Tag Archives: tour

Textile Flower Bouquets of San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Zinacantan is about thirty minutes by taxi from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. They grow flowers here. Large greenhouses dominate the landscape like a checkerboard rising from the valley to the hillsides.

Flower growing Zinacantan garden embroidered on cloth

This is a prosperous community that exports this produce throughout Mexico, as far as Mexico City and Merida.

Toddler cradled in an embroidered rebozo carrier with scalloped chal

Local dress reflects this love of flowers. Women’s skirts and chals (shawls), men’s pants and ponchos, and rebozos to cradle babies are densely embroidered with flower motifs.

Machined cross-stitch embroidery. Can you tell the difference?

It used to be that this work was all done by hand. Now, the embroidery machine has taken over the life of the cloth, which is often completely covered in intricate flower motifs so dense you can hardly see the base fabric.

Family shop together on market day

It used to be that the base cloth was woven on a back strap loom. This is now rarely the case. Most is either woven on the treadle loom or by commercial machine.

Bling blouses–machine embroidered bodices on shiny synthetic cloth. Beautiful.

It used to be that the village was identified by its hot pink cloth. Now, we see purples and blues. It’s common to see shiny colored threads in both the woven cloth and the embroidery thread. Fashions change and the Zinacantecas innovate new designs, use new color variations, and new embroidery motifs.

Woman working her needle by hand on the street, a rarity

Far beyond Mexico City, Mexican women love their bling.

Sheri Brautigam and I went early to Zinacantan yesterday on a discovery trip to check out new places to take the next Chiapas Textile Study Tour group. Sunday is Zinacantan market day but you have to get there early. The women with textiles have spread out their wares on the street at 6:00 a.m. and start putting their things away by 10:30 a.m.

New designs this year, short scalloped collar shawl

Our best advice is go there first before Chamula.

My find of the day: hand embroidered chal, front and back

2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Taking reservations now.

Wander the streets off the Zocalo. There are homes and stalls that sell good new and vintage textiles. The old pieces might be ten, fifteen or twenty years old. People stop wearing them because the colors are outdated not because the cloth is worn.

Costume is worn with cultural pride everyday

You can easily spend an hour here.

A rainbow of threads for embroidery machines in the market.

Here you will find hand embroidered cloth woven on back strap looms. This could include cross-stitch (punto de cruz) and French knots, in addition to other traditional needlework. How can you tell? Turn it over and look at the underside.

Meandering the streets we come across handmade leather shoes

The embroidery machine has come to Chiapas and can replicate cross-stitch and everything else. The village women now wear the work made by machine and it’s beautiful, too. Everything is a personal choice!

Market day goes on under the destruction of San Lorenzo Church

The obvious tragedy is the damage to the Church of San Lorenzo during the September 7, 2017, earthquake that rattled Chiapas and the southern Oaxaca coast. The destruction dominates the horizon. The church is closed until further notice by INAH. People say it may be impossible to repair. There is talk in the village about building another church.

Saints in temporary corrugated home. Photo by Carol Estes.

I remember entering the candlelit space in years past where all corners were adorned with flowers, abundant, fragrant. The altar was like a floral arrangement unlike any other I had seen. The aroma made me swoon. Now, the saints have been removed to a corrugated shed. INAH is responsible for all historic churches in Mexico. Few in and around San Cristobal de Las escaped damage. There is years of work to be done. Will Mexico have the will to repair?

September 2017 earthquake toppled houses, too.

Back on the street we find hand-woven and embroidered bags, silky polyester blouses machine embroidered with complementary colors, belt sashes and skirt fabric. Since it’s market day, tarps are also covered with piles of fruits and vegetables, and staples for the home.

1930s wedding, San Lorenzo Zinacantan

The Aztecs ruled this territory before the Spanish. They dominated as far south as Nicaragua. The Zinacantecos had strong links with the Aztecs, and enjoyed a privileged trading relationship. The village served as political/economic center for Aztec control of the region before the Spanish reached Chiapas in 1523. Our friend Patricio tells us that many locals intermarried with Nahuatl speaking Mexica’s.

The Zinacantan feathered wedding dress is a carry over from this past.

Leaving San Cristobal at 9:00 a.m. for Zinacantan

Taxi to get there, 150 pesos from San Cristobal de Las Casas.  Taxi to return, 100 pesos. Get it at the back corner of the church before you enter the market street.

On our hotel street, end of day








It costs about 150 pesos to get there.

Bonus–Yochib, Oxchuc, Chiapas: Portrait of Young Girl with Dog

Oaxaca and Chiapas have a lot in common. They are the two poorest states in Mexico, have the lowest literacy rates and in the rural areas there is little or no access to health care.

Chiapas and Oaxaca have the highest percentage of indigenous people in Mexico, yet they are under-represented in politics and business, lack access to education.

Because of the rural character of each state, people are isolated and removed from the mainstream. They produce some of the most exquisite textiles in all of  Mexico.

For this entire time in Chiapas, I am using only my iPhone 8Plus with zoom lens. All the photos you’ve seen since February 12 are from my portable device with very little editing. I’m a devotee. Thinking of selling other equipment!

Thank you for following this adventure. There is more to come. Our Chiapas Textile Study Tour Group 2 starts this coming Tuesday evening.

Join us for 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, February 27-March 8

Cultural Meaning in Magdalenas Aldama: Chiapas Textile Study Tour

Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.

Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa

Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.

Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom

This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.

Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom

On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.

Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes

Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.

A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make

Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:

  • The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
  • The sacred forest — pine trees
  • The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
  • The Toad — harbinger of the rainy season
  • The Vision Serpent  — to guide the way
  • Plus any personal designs preferred by the weaver

The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas

During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.

  • How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
  • Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
  • Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
  • Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?

First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).

Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth

Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.

The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo

After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.

Young nursing mother waits for a sale

Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.

Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)

  • Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.

Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough

  • Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different. 

Children entertaining themselves. No television here.

  • Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.

Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes

  • Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?

Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes

Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.

Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children

Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.

Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes

Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz

Chiapas Textile Study Tour Snapshot: Thursday In and Around Tenejapa

On Thursday, we spent the day outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas, on the road to Tenejapa village, Romerillo Maya cemetery and then to the home of Maruch and her son Tesh in the Chamula district of Chiapas.

First stop, Tenejapa for the Thursday market and textile cooperative

Cynthia with Maria Meza, coop manager

Taking registrations now for 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

Walking along the village market street, Gail spots a huipil hanging inside a shop

Look inside doorways to see textiles are hanging from the rafters

Small doorways open from the street into hardware stores, pharmacies, bakeries, tienditas (little stores), dry goods suppliers. The inside is often obscure. Sometimes, there are textile treasures — hand embroidery, traditional clothing made on back strap looms — hanging on clothes lines. You have to look for them.

Out on the street the market is a crush of people, fruit, veggies, meat and more

Tenejapa. Still remote enough that foreign visitors are an anomaly. Children and adults are curious, shy and distant. I saw about six Europeans in addition to our group during this market day.

Market day in Tenejapa means handmade textiles for sale, too.

The population of Tenejapa is 99.5% indigenous. About 99.8% speak an indigenous language, and almost 53% speak only their native language and do not speak Spanish. Health care services and educational opportunities are limited. Maya culture and traditional folk practices are strong.

She is minding the store and watching the passersby.

The village celebrates Carnavale with pre-Lenten festivities on February 15

Traditional dress of a Tenejapa man, once commonplace. Now for ceremonies only.

Adults and children participate. Mayordomos and their wives observe.

Next we stop at Romerillo cemetery to understand Maya burial practices

The Maya practice syncretism, a blend of mystical pre-Hispanic beliefs and Spanish Catholicism. Mostly, they are spiritual and keep their connection to ancient traditions.

The Maya cross represents the four cardinal points, a pre-Hispanic symbol

The Romerillo cemetery is on a grand hill overlooking a valley. Wood planks cover graves so that the living can communicate with and ask advice from the dead.

Evangelization was easier for the Spanish; the symbol existed before they arrived.

After lunch, we take a dirt road to rural Chamula territory to meet Maruch

Maruch and her family raise their own sheep, shear and wash the wool, card and spin. Sheep are sacred, raised for their fleece and not for food.

Carding, hand-spinning with the malacate and weaving on the back strap loom 

Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. We are accepting registrations now.

Hand carding local sheep wool for spinning

Using the malacate drop spindle to spin wool and prepare it for weaving.

We are an hour away from San Cristobal de Las Casas, but it feels as if time stands still here and we are standing in a place that could have been 500 years ago. Isolation preserves culture, but it also marginalizes native peoples.

Lanita models a furry capelet woven by Maruch

Sheep wool skirts and capelets are made to look like a furry animal, repel moisture and keep people warm. There is no heat and it’s chilly at 7,000 feet altitude in February.

At cooperative Huellas Que Trascienden, Lanita and Cynthia

We finished off the day with a visit to a new cooperative in the city that names the weaver of each garment with a featured photo on the hang tag. Recognition is finally coming to the women who do the work! We did our best to support them.


2019 Oaxaca Textile Study Tour: San Mateo del Mar and the Purple Snail

Saturday, January 5 to Thursday, January 10, 2019 — Six days, five nights immersed in the weaving and natural dyeing culture of Oaxaca’s southern coast. You can take this short-course independently or add it on to the front end of our Costa Chica study tour. 


  • Saturday, January 5, arrive in Huatulco on Oaxaca’s mid-coast. Overnight in or near Huatulco (D)
  • Sunday, January 6, spend the day on the rocky shore line to see how the native snail — caracol purpura — that gives off the purple dye is protected and cultivated. Our expert is Habacuc, a member of the Pinotepa de Don Luis community authorized to harvest this rare crustacean. Overnight in or near Huatulco (B, L)

Caracol purpura dyed cotton thread before it goes to the loom

  • Monday, January 7 through Wednesday, January 9, travel and stay in to Salina Cruz where we will be based to explore the nearby Ikoots coastal village of San Mateo del Mar. Here, fine cotton gauze is woven on the back strap loom.  Turtles, fish, crabs, birds, palm trees are incorporated into the cloth that show the area’s relationship to the sea.  Our visit to several weaving cooperatives includes a contribution to the 2017 September 17 earthquake relief fund that is helping restore village services. (B, L)

Cloth embellished with figures from the natural world

  • Thursday, January 10, we return to Huatulco where we will drop you off at the airport for an afternoon departure time or you can continue up the coast with us to Puerto Escondido. Its a five-hour drive from Salina Cruz to Puerto Escondido along MEX 200. We’ll have lunch in or near Huatulco to break up the trip. Lodging on the night of January 10 is on your own. (B, L)

Finely woven blusa from San Mateo del Mar

What the Trip Includes:

  • 5 nights lodging
  • 5 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 1 dinner
  • Guided boat trip on Huatulco coast to harvest the caracol purpura
  • All van transportation from Huatulco to San Mateo del Mar and back to either Huatulco or Puerto Escondido
  • Donation to San Mateo del Mar earthquake relief fund

What the Short-Course DOES NOT Include: Airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service from airport to hotel.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Resources, Glossary of Terms

Cost to Participate

  • $1,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,895 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Who Should Attend

  • Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
  • Those interested in natural dyes, cultural preservation
  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

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

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last 50% payment is due on or before November 15, 2018. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before November 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.