Tag Archives: weaving

Chiapas Notebook: Tenejapa Textiles and Thursday Market

Tenejapa, Chiapas is a regional center in the highlands of Chiapas about an hour- and-a-half beyond San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a regional administrative center, about midway between the city and the remote village of Cancuc, past Romerillo. Most roads splay out from San Cristobal like spikes on a wheel hub, dead-ending down a canyon or mountain top at a remote village where traditional weavers create stunning cloth.

Tenejapa supplementary weft on cotton warp, with handmade doll

There are two reasons to go to Tenejapa.

Tenejapa market scene, the perfect village tianguis

First is the Thursday market that covers the length of four to six blocks (depending on the season) where everything needed to maintain a household is sold, including fresh roasted and ground coffee cultivated from bushes on nearby hillsides.

Rich, roasted, fresh ground coffee in the market, locally grown

This includes fresh dried beans, ground and whole chili peppers, ribbons and lace for sewing, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and an occasional textile find.

See highlights from 2017 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested in itinerary and price. Taking a wait list!

Beautiful handwoven bag, a market find, random delights

Most of the textiles on the street are woven for local consumption. So, fabric and the materials to make it reflects the current fashion tastes of traditional ladies who weave to adorn themselves and their neighbors. Cotton takes longer to dry, so cotton thread has been replaced by synthetic. Now, the shinier the better.

Chili peppers, whole or ground, take your pick

We see this throughout the villages in the Chiapas Highlands where glittery threads are incorporated into the weft and warp, and polyester gives the textile a sheen that is now preferred.

Inspect carefully. Bright colors can be synthetics, as are these. Glorious, nevertheless.

Where to find the traditional textiles of five, ten, twenty years ago? Sometimes, you can find them hanging from ropes strung from wall to wall inside the shops along the market avenue. Sometimes, they are folded under a stack of the more contemporary pieces that Tenejapa fashionistas like.

Corn for sale, displayed in traditional handwoven ixtle market bag

The second, and perhaps more important reason to visit Tenejapa is to spend time in the cooperative operated by Maria Meza Giron. The building is next to the church, across from the zocalo and municipal building.

Sheri Brautigam, author and our textile tour resource, chats with Maria Meza

Maria and her son Pedro Meza, are co-founders of Sna Jolobil textile cooperative with anthropologist/friend/guide Walter “Chip” Morris.  We bumped into him there that day as we were deep into textile heaven.

An amazing ceremonial cloth, hand-woven, snatched up by Kathleen

These textiles — huipils, ponchos, purses, blankets, rugs, shirts, belts, woven ixtle bags, skirts and ceremonial garb — are the finest examples with the most traditional quality of weaving found in Tenejapa.

What will this become? Textile in progress on back strap loom.

Some pieces are dense with wool supplementary weft woven onto a one hundred percent cotton warp. All created on the back strap loom. Garments are always as wide as the loom they are woven on.

Barbara looks at fine detail work on this Tenejapa sash

It was hard to choose. Hard to focus. Hard to pull away and say goodbye when the time came. The examples available for sale would sell for twice the price in San Cristobal de las Casas in finer galleries. It was well worth the trip for this, and for the experience of mingling among the people.

Tenejapa woman shopping for a comal — clay griddle

Just a note: Not many visitors come here. We were the only foreigners walking through the market. People are resistant to having their pictures taken. Photographs of fruits and veggies are okay. I always asked if I could take a photo (the people, not the vegetables). Most said no. Once, I shot from the hip and felt guilty.

Handwoven bags on display stand for sale.

Our anthropologist guide advised us to never photograph inside a village church. We didn’t. I did not shoot from the hip there. I attended to watching where I stepped. Lit candles blazed on the floor in front of altars to saints.  As a consequence, you will see lots of textiles, tomatoes, oranges, and shoes.

Zocalo is also the taxi station, constant round trips to San Cristobal

The people who travel with me tend to be those with a deep appreciation for Mexicans and their creativity. Folk art or popular art in Mexico is made one piece at a time, one thread at a time. By coming here, we gain an understanding for craftsmanship that is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son.

Our guide explains Maya-Catholic Church traditions and what we will see inside

There is no magical way of being appreciative, warm and gracious. The feelings between visitor and host are reciprocal. We value the inspiration, hard work and dedication to keeping hand-made craft alive. Those who make and sell value our support and appreciation for what they do. It’s a bonus if we buy.

Being a locavore isn’t trendy, it’s a way of life

But shopping isn’t everything and that’s not why we are here. We are here because creative people are tucked in every corner and behind every hillock, using their open hearts and strong hands to bring color and joy into the world.

Beautiful, intricate Tenejapa huipil, wool weft for the design on cotton

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested with itinerary and price. 

Chiapas Notebook: Magdalena Aldama Weavers

Our recent textile study tour took place over nine days. We were based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, with so much to see and do, and no time to write!. I’m going to start now with one highlight that happened in the middle: a visit to Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas.

A few of our group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Some of us know this village, about two-and-a-half hours from San Cristobal, as Magdalenas. Others call it Aldama. It is one and the same. Officially, it is known as Santa Maria Magdalena.

Indigenous justice and liberty are elemental here, as is native Non-GMO corn.

It took on the name Aldama in 1934 in honor of Mexican insurgent Ignacio Aldama. This is a Tzotzil village strongly aligned with the Zapatistas.

Rosa with Barbara, and a neighboring Chenalho blue emboidered top

Not many foreigners show up here. Without an introduction to a family, it would be difficult to know where to go to see extraordinary back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery that the women here are known for.

Susie admires a finely woven, embroidered huipil

We pulled up to the village zocalo and parked near the church. Cristobal was waiting for us and took us to his family home where his wife Rosa greeted us. She was joined by family members who were busy weaving and doing fine stitching, surrounded by children.

Children hover close to mom when strangers show up

This would not have been possible without our knowledgeable guide who arranged the visit through an anthropologist friend who has been working here for some time.

Every garment handmade: the woven cloth, fine embroidery, seams, hem

After demonstrations and a stunning expoventa of very fine work, the family invited us into their kitchen where they prepared Caldo de Gallina over a wood fire.

Work continues with babies bundled across backs with rebozos

They make the soup from organic free-range chicken and fresh local vegetables. The tortillas come hot off the comal. We toast the day with posh, the local fermented drink made from corn and sugar cane.

It is quite tasty!

Indigenous rights are fragile. People here take a stand for themselves. Viva Zapata!

Women work hard here, staying close to home. Tending babies, preparing meals, cleaning up, weaving, sewing. Extended families live together in the same household and next door.

Fifteen enjoying a family meal, altar with Mayan cross in background

I saw no young men and assume they were in the fields tending to vegetables or herds of cows. Or, perhaps they were in El Norte USA trying to make a few dollars to send home. At 20 pesos to 1 US dollar now, it’s an economic advantage to go north to work. Regardless of what Agent Orange says, families do not like to be separated. They do it out of necessity. 

A village Mayordomo came by to check us out and stayed for lunch

Since the village is not frequented by tourists, we had a social call by one of the village leaders, a mayordomo and friend of our host family. He saw that we were supportive of the cultural norms and stayed to talk and have lunch with us. We were not a rowdy group!

Waddle and daub traditional village construction, perfect backdrop

The large kitchen space where we had lunch, the traditional outbuilding where the expoventa (show/sale) was held, and some of the surrounding cottages, were all constructed with waddle and daub. This is different from adobe bricks. It is a great insulator, keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer.

Yes, smoke gets in your eyes, clothes, hair and lungs in traditional kitchens

The only problem was the ventilation from the smoke, which rose to the ceiling in billows but didn’t escape readily from the open areas near the rafters. In some villages, NGOs are working with locals to create better vents so they don’t breathe the wood smoke and develop lung disease.

Britt wears an elegant dress, traditional in design

Magdalena Aldama is about ten minutes further from San Andres Larrainzar, another amazing weaving village, much larger than Magdalena. There seems to be some crossover in stitching and fashion, though for the most part women like to identify with where they are born and live by their costume.

Mom and toddler, infant sleeping behind

The finely woven mesh bags you see below are hand-woven from ixtle, the washed, pounded and softened fiber of the agave cactus leaf. The finer and smaller the bag, the more costly. The shoulder straps are soft leather. Sometimes they are finished with colorful woven edging. We love them and bought lots!

Display of blouses, bags, table runners, dresses, pillow covers

Often, the difficulty for western women is to find a garment large enough to fit us. The width here is as wide as the loom, but the arm holes and necklines can be small. So small, we can’t get the blouse over our heads or arms through the sleeves. Here, it wasn’t a problem! They knew we were coming!

Rosa holds up one her group’s fine blouses. They sold out!

On our way back to San Cristobal de las Casas, we made a quick stop in Larrainzar to check out the street scene.  On the way, we passed a family of sheep herders. While the animals grazed, the women tied their looms to the trees. No one here is idle.

Looms tied to trees. Always something to weave.

In San Andres Larrainzar, we stopped at a commercial cooperative outside of town. I was disappointed in the quality and offerings, though a few of us managed to find a treasure. It’s best to find a private group!

San Andres Larrainzar main street. Hard to find a huipil for sale here.

Local women buy the embroidered bodice pieces and then stitch their own cotton or poplin (cotton/poly blend) to make the complete blouse. They like the polyester because it dries much faster. So, it’s getting more difficult to find a pure cotton garment. The embroidered pieces cost 1,000 to 1,500 pesos before being made into the blouse.

Embroidered blouse pieces, Larrainzar. White area is for head opening.

Back in San Cristobal, I wore the Magdalena Aldama blouse I bought from Rosa and Cristobal on the following day. People stopped me. Where did you find that? I told them. I visited a local Mayan coop and the manager said, “We don’t carry anything that fine. It’s hard to find and too expensive.”  Well, not really. Not for us at the current exchange rate!

The weaving group in black and white.

Making a trip into the village to meet the family, share a meal and support their work was one of the highlights of this trip.

Weaving on the street, Magdalena Aldama

We are going to offer this again at the end of February 2018. Contact me if you are interested and I’ll put you on the list to let you know dates and cost. This study tour will be limited to 9 people maximum!

Games little boys play, in the doorway to the kitchen.

 

Rebozo Weaving Technology in Mexico: How to Make an Ikat Shawl

On our textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) we met ikat rebozo weavers, called reboceros, who use up to 6,400 cotton warp threads on a back strap loom.

Evaristo Borboa, grand master of Mexican folk art, weaves on a back strap loom

About 3,000 to 5,000 cotton warp threads are used on the fixed frame pedal floor loom.

Rebozo weaver Gabriel Perez at his floor loom

The technology is simple. The fabric created is complex.

The floor loom is faster.  Weavers can produce a rebozo in about a week using this loom. It takes three months or more to make a rebozo on the back strap loom.

Weaver Jesus Zarate defies imagination with his ikat butterfly design

Because fewer warp threads are used on the floor loom, the cotton threads can be thicker and the finished cloth might be coarser.

A weaver’s took kit

As you might imagine, the cost for a rebozo made on a back strap loom is much more than one woven on a pedal loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate! What do rebozos cost? From 400 to 16,000 pesos.

Bits and pieces of supplies that might be needed for dyeing

Would you work six months to earn $800 USD?

The pattern can be more blurred and not as detailed as those created on the back strap loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate!

Fermin Escobar marks stiff bundles of thread with ink to make a pattern

There are fourteen different steps required to make an ikat rebozo. The most difficult and time-consuming part is the preparation of the threads before they are dressed on the loom.

Threads are soaked in starch to dry and stiffen before marking.

Ikat pattern markers are coated with ink, rolled along stiffened cords.

The weavers we met all repeated that the actual weaving is the simplest part of the process.

Weavers throw hardwood bobbins between the warp sheds to make the weft

Dipping the yarn into the starch to stiffen it

A better view of the pattern marked on the stiff cotton cords

Separating the cords so they dry evenly

Each mark must be hand tied to create the dye resist

Once the cords are marked in ink with the pattern, each mark is hand tied. The cloth will then be dipped in the dye bath. It is then washed and dried. The knots are cut and the pattern emerges on the warp thread, ready to be threaded on the loom.

Mexicans innovate and cobble together materials to keep things running

For rebozos with multiple colors, they can be hand-dipped in the dye pot or the part that is already colored will be tied off so it does not absorb the new color.

Over 4,000 warp threads pass through the hettles of these looms

The loom might be considered low technology, but it is a complex system for making cloth. Today, industrial cloth is made totally by machine. We are interested in the hand-made process.

Bobbin making system — a bicycle wheel

Making ikat for a rebozo on the pedal loom

One of Evaristo’s beautiful blue ikat shawls in blue, finely detailed

The enpuntadora hand ties each knot to create fringe, the finishing touch

Knotting the rebozo can take equally as long as weaving it — three months or more, depending on intricacy. We know one enpuntadora who takes a year to tie a complex fringe.

The fringe must equal or exceed the beauty of the shawl

India Journal: Textiles and My Family in Delhi

This is a tribute to family, dispersal and reconnection.

It was a remarkable afternoon at my cousin Sharon Lowen‘s apartment in New Delhi, India. The city has been her home for the last 43 years. My 99-1/2 year-old Aunt Ethel lives with her youngest daughter Sharon who is her primary caregiver. It was a remarkable feeling of reconnection, as if I was seeing my mother alive once more. In my cousin’s face I recognize my mother, sister, uncles.

Sharon Lowen shows incredible brocade sari with gold threads

Sharon went to India 43 years ago on a Fulbright scholarship to do post-graduate study. She fell in love with the culture and the people, settled in, became a renowned performer of Odissi classical dance, and teacher at the American Embassy School.

Cousin Sharon with her mom and my aunt Ethel, with photo of my mom Dorothy

I’ve only seen Sharon a few times over the years. She came to a Smithsonian Institution program while I was living in Washington, D.C., and later we visited in North Carolina when she participated in the American Dance Festival.

Our mom, Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, 2/14/16-11/15/15

One key reason I spent a week in Delhi was to reconnect with them and I intended to make at least two visits during this time. But extreme jet lag and the onset of a head cold (perhaps a reaction to dust and pollution), altered the plan.

Family portrait on Sharon’s wall: our mothers, uncle and grandparents

I didn’t want to infect my aunt, who is becoming more frail as she approaches a century of life, so I cancelled our second visit.

My mom was the oldest of four children and my aunt was born fourteen months later. Their Eastern European immigrant parents worked hard to raise their family in a small Pennsylvania town not far from the Ohio border. My tailor grandfather sewed suits, dresses and fur coats. Our family has a love of cloth, fine stitches and those who create them.

Sharon shows fine Rabari Toran.

Spending the afternoon with family was emotionally satisfying on many levels. Our experiences are different, yet we share genetic code. Life is a mystery and disperses us, brings us together for a moment, sends us on our way again.

Sharon treated me to a preview of her Indian textile collection, many vintage pieces amassed over the last forty years: embroideries, double ikat, weaving, gold brocades and tribal mirror work. Most were gifts presented at dance performances she gave traveling throughout India and the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Fill in the Blanks, Stencil Art

Remember when you were a child and got a set of crayons and coloring book? The book was printed with figures and designs. It was your job fill in the color between the lines.

Stenciled design on cloth gives embroiderer stitch guide

Be careful, a parent or teacher would say. Be neat. Don’t go outside the lines. There were no blank pages on which to scribble or be creative. You got a gold star for staying inside the lines, filling in all the shapes.

Young Ahir woman honing her craft

Soon, you may have been bored and gone on to do something else. Perhaps the color intensity lessened as you hastily went on to the next page. Maybe, you went outside the lines on purpose to make your own mark.

Working on a pre-printed pattern. Is there freedom for color choice?

Yesterday we went to visit India textile expert Judy Frater at the NGO she runs in Adipur, about an hour east of Bhuj near the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea. Before starting Somaiya Kala Vidya in 2014, Judy was the founding director of Kala Raksha, another NGO dedicated to textile promotion and development.

New Ahir embroidery that will become pillow or handbag

Today she works with indigenous artisans to provide education and training programs designed for cultural sustainability, market development, and indigenous identity.

Ahir women in embroidery circle, all working on stenciled patterns

With Judy during my visit and with Salim Wazir the following day, I talked about the questions we discuss in Mexico that India shares. I suspect that these are pressing questions among artisans throughout the world.

Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail

  1. How do you create a sustainable craft enterprise without compromising an artisan’s innate creativity and urge for innovation?
  2. When a designer comes in to work with local artisans, employing his or her own drawings and hires the local artisan to execute them, how does this have an impact on craft preservation and design ownership?
  3. If NGO’s create cooperatives that then produce cookie cutter patterns printed on cloth that the embroiderers then fills in with silk threads in pre-selected colors, is this craft development or exploitation?
  4. If something is produced for the tourist market and not for personal or community use, what impact will this have for design sustainability?
  5. What compromises can be made to make sure that people work for fair wages, without being piece workers doing routine jobs for work they don’t own?
  6. Is paid work the only important consideration or does originality and integrity of communal design hold more value?
  7. How will textile craft survive and who will decide its future?

Workshop participant making panel for tourist market

What other questions would you ask?

How would you answer these questions? I’m interested in hearing from you!

Old mirrored embroidery on silk bandhani, imperfectly beautiful

Mexico and India are both sources for great textile artistry.  Weavers in Mexico have made cloth on back strap, flying shuttle and pedal looms for centuries and longer. In India, artisans have been weaving cloth, dyeing it with natural colors and embellishing it with embroidery since Mughal conquerors and spice trade adventurers moved from central Asia and the Levant.

She is beginning to fill in the blanks.

As tourist preferences drive the crafts market, most non-governmental agencies direct people to make things that will sell. Production uniformity is important to outside markets as collectors demand high-quality, perfect workmanship, and sophisticated design (in their point-of-view).

Whimsical embroidered blouse belonging to Wandh herding community

The whimsy of asymmetry and uneven stitches seems to be losing ground in the commercial marketplace. Only foreigners are interested in tribal textiles.

Rabari women in another workshop also follow a designer provided pattern.

If a boutique owner or retail client orders 100 handbags, he or she may expect that while color may vary, design will be consistent.  If there is deviation or variation, something may not sell and then the risk is that the worker and the organization will no longer receive orders and then go out of business.

Contemporary Rabari needlework

What price will be paid for quality consistency and uniformity? Will the naive, free-form folk art design produced for self-use disappear in favor of making something more polished that will then be sold at a higher price to foreigners?

Vintage Rabari embroidery trim on bandhani tie-dyed shawl

What about making goods for the local market vs. the foreign market? I was told repeatedly that woven goods are now being made with acrylic because it is cheaper to produce and that is what local people will buy.

Whimsical Toran in Ahir village community center

What is the cost and the loss for using cheaper raw materials and industrial mechanization?

I’d love what she’s wearing!

It is difficult to find artisans in India, as well as in Mexico, who are still working in natural dyes because the process is longer and the investment in raw materials is much higher.

Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old

The tourist season in Gujarat, India is about four months long, from November through February, about the same as in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s the dry season, easier to travel. Yet, this is the hottest December that people in Bhuj can remember. There is no global warming, right?

Sheep wool, hand-woven skirt trimmed in embroidery, pure Rabari

And, this year, because of India’s demonitization crisis and no access to cash currency, about 60-70% of international tours cancelled.  This region that depends on tourism is being hard hit. Sound familiar to those of you who visit or live in Mexico?

Rabari woman working on dress trim to be sold in a boutique somewhere

I’ve heard stories about embroidery designs from one tribal group that are co-opted and used by another because it is more popular. I have heard about a village that weaves a piece of cloth which is sent to another village for embroidery embellishment. Neither is credited with for the work.

Rabari women’s hands make quick work; tattoos and cloth, key symbols of identity.

Since cloth is about identity, does this practice contribute to loss of cultural identity? Who is responsible for this loss? How do we put value on what is made by hand? Are we willing to compensate or are we looking for a bargain, at whatever the cost to the maker?

Tools of the trade: cotton or rayon floss, needles, mirrors

I’m writing this blog post from the airport in Seoul, South Korea. It’s 10:50 a.m., December 14 here. I will be back in California, USA by 8:30 a.m. December 14. Go figure! The international news is daunting, and the prospects of a new presidency are depressing as cabinet appointees are named. I’m still apologizing, especially to the terrific Muslim people I have met along this Path to and from India.

Old block print, made with madder root, backs vintage textile.