Mexican Revolution the rebozo was worn like an X-shaped halter, criss-crossed over the front by women fighters who used it to carry bullets.
Photos above: Evaristo dyes and dries his warp threads next to the chicken coop where the rooster stands watch over his hens. The threads are tied to resist the dye, which creates the pattern.
Evaristo Borboa Casas, 90 year old rebozo weaver, Tenancingo, EdoMex
Today, Evaristo is only one of 27 rebozo weavers continue to create these amazing ikat cotton textiles in Tenancingo. In the 1960’s there were over 200 rebozeros. We are told there are about 1,500 women who hand-tie the repacejos or punta or fringes of the rebozo.
Puntadora Amalia shows how to tie the finest knots during our study tour
They do this part-time for a few hours day, in-between cooking, laundry, tending children, gardens and animals. They sit on low chairs, lean over a narrow table, painstakingly knotting the threads at the end of the cloth. Sometimes, depending on the intricacy, like the one above, this will take seven months!
A puntadora always has a long left thumbnail to help her secure the knots.
A selection of Evaristo’s rebozos
Evaristo does not say who makes the puntas on his rebozos. They are straight and very tight, which means there is a lot of work and time that goes into making the fringes. Based on designs, tightness of knots, and length of the punta, a rebozo’s cost is based on the time to weave the cloth (about two to three-months) and the time to tie the punta (at least three or four months).
Evaristo bending over the back strap loom
I will be organizing this rebozo study tour for either the end of September 2016 to coincide with the Tenancingo rebozo fair or in winter, mid-February 2017. There will be a few modifications in the itinerary we just completed. Please tell me if you are interested and which time of year you prefer. Get on the notification list!
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Norma Writes for Selvedge Latin Issue
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
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