Tag Archives: weaving

The Passing of Walter “Chip” Morris, Chiapas Textile Icon

Chip Morris was one of those iconic figures who is largely responsible for the development of textile education in Chiapas, Mexico. He is known for preserving and promoting Maya highland weaving. He was there for a lifetime, co-creating the famed weaving cooperative Sna Jolobil and establishing San Cristobal de las Casas as a textile lover’s travel destination.

I got news of his passing yesterday from my pal Sheri Brautigam while I was in transit from my Durham home to Mexico City.

Walter “Chip” Morris, 1953-2019, RIP

From Kiki Suarez, founder of Kikimundo, famed folk art gallery in the San Cristobal de las Casas historic center:

When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, the Maya fabric here was already in decline, and neither I nor any tourists knew much about quality and we bought mediocre embroidery; we did not know about the quality of what was possible. The weavers themselves followed the tradition but many did not know the meaning of their patterns. A young gringo Hippie arrived, settled in San Andres Larrainzar, learned Tzotzil (and probably spoke it better than Spanish), and rescued the meanings in the ancient textiles, which were already at the point of disintegrating.

This man was Walter F. Morris, who we called Chip. I learned a lot with him. Together with Luis Contreras and Pedro Meza, he formed the Sna Jolobil cooperative in the city, still known today as the sourced for the highest quality Maya fabric. He took the Maya textiles to the great museums. He wrote his book, Living Maya, with Carol Karasik, that included the extraordinary photographs taken by Jeffrey J. Foxx, and then translated into Spanish.

Then, other books followed, always with the faithful and capable Carol: about how the Maya fabric here in many remote communities in the Maya highlands continues to develop instead of disappearing, how Maya women and men are preserving their dress instead of giving over to western styles — a rare phenomenon in the world.

The tours and talks by Chip that I attended were wonderful. I remember the first years here when I saw women walking from village to village, carrying their textiles on their heads. I remember how Chip was looking for, discovering, teaching the weavers themselves the meaning of their patterns, rescuing old huipil designs. I remember an old huipil from Chamula that had designs that were taken from the murals at Bonampak. Chip helped them appreciate the value of their own art that they often sold for nothing or almost nothing.

Then, he joined the fabulous Pellizzi Collection for a small salary. The Maya textile was his life and his passion and his destiny and vocation, and perhaps everything else in life could not compete with this. If today there are so many cooperatives and young people who play with new designs of the traditional Maya textile, I think this is why Chip Morris started — to leave this legacy. Unfortunately, for many years, for personal reasons, he began to withdraw from social spaces, and today many who work in the same field do not even know about him.

That’s why I write this: Let them know! This is the heritage he leaves in San Cristobal, and with many weavers and people in many communities.

Chip transcends his personal struggles for his great effort and work to rescue and recognize the Maya fabric, another textile artist, Olga Reiche, from Guatemala, wrote to me today. And, so it is …

I did not know Chip personally. I met him a couple of times in Tenejapa during my tours with Patrick Murphy, when he was guiding tourists to the cooperative operated by Maria Meza across from the zocalo. I knew that he was ailing. Most of us did. As Kiki says, we honor the contribution he made to Maya textile knowledge. We go to Chiapas because of what he accomplished. Descansé bien.

We recommend Chip’s book, Maya Threads: A Woven History published by Thrum’s Books, for our Chiapas textile study tour participants. I hope you have a chance to read it.

I’m taking a wait list for the February 25-March 4, 2020 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Let me know if you want to go.

Mexico Indigenous Clothing Sale: Be a Fashionista!

As of Friday, morning, Oct. 11 — Still Available: #2, #3, #4, #6, #8, #9, #10, #13. Many choices! Time is ticking

I return to Oaxaca next week with a stopover in Mexico City to lead the Art History Tour focusing on the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Meanwhile, before I leave the USA, I usually go through my collection to review what I want to part with. Here is outstanding weaving and embroidery from all over Mexico — Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guadalajara. The 13-piece selection is below. Look carefully!

Note: All sizes are Large/Extra Large unless otherwise noted. Several are Collector Pieces: #1, #2, #3 and #13

To Buy: Send me an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, address, and item number. I will send you an invoice to pay with credit card. Once I receive your funds, I will mail via USPS to anywhere in the USA. Prices include mailing cost. Please buy and pay before Monday, October 14, 2019. This will give me enough time to pack and mail before I return to Mexico on October 16. Thank you VERY much.

SOLD. #1 Oaxaca Blue birds and flowers, fine embroidery on manta cotton, $235
#1 detail, cotton thread on manta cotton
#1 inside finish work is superb
#2 Black and Hot Pink Birds and Flowers, highest quality, $165
#2 detail — yellow is light from camera; natural manta cream cotton cloth
#2 inside fine stitching detail
#3 Pinotepa de Don Luis,Oaxaca back-strap loom cotton w/ rare Caracol Purple Snail, $195
#4 Chiapas blouse, embroidered, 3/4 sleeve, $65
#4 embroidery detail with French knots, Size Medium
SOLD. #5 Chiapas finest blouse, with 3/4 sleeves, French knots, $65
#5 detail, French knots, embroidery, Size Medium
SOLD. #6 Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, cotton blusa, machine embroidered, $65
SOLD. #6, bodice detail
#6 back detail
SOLD. #7 Chiapas backstrap loom fine cotton blouse, $65, Size Medium
#7 detail, the design is in the weaving!
#8 Chiapas, long tunic, size medium, back strap loom, $65
#8 bodice detail, size Medium, design is integrated into weaving
#9 Fancy Chiapas poncho, back-strap loom, magenta with gold threads, $65
#10 PomPom Capelet — Poncho, wool, back-strap loom, $95
#11 Oaxaca Coast, Jamiltepec Blouse, backstrap loom+embroidered, $55
SOLD. #12 Guadalajara Needlepoint Blouse, $85
#13 Chiapas Backstrap Loom + Embroidered Tenejapa Poncho, $235 –Collector’s Piece
#13 Tenejapa poncho detail

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