Tag Archives: weaving

Cultural Continuity and Sustainability in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Valley

I thought it was important for the North Carolina State University Study Abroad students to spend an overnight in an indigenous Zapotec village while they were here in Oaxaca. So, I recommended to Professor Ricardo Hernandez that we include a stay in Teotitlan del Valle as as part of our itinerary.

Teotitlan del Valle church sits atop Zapotec temple, archeological site

The students were here in Oaxaca — the valley and the coast — to study sustainability. Through the experience they learned that the definition is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It has to do with the land and her people, traditions and beliefs, values and practices. It is economic and social and political. It is still small scale agriculture here where farmers use age-old practices rather than technology.

It is instructive to study cultures where people have been successful for generations by transmitting knowledge as a way of life.

The market experience in Teotitlan del Valle

Afterall, this is the region where corn (maize) was hybridized over 8,000 years ago up the road at Yagul. We talked about Monsanto and GMO, how to overcome hunger and develop crops abundant enough to feed people without sacrificing nutrition. We compared the industrialized agriculture of the USA and the disappearance of family farms, and noticed how things work — and don’t — in Mexico.

Olivia, Alysia and Emory enjoy artisanal hot chocolate

I arranged for them to sleep at two local bed and breakfast inns — Casa Elena and Las Granadas B&B — operated by three generations of women. They ate home-cooked and delicious meals prepared from locally sourced, organic meat and vegetables.

After lunch at El Sabor Zapoteco, Reyna Mendoza treats us to nieves de tuna

Teotitlan del Valle is one of the few villages that still operates a daily market. It is a sight to behold entrepreneurial farmers and vendors who sell native corn, squash, beans, squash blossoms, poultry and meat, and more, plus all the household necessities for a home to operate here.

After indigo dye demonstration, the group gathers for a photo, Galeria Fe y Lola

After the market, we toured the church and noted the carved stones inlaid into its walls. When the Spanish arrived, they razed the Zapotec temple and used the stones to build the church walls. The stucco has been peeled away to reveal this part of the village history. We walked around the back side of the church to see the recently restored archeological site that was the temple foundation.

Grace tries her hand at weaving with Omar, while Alysia is next in line

This is a rug weaving village. There are now about 10,000 people who live here and more than 2,000 looms. Only about a dozen families use natural dyes to color the wool they use. We visited one of them — the home workshop of Galeria Fe y Lola –to see the process and learn about this part of the culture.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the Chavez Santiago family makes red dye from cochineal
Professor Hernandez talks with master weaver Federico “Fe” Chavez Sosa

Student takeaways:

  • It was wonderful to be in the village market and explore it on our own.
  • Meeting 26-year old Omar Chavez Santiago from Galeria Fe y Lola was a testimony to artisan life and pride of workmanship — he is dedicated to continuing his culture. This is refreshing to see.
  • The church offered me a glimpse into the blend of Zapotec and Catholic traditions.
  • There is a reverence for community here that we don’t see at home.
  • Families are close-knit, welcoming to outsiders.
  • Everyone was consistently kind.
  • It was important to see the different ways people earn an income: baking bread, sewing, selling food, services and repair work, doctors and teachers, musicians and weavers — it looks like a self-sustaining community.
  • Walking the back streets of the town gave me a perspective for how people live in rural Mexico.
Watch and listen to Omar Chavez Santiago talk about natural dyes
Guillermo decides to take this one home to Wilson, NC

At Gracias a Dios mezcal palenque in Santiago Matatlan at the far end of the Tlacolula Valley, Emmy Hernandez, the daughter of mezcalero Oscar Hernandez, showed us the artesanal process of making this distilled beverage. Agave is an important native plant and agricultural product in the region. It contributes to Oaxaca’s economy and reputation as a tourist destination. This is also a family business and Emmy is the next generation to sustain it.

Mezcal, not at all like NC moonshine, yet still made by the same process

How many different types of agaves are there? They say over 200 types of agaves exist and 30 are suitable for making mezcal. Espadin is cultivated and easily to reproduce, and therefore, the most sustainable. The wild, or silvestre agaves, have a long growth cycle and are rare. I love cuishe (also spelled cuixe) and tepextate and tobala. For everyone harvested, some growers like Gracias a Dios are planting three to replace them. The wild ones are earthy and take on the flavors of the soil they grow in.

We are accepting reservations for 2020 and 2021 university study abroad programs. It takes about a year to plan this program. Please contact us for a proposal. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Agave in the fermentation vats — oak barrels, just like wine-making
Emmy Hernandez, the next generation to sustain artisanal mezcal

UK’s Selvedge Magazine Includes Chiapas Textile Article by Norma Schafer

While I was traveling in Japan this spring, I received an email from Selvedge Magazine editor Laura Gray inviting me to contribute an article to the June 15, 2019 publication. Topic: Anything you want to write about Chiapas textiles, she said.

As I thought about the Maya women in Chiapas villages who weave, the most impact they have on me is how they choose to incorporate the designs of their beliefs and everyday life into the cloth. Cloth has meaning which gives it life and longevity. So, the article is about what these designs mean and their significance to the weavers.

Preview of the article about woven identity in Maya textiles of Chiapas. Gala huipil is woven with naturally dyed wool with supplementary weft technique, Tenejapa, Chiapas

You may have difficulty reading the text of the article I wrote above. I reformatted it from PDF to JPG so I could publish it here. I encourage you to purchase the issue that will be published on June 15, 2019. It contains an compendium of information by other contributors, too, including Marcella Echavarria, Anne Menke and Ana Elena Mallet who live and work in Mexico, collect and study the indigenous textiles woven and embroidered here.

I will be leading a Chiapas Textile Study Tour during winter 2020 with Textile Fiestas of Mexico author Sheri Brautigam. Dates are February 25 to March 4, 2020. There are a few spaces open. Please send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com if you want to join us.

Gala huipil, cotton, San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas
A woman’s signature is figurative, woven into the bottom line of the cloth

Selvedge, Magazine organizing and hosting a World Fair in London, July 2020. I’d like to go and have applied to do a presentation with my goddaughter, Zapotec linguist Janet Chavez Santiago. If accepted, our talk will be about cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation, identity and the politics of indigenous cloth. I’ll keep you posted about whether it will come to pass!

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

Leslie’s Regrets Sale: Clothing From Chiapas and Oaxaca

I had this crazy idea of starting an on-line e-commerce website marketplace to sell and resell new and like-new Mexico clothing AND my own dress design.

(Skip the story, if you like, and scroll down to the goods.)

(I’ve been making and wearing the same dress pattern in different fabrics for the last several years. I thought, oh, I could make and sell these dresses too, because women have stopped to ask me where I bought  it!)

I bought a domain name and tried to set up a Shopify store for the last two weeks. I’m frustrated. I can’t seem to get it. Too complicated. Too much time invested without decent results. Not good enough to publish, yet.

Meanwhile, I promised my friend Leslie, who did more than what was required to support artisan weavers and dyers on trips she took with me to Chiapas and the Oaxaca coast, to help her sell what she bought and has not worn.  So, here are six beautiful pieces of clothing. You buy from me and Leslie ships to you from Denver, Colorado. Easy. You get it in a few days! See below on how to buy.

#1. San Antonino embroidered and crochet blouse in black and white

#1. SOLD. Flowers galore like a summer garden filled with pansies in a subdued palette of black, white with a tad of blue/gray for accent and depth. A masterful piece of embroidery work from one of the greats in the Oaxaca village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Brand new, never worn. Easy wash by hand or in machine on gentle, cold water, hang to dry. No ironing needed. Size Medium. $225 USD includes 3-day priority shipping in continental USA.

#1 detail of B&W San Antonino blusa

#2 San Mateo del Mar double-weave shawl, deep purple

#2. This stunning shawl was made on the back-strap loom in the Oaxaca Coast community of San Mateo del Mar. In 2017, the town was hit by an immense earthquake and the village was decimated. Many weavers suffered, losing their homes. We bought this at an earthquake relief sale on our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour to benefit the weavers. It is 100% cotton and 100% made-by-hand. One-of-a-kind. For those of you who love graphic design and making a fashion impact, this shawl will fulfill all your wishes. Note: The shawl photographs black but it is a deep purple. New and never worn. 22-1/2″ wide x 75″ long. $200 includes 3-day priority USPS mailing in lower 48 states.

#2 has a beautiful drape, fine details

#3 Rayas Red and White, Chiapas back-strap loom

#3. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional design on the white stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110 includes priority USPS 3-day shipping to 48 states.

#3 shoulder detail with finished neck edge and sleeve cap

#4 Rayas in Red and Yellow, Chiapas

#4. This is a comfortable, 100% cotton blouse made on a back-strap loom from finest quality mercerized thread. It’s brand new and one-of-a-kind. The traditional Maya frog design on the yellow stripes are added during the weaving process (not embroidered) and is called supplementary weft. Very fine and detailed needlework to embellish the neck and sleeves. We bought it at one of the best cooperatives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where Mayan weavers create extraordinary textiles. Machine wash on gentle or hand wash and hang to dry. No need to iron! Measures 23-1/4″ wide across the front and 26″ long from the shoulder. Size M. $110. Includes USPS priority 3-day shipping to lower 48 states.

#4 Rayas Red and Yellow detail

#5. Fine Cotton Gauze Huipil-Tunic, San Pedro Amusgos

#5. SOLD. Fresh and refreshing: a breathable top, simple and elegant. We visited the remote village of San Pedro Amusgos high in the mountains about eight hours from Oaxaca City. Here they weave cotton on back-strap looms just as they have for centuries. This is a beautiful, lightweight collector’s garment with a white-on-white bodice. Called supplementary weft, the design is woven into the cloth, a difficult maneuver by a master weaver. It is not embroidered! This is new and never worn. Perfect over a skirt, jeans, silk or linen slacks. Wash by hand with a mild soap and hang to dry. Measures 23-3/4″ wide x 29″ long. Size M. $200. Includes USPS priority mail shipping to lower 48 states.

#5 detail of bodice, Amusgos tunic

#6. San Juan Chamula Cape, Chiapas

#6. SOLD. Shades of Gray. This is a traditional cape or shawl, called a Chal, hand-woven in the Chiapas village of San Juan Chamula. This particular textile is one of the finest examples of back-strap loom weaving, coming from the Sna Jolobil Cooperative at the Museo Mundo Maya. The wool is hand-carded and spun using the ancient drop-spindle. This is a total made-by-hand garment. The warp threads are cotton and the weft is a soft, pliant natural gray and cream color sheep wool. The edges are strongly woven with very colorful cotton threads to accent the gray body of the garment. Tie it closed with a hand-made tassel and VOILA. Fun to wear or to use as a bed or sofa scarf. Take the tassels off and make a pillow! Measures  24″ square. $145 USD includes USPS 3-day priority mail to anywhere in the lower 48 states.

#6. Detail of San Juan Chamula cape

How to Buy!

Send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

  • Tell me which piece(s) you want by number.
  • Tell me your complete name, mailing address and email.
  • I will send you a PayPal invoice.
  • As soon as I receive payment, I will confirm and we will prepare for mailing. You should be receiving your order within 5-7 days.

 

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