Tag Archives: textiles

Where Flowers Grow on Cloth: Flor de Xochistlahuaca

The Amusgo people span the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in the mountain region of the Costa Chica between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco. They are back-strap loom weavers of an extraordinary garment called the huipil. This particular textile is fine gauze cotton, a loose weave, to offer comfort to the hot, humid climate. Even in winter, a light-weight covering is preferred.

Gretchen with her fabulous native green and coyuchi cotton shawl, doll and weavers
Beautiful embroidered bodice of under-slip

Our group of eleven travelers made our way up the coast over a six-day period to explore the textile villages of the region. Xochistlahuaca was our northernmost destination.

Understanding the weaving process, time it takes to make
Left, textile dyed with indigo with native coyuchi and white cotton, right, natural dyes

I have known about this cooperative Flor de Xochistlahuaca for years. They participated in Oaxaca City expoventas at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Social entrepreneurs and textile consultants Ana Paula Fuentes and Maddalena Forcella worked with the cooperative, too, to help them develop marketing, promotion and economic development plans.

Wearing glorious textiles, surrounded by glorious textiles

When we arrive, the director Yessie greeted us warmly and introduced us to many of the 39 cooperative members who were there to meet us. They range in age from young adults to aging grandmothers. They are talented spinners and weavers, and their design and color sensibility is unparalleled.

Talking and listening, sharing stories about our lives

What was remarkable about this visit is that we sat opposite each other, face to face, gave self-introductions, and had an opportunity to learn about the role and life of women in the village and our experience as women living in the USA and Canada.

Examples of fine supplementary weft weaving from Flor de Xochistlahuaca

I encourage our travelers to think of ourselves as amateur cultural anthropologist, to ask the people we meet about what they love about their work and home life. They are curious about us and we answer their questions. We are curious about them, the challenges they face, the dreams they have for their children, and what they want to improve quality of life. We are there to learn, listen, understand, share and also support by buying direct from the makers.

A native green cotton shawl on the loom, almost completed
A simple vase with native coyuchi and white cotton on stems

We tell them our ages and where we are from. We share our marital status: widowed, married, divorced, always single. We learn that collectively we are similar. One woman says she never married because she didn’t want a husband directing her life and taking her money.

The dialog exchange at Flor de Xochistlahuaca

Among our group are weavers, dyers, sewers, collectors, teachers, writers, lovers of beautiful cloth. They are culture-keepers who spend days taking care of family, cleaning, cooking, shopping, doing laundry. The cooperative gives them the freedom to weave uninterrupted several days a week and get away from the responsibilities of taking care of others. Women rotate being there. They say it gives them a sense of independence and camaraderie.

Innovating new products: Dolls with traditional cloth
Linda with her purchases and the women who made them

Over lunch at a local comedor we talk about life differences and similarities. Some say it appears that village life is more simple and we dig deeper into what that means. I think it is more basic but it is not more simple. As foreigners living in the frenzy of post-industrial, consumer-based, technology-focused environments, we have a tendency to romanticize what many call a simpler lifestyle. Many of us yearn for that.

Completing the finishing touches — seam embellishments

Women’s lives are complex whether we live in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, or Chicago, Illinois. We worry about our children, their education, health care, whether there is enough money for essentials and extras. We work at home or outside the home or both. Maybe we have aging parents who need care or an alcoholic or abusive spouse, or a child with special needs. We have dreams that may never be realized.

As we travel through the textile world of Oaxaca, doors open to us to connect and understand, offering a richer travel experience.

Native white and coyuchi brown cotton on the backstrap loom

Let me know if you would like to travel with us on a January 2020 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Send me an email. I will only offer this trip if there are 6 people ready to make a $500 deposit to secure a reservation.

Only another hour to go!
The most delicious pozole ever for lunch
Locally baked bread, Xochistlahuaca
The restaurant owner wearing her daily commercial lace dress, with daughter

Textil_Zacoalpan, Ometepec, Guerrero — Rescuing Ancient Cloth

In my search to find another weaving group to visit near Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, I stumbled upon 23-year-old Ignacio Gomez on Instagram. He is using the social media site to promote Textil_Zacoalpan. What stood out in the photos were the use of natural dyes and the native cotton — coyuchi brown, verde green, and the creamy white — that distinguish the pre-Hispanic fibers used to make the huipil.

The weaving group Textil_Zacoalpan

I could tell these were quality pieces that deserved a stop and the attention of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour group of very supportive women. We contacted him to set up a visit.

Native coyuchi cotton huipiles. Supplementary weft designs are commercial threads.

Ignacio is a university engineering student. He is passionate about keeping the traditions of his village and helping his family. The women in his family are the hand-spinners, dyers and weavers. The men work the fields to grow corn, beans and squash, and tend the native cotton plants.

Women of the Textil_Zacoalpan cooperative with Ignacio Gomez

Though Zacoalpan is just twenty minutes from Xochistlahuaca, it feels like a world apart, much more rustic and basic. The family speaks Amusgo. Because Ignacio also speaks Spanish, he can bridge the language gap and aim to bring visitors to the house.

We were the first group to visit the family where they live and work. It felt like a personal discovery.

You’ll notice that because Xochistlahuaca is the dominant village, the Zacoalpan women have adopted the traje (dress style) of their neighbors. The original village dress is woven entirely of coyuchi cotton.

Grandmother spins using the malacate that rests in a gourd bowl

As we learned more, we went back and forth between Amusgo, Spanish and English to get a fuller picture of the natural dyes they use, the designs and iconography that tell the story of life in the woven cloth, and how women take their best huipils with them to the grave.

Yes, throughout the Amusgo language and cultural group that spans the Oaxaca and Guerrero border, women are buried in the huipil they were married in. They also take their best ones, sometimes as many as 10 or 20, to the grave to travel with them to the next life.

Rescued cloth still life — supplementary weft and embroidered

Few examples of old, traditional huipiles exist for this reason. So, it is difficult to conserve the ancient patterns. Ignacio showed us scraps of fabric, frayed and faded, from the 1960’s and 1970’s, as examples of past designs that he found and the family is replicating.

Rescued piece of native green cotton

Textiles deteriorate quickly in hot, humid climates. Preservation is almost impossible on the local level. I wondered, how could the 1960’s be considered old?

Ignacio’s display of dye stuffs included skeins dyed with almond leaf, nanche fruit tree bark, caoba, zapote negro fruit, and muitle, a wild, green leaf that will tinge white cotton a blue-green. Muitle, a Nahuatl word, is also found in the Oaxaca valley and used as a dye for wool rug yarn.

Nanche bark is a common dye material here

The huipiles are woven using a back-strap loom weaving technique called supplementary weft. On the bodice, around the collar, there is intricate cross-stitch embroidery, too, that is called punto de cruz in Spanish. The Colonials loved floral motifs and encouraged weavers from this region to make cloth abundant with flowers and needlework.

The iconography includes mountains, the zochipal flower, four-legged animals and sea life, corn plants and seeds, birds, pineapples, squash blossoms, fertility, and the four cardinal points. The result is unique to each maker. Every weaver has a personal story to tell.

This is a coastal, tropical climate, so the weaving is fine and gauzy, comfortable to wear. Usually, three wefts or widths of cloth are used for the huipil. They are sewn together using a triple-point stitch typical of Zacoalapan randas. The randa is needle lace, sometimes simple, sometimes intricate, that connects two pieces of cloth together. In ancient times, the spiny tip of the agave leaf was used as a needle.

It takes five kilos (about 11 pounds) of hand-spun cotton thread to make one long huipil.

Coyuchi brown cotton huipiles hang for sale

Now, it is unusual to find a huipil woven with 100% coyuchi cotton since it is becoming very rare. The same for the algodon verde, the green cotton, that some locals also call coyuchi verde. There were several that Ignacio’s family offered for sale along with several blusas woven with the green cotton. We saw this cotton in other villages used only for embellishment on white.

Cross-stitch embroidered neckline with birds

It takes five-plus hours driving north from Puerto Escondido to reach Zacoalpan. Clearly, this is off-the-beaten path and a destination only for dedicated textile enthusiasts. I hope we will go again.

Drop spindles called malacates, green and brown cotton

If you are interested in joining us for a January 2020 textile study tour to the Oaxaca Coast, please contact me. I will only offer this trip if there are six people committed to go by May 1, 2019 with a $500 deposit.

Exvotos Mexican Folk Art, Vintage + Silver Jewelry, Pillow Covers Sale

Mexico’s Ex-Votos are collectible naive folk art that tell a story of thanksgiving for being saved from near-death or disaster. Yes, it was a miracle to survive.  Usually, the person who escaped tragedy would hire a local artist to paint a tin square depicting the scene. The message of thanks may have included many misspellings, as the painters were not educated. They often include depictions of the saint to whom the supplicant is sending prayers of thanks.

Three of the exvotos are reproductions by famed Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. One is a vintage piece dating from the 1950’s, acquired from a collector friend.

To Buy: Send me an email and tell me which piece(s) you want indicating the number of the item, your name and mailing address. I will send you a PayPal invoice and add-on $8 USD for USPS priority mail if you are in the lower 48 states.

Time sensitive. Purchases must be made by Monday, December 10, 2018. I fly away to North Carolina on December 12, and I’ll need time to package for taking with me.

#1. Vintage Exvoto, 1950s, $495

#1 is a whimsical, vintage exvoto, rare and in excellent condition for its age, is a perfect example of naive folk art, painted at Chapala, Jalisco in the 1950s, according to my collector friend in Mexico City (and she should know!). It says: Gracias a la virgencita y el niño por senar a mi hijo enfermo de Tifoidea a anto de morir. El sans infinitamente agracidas. (signed) Lupe Ma. Miraflores Lopez, Chapala, Jalisco.  (Thanks to the little virgin and her son for saving my son from typhoid before he died. He is infinitely thankful.) Measures 10-1/4″ x 8-1/2″

#2, Skeletons, $135

#2 is a reproduction by famed Mexico City exvoto artist Rafael Rodriguez, painted on tin. It measures 14-1/4″ x 10-1/4″ and says: Roperta Lara da las gracias con esta laminita pues unas calaveras nos atacaran a mi y mi vieja. Puebla, 9 de julio de 1940. Roperta Lara gives thanks with this plaque since the skeletons didn’t attack me and my old lady.

#3, The Temptress Snake Woman, $110

#3 is a reproduction by famed Mexico City exvoto artist Rafael Rodriguez. It measures 12″ x 9-3/4″ and says: Contava la gente que salia una serpiente mujer que se lleva va a los hombres a su gruta y alli se los come hasta con zapatos y zombrero.  Jalisco a 5 de Julio de 1938.  Saved from Contava the snake woman who comes out of her cave and captures men and eats them, except for their shoes and hat.

#4 Rufina Estrada is saved, $75

#4 is an exvoto reproduction by Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. It measures 10″ x 7-1/2″ and says: Rufina Estrada dedica esta laminita porque me salve de la huesuda. San Luis, a 11 de enero 1939. Rufina Estrada dedicates this plaque because she was saved from death. San Luis, January 11, 1939.

#5 Vintage Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Silver & White Heart Necklace, $795

#5 is a rare necklace, attributed to Patzcuaro, Michoacan, according to famous Oaxaca jeweler Federico, from whom I bought this some years ago. The beads are vintage, rare and collectible Venetian glass trade beads called White Hearts, brought to the Americas by Cortes. There are 15 handmade silver Virgin of Soledad (?) pendants, each 1-1/2″ long by 7/8″ wide. Pendants have various designs. The necklace is 20″ long. An outstanding piece.

#5 detail, pendants have several unique designs

#6 is a vintage sterling silver beaded necklace, Taxco, $265

#6 is one of those unusual finds, 40 perfectly formed 15 mm beads made in the heyday of Taxco silversmithing, probably from the 1960’s. 23-1/2″ long. I bought these beads in Puebla. The chain broke and I had them restrung on very sturdy jewelers wire.

#6 detail of Taxco bead necklace

#8 new, Spratling sterling silver chain, $395

#8 detail, Spratling stamp

#8 is a new William Spratling sterling silver chain, made in the Spratling studios in Taxco, Guerrero, and is 22″ long. It is a contemporary piece cast from Spratling’s original molds by the Ulrich sisters, who own the famed franchise and whose father was Spratling’s business partner before Spratling died. 

#9 sterling and inlaid abalone shell fish pin, $95

#9 is a perfect specimen of Taxco silver and inlay mastery, from the 60’s or 70’s. 1-1/4″ wide by 1″ high. The abalone shell glimmers and the silver work is pristine. Fish pin, inlaid abalone on silver. Excellent. $95.

#9 Detail

Three Pillow Covers From Chiapas

These pillow covers are woven by the famed cooperative El Camino de Los Altos by women who use back strap looms. The designs are not embroidered, they are woven into the cloth. They each measure 17″ x 16-1/2″ and they are $35 each.

#10 Deep Gray, $35

#11, Gold, $25

#12, White, $35

Podcast: Tixinda Dreamweavers Plus Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Listen to the WEAVE Podcast from Gist Yarn & Fiber

Today, Sarah Resnick from Gist Yarn & Fiber, talks with Patrice Perillie, an immigration attorney based in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Mixtec weaver Amada Sanchez Cruz from Pinotepa de Don Luis.  She also interviews Norma Schafer at the end of the segment.

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Patrice started the non-profit Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative twelve years ago. Her goal was to keep very talented artisans in Mexico instead of migrating to the USA where jobs are limited to cleaning houses and washing dishes in restaurants.

Listen to their story — a 26-minute investment of your time

Tixinda Dreamweavers ethically harvests the endangered sea snail that gives the rare purple dye. The group grows pre-Hispanic native cotton. They use the malacate — drop spindle — to make the thread. They weave extraordinary clothing using the back-strap loom.

Weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis, with cochineal

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator sponsored this Podcast. At the end of the segment, I talk about why we take textile lovers to the Coast of Oaxaca to explore the weaving, natural dyeing and hand-spinning culture.

Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado

Pinotepa de Don Luis is one of five villages we will visit on our January 11-21, 2019 textile study tour on the Oaxaca coast. For our Grand Finale, we attend the Tixinda Dreamweavers Exposition and Sale. A noted cultural anthropologist will travel with us. We go deep into the textile culture of the region. You meet extraordinary artisans where they live and create.

4 Spaces Open: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Women of the Ji Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado

 

A Word About Chiapas From Trish Tieger

I want to share this with you. It came to me this week unsolicited from Trish Tieger who lives along the Hudson River Valley in New York State. She traveled with us to Chiapas in 2018 and wanted me to know about her experience.

Dear Norma,

So much time has passed since we returned from our (or at least it was for me) fabulous time in Chiapas. Life got away from me and I never did write to say “thank you.”  The people and places we got to see, by way of your thoughtful scheduling and excellent contacts, were amazing. There is no way that if I arrived solo in San Cris, that I could have found my way so well into the countryside.

Your trip provided everything that I was hoping for—I was seeking a speck of adventure—and a great desire to be in contact with indigenous people—either in Mexico or the Andes. As I was working on this half-baked plan, I was excited when a friend came up with your name and itinerary. It never had occurred to me that one could find tours that went out with very small groups. (The large ones, with people packed onto tour buses and going to “tourist sites” had never held interest for me and yet I was hesitant about going where I wanted all by myself.)

What you offered was the perfect match for my needs of the moment. It is very cool that you have made a life of taking like-minded travelers to locations that are lesser known and not so available. Anyway, thank you so much for the terrific ride. It was wonderful.

Best wishes,

Trish Tieger

There are five openings for our February 27-March 8, 2019, Chiapas Textile Study Tour Deep Into the Maya World. Step into the adventure with us!

Here are some links to posts I wrote about the last trip:

Women make, sell, suckle babes in Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas

Andrea Diaz Hernandez weaves for eight months, San Andres Larrainzar