Tag Archives: weaving

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015

Oaxaca Show & Sale, July 25-26: To Benefit Artisans and Artists at Las Bugambilias B&B

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Jess Schreibstein Writes About Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca Weaving Workshop at Fringe Association

Fringe is a common thread for knitters, weavers, sewers and textile artists around the world. It’s a metaphor for finishing the edge, binding off, completion and embellishment.

Here’s what Jess wrote in Fringe Association, a blog for knitters.

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Jess wove this tepete (rug) in four days! A traditional Zapotec feather pattern with naturally dyed wool: cochineal, moss, wild marigold.

Jess Schreibstein came to Oaxaca for a wedding in May.  She wanted to experience something special beyond the wedding celebration.  So she contacted us about taking a four-day Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom with Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife, Lola, in Teotitlan del Valle.

A writer, artist, photographer, cook and founder of the D.C. Food Swap, Jess asked for customized dates that would fit into her travel schedule.  We were happy to make this arrangement for her that included lodging and meals at a local guesthouse.

Here’s what Jess wrote to me about her experience:

I want to thank you personally for organizing such a wonderful trip to Teotitlan and my workshop with Federico.  It was one of the richest weeks of my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that you provided.  Thank you!

twitter: @jschreibstein
instagram: @thekitchenwitch
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If you would like a customized weaving workshop to fit into your travel schedule, please contact us!

 

Oaxaca Weaving: The Flying Shuttle Loom

The flying shuttle loom is a European innovation brought to Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Industrial Revolution. It joins the back-strap loom and the fixed frame two-harness pedal loom as one of the major three weaving technologies still widely used in Oaxaca today.

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The advantage of the flying shuttle loom is that it can create wider, lighter weight fabrics from cotton, perfect for long and wide tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, curtains, and shawls. Made-by-hand, it is semi-automated, but requires the design skill and judgment of the weaver.

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There are two neighborhoods that use the flying shuttle loom : Santo Tomas Xochimilco and San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Today, we focus on Xochimilco. Most textiles made with a flying shuttle loom use commercial cotton thread colored with chemical dyes, although sometimes you can find pieces made with natural dyes.

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Once, the neighborhood of Xochimilco was humming with the sound of the flying shuttle. The loom has a distinct, rhythmic sound, a beat, beat, as the weaver moves the handle back and forth, which operates the opening of the warp threads and the direction of the shuttle.  It is fast, and the weaver sways with the beat.

Today, I could find only a few weavers in Xochimilco still using this loom.

Trailing along with Susan, Carol and Norma Dos on a mid-week excursion there in search of textiles, we come across two workshops on either end of Calle Dr. G. Bolaños Cacho between the Iglesia Santo Tomas Xochimilco. One is at the corner of Avenida Venus and the other is at the corner of Macedonio Alcala. To find them, just listen for the looms. On the day we visit, the jacaranda trees are in full purple regalia!

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In my opinion, the finest quality is produced by Casa Jimenez Taller Textil. They have several locations.  The easiest to find is at the El Pochote organic market every Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., located in the patio of the 16th Century Santo Tomas Xochimilco Church.

The looms are located way up the hill at Calle 1 de Mayo #105 in Colonia Aurora.

But they have a small gallery closer to Conzatti Park in the Jardin Carbajal, a square near the corner of Calle Xolotl and Calle Macedonio Alcala. It’s just a few doors down from El Quinque, which I’m told, has the best hamburgers in town!

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See the turquoise tablecloth that she is holding in the photo above. That’s the one I got my son for a gift. The fringes are hand-tied, just like a rebozo. The weave is tight and even. The cost: well-under $40 USD.

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Handwoven Basket Fair: San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

Today was the first of two Sundays when the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia holds its annual basket fair.  Next Sunday, February 2, is the last day.  They open in the compact zocalo at 9 a.m.  By the time we got there, close to noon, there wasn’t much left.  Before I could say basket, two that caught my eye were snatched up from under my outstretched arm.

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The bamboo used to make the baskets is picked young and green, much easier to manipulate.  Then, it is washed and stripped.  After the basket is complete, the sturdy handles are wrapped with palm leaves. Most of the Zapotec women in the central valleys of Oaxaca prefer these baskets for daily shopping use.  The handle fits easily over the crook of the elbow, is smooth and comfortable.  

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Both men and women are basket weavers.  They are also makers of corn husk flowers, lamp shades, bird cages, decorative woven bottle coverings, and traditional storage baskets for maize.

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Some of the workmanship is so fine, one wonders how fingers can weave the course strips of bamboo, let alone strip the cane and prepare it for the weaving process.  The basket I bought is above, left, held by the weaver who made it.  He was happy and so was I.

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Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca is a craft in decline and I have included this link to an academic paper that references San Juan Guelavia and their struggle to keep this craft tradition alive.

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I hope you get to the Feria (fair) next Sunday.  I paid 140 pesos for a beautiful handmade basket, quite large.  That’s about $11 USD.  A day’s wage here in Oaxaca.  Who knows how long it took to make!  Looks like more than a day to me.  A basket this size for sale at the Tlacolula market would cost double the price, maybe more, and still a bargain at that!

Boys play while parents shop

Boys at play while parents shop

In addition to the baskets, there is lots of home-style cooked food like quesadillas, tamales, and hot steamed corn-on-the-cob.  Come and linger.

Where to Find San Juan Guelavia:  From Oaxaca City, take any bus or colectivo taxi heading to Tlacolula or Mitla.  Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crossroads (which is about 1/2 mile before you get to Teotitlan del Valle, and maybe five miles beyond El Tule).  There are village taxis and tuk-tuks that will take you along the beautiful curving road that leads to the village, set about three miles off the Panamerican Highway 190, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.