Category Archives: Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving

Interlude: Road to Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas

This week is one of rest! Hahahaha! I scheduled myself for a calming week between our two Chiapas textile tours. In between, eating, sleeping, walking around and getting super-fixed with shiatsu massage from Kentaro, I asked our guide Gabriela if she would take me to the distant weaving village of Venustiano Carranza. I have never been there but I’ve admired their fine gauze weaving for many years.

Venustiano Carranza is a hill town perched atop a promontory looking out over a vast valley of sugar cane fields and traditional milpa (fields of corn, beans, squash). It’s hot here. Tropical. We travel from cold highlands to warm humidity. Around 10 a.m. it’s time to shed the long sleeves. We drop down from the cloud forest and pine trees. We pass thatched covered huts. Banana and coconut palms accent the landscape. Almost everyone can just pluck a ripe banana from a tree growing in their courtyard.

In front of us on the road are a convoy of trucks laden with cut cane on their way to the factory where the cane is cooked and crushed. It will be used to make pox (posh) the distilled cane and corn beverage preferred in this region or to turn into sugar crystals for export.

Many of the town’s streets are vertical and narrow and winding. It’s a Tzotzil speaking Maya community. It is also a good 2-1/2 to three hours from San Cristobal, so this is an all day outing. We left at 8 a.m. and didn’t return until 6:30 p.m. after a leg-stretch around the Chiapa de Corzo zocalo. Long day. Great finds.

The climate is why the fine, lightweight gauze weave is so popular here. Made on the back strap loom, most of the blouses and dresses are still using the traditional 4-selvedge edge, which means there is no cutting and no hem — sign of a superior textile that showcases weaving skills. I’m looking for white-on-white blouses though the traditional style for the village is white with red designs woven in the cloth. Featured prominently around the hem are figures of chickens and roosters.

While Venustiano Carranza is not on our tour, many of the finest examples of weaving from there are found in designer shops in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Let us know if you want to come to Chiapas in 2023. We will add you to the interested list. Just send an email.

Stay tuned. I will be offering some of these goodies for sale soon.

Where is Zacoalpan, Guerrero? Find It on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour

The Costa Chica of Oaxaca actually includes the southern part of Guerrero state, stretching from Puerto Escondido north to Acapulco. We don’t go quite as far as Acapulco, but we go deep into Amuzgo territory. The Amuzgo ethnic group encompasses northern Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. As in many parts of the world, political boundaries have nothing to do with tribal affiliations. I have seen this in India, China, Chiapas and Guatemala, too.

Selection of beautiful huipiles

Some years ago, I discovered the weaving family of my friend Jesus Ignacio when Instagram was in its infancy. I saw through his photos that the workmanship was extraordinary and he was dedicated to reviving ancient patterns, many lost to common memory. I knew that our itinerary took us to Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, and learned that Zacoalpan is a nearby sister village where back-strap loom weaving also has important traditions. I added this family to our tour.

2023 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour–Registration Open!

Supplementary weft technique yields dense design – 8 months of work

During our first visit a few years ago, Jesus showed us examples of textile fragments he was able to find and replicate. The family grows their own native, pre-Hispanic cotton on a small plot that he and his father tend. They grow coyuchi brown, soft green and creamy white. His mom, aunts and cousins process the cotton by hand, separating the fibers and taking out the seeds which they save for future planting. They roll a petate around dried corn leaves and beat the cotton on top with two hefty sticks to soften it. Then, they card and spin it using a malacate or drop-spindle. The cotton is then ready for the back-strap loom.

Raw native green cotton

I describe all this because the preparation is an integral part of the weaving process and takes a lot of time. To calculate he cost of a hand-made garment, we must factor in all the steps in the vertical production process — from growing to the final blusa or huipil.

Not only does the family use native cotton, they also use natural dyes: indigo, cochineal, wild marigold (pericone), nanche bark, zapote negro (a local fruit), and occasionally purple snail dye which they buy from Pinotepa de Don Luis across the Oaxaca-Guerrero border.

Native coyuchi brown and creamy white cotton

I want to share with you these words that Jesus wrote to me a few days ago. He doesn’t speak English, but he uses Google Translate. I’m copying what he wrote verbatim. When I read it, it makes me cry.

“Thank you friend Norma for visiting us. The Zacoalpan textile workshop teacher has been very talented, I have focused on helping her to spread her backstrap loom arts, even though I do not have compensation from the teachers, but my passion is to spread our ancestral knowledge. I feel so grateful for your visit in my humble home where we are struggling with stereotypes.

A study in humble— Jesús ‘ aunt

“I have always dreamed of going very far for the world to know our arts. I know our textiles are in danger of extinction, but I have not been able to make a lot of progress due to lack of support. The only support we have had is from your trip to our workshop. I have been a young dreamer, sometimes it makes me sad because I have not found a job in my profession, which is civil engineering. I have become very sad because our Mexico lacks employment. My dream is to become a better construction engineer but I have not been able to find work to practice my profession.

“My only dream is to have a house of my own and work. Sincerely, I am deeply grateful for your support in purchasing the art we make. I also have a dream that one day I will get to know your country, the USA, friend Norma. It is my only wish.

“I used Google translate.”

Jesús, Norma and his mom

Find Jesus on Instagram: @textil_zacoalpan

I’m sharing the contact because we don’t want them to have to wait another year for our visit to sell something! They ship internationally. Please support them. Our group was the only one to visit in the last two years. The work is finely made and exceptional. You must be able to do a wire transfer to his bank account. I use the App Remitly to send wire transfers to Mexico.

Ancient double-headed eagle design revived

Exvotos Mexican Folk Art, Vintage + Silver Jewelry, Pillow Covers Sale

Mexico’s Ex-Votos are collectible naive folk art that tell a story of thanksgiving for being saved from near-death or disaster. Yes, it was a miracle to survive.  Usually, the person who escaped tragedy would hire a local artist to paint a tin square depicting the scene. The message of thanks may have included many misspellings, as the painters were not educated. They often include depictions of the saint to whom the supplicant is sending prayers of thanks.

Three of the exvotos are reproductions by famed Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. One is a vintage piece dating from the 1950’s, acquired from a collector friend.

To Buy: Send me an email and tell me which piece(s) you want indicating the number of the item, your name and mailing address. I will send you a PayPal invoice and add-on $8 USD for USPS priority mail if you are in the lower 48 states.

Time sensitive. Purchases must be made by Monday, December 10, 2018. I fly away to North Carolina on December 12, and I’ll need time to package for taking with me.

#1. Vintage Exvoto, 1950s, $495

#1 is a whimsical, vintage exvoto, rare and in excellent condition for its age, is a perfect example of naive folk art, painted at Chapala, Jalisco in the 1950s, according to my collector friend in Mexico City (and she should know!). It says: Gracias a la virgencita y el niño por senar a mi hijo enfermo de Tifoidea a anto de morir. El sans infinitamente agracidas. (signed) Lupe Ma. Miraflores Lopez, Chapala, Jalisco.  (Thanks to the little virgin and her son for saving my son from typhoid before he died. He is infinitely thankful.) Measures 10-1/4″ x 8-1/2″

#2, Skeletons, $135

#2 is a reproduction by famed Mexico City exvoto artist Rafael Rodriguez, painted on tin. It measures 14-1/4″ x 10-1/4″ and says: Roperta Lara da las gracias con esta laminita pues unas calaveras nos atacaran a mi y mi vieja. Puebla, 9 de julio de 1940. Roperta Lara gives thanks with this plaque since the skeletons didn’t attack me and my old lady.

#3, The Temptress Snake Woman, $110

#3 is a reproduction by famed Mexico City exvoto artist Rafael Rodriguez. It measures 12″ x 9-3/4″ and says: Contava la gente que salia una serpiente mujer que se lleva va a los hombres a su gruta y alli se los come hasta con zapatos y zombrero.  Jalisco a 5 de Julio de 1938.  Saved from Contava the snake woman who comes out of her cave and captures men and eats them, except for their shoes and hat.

#4 Rufina Estrada is saved, $75

#4 is an exvoto reproduction by Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. It measures 10″ x 7-1/2″ and says: Rufina Estrada dedica esta laminita porque me salve de la huesuda. San Luis, a 11 de enero 1939. Rufina Estrada dedicates this plaque because she was saved from death. San Luis, January 11, 1939.

#5 Vintage Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Silver & White Heart Necklace, $795

#5 is a rare necklace, attributed to Patzcuaro, Michoacan, according to famous Oaxaca jeweler Federico, from whom I bought this some years ago. The beads are vintage, rare and collectible Venetian glass trade beads called White Hearts, brought to the Americas by Cortes. There are 15 handmade silver Virgin of Soledad (?) pendants, each 1-1/2″ long by 7/8″ wide. Pendants have various designs. The necklace is 20″ long. An outstanding piece.

#5 detail, pendants have several unique designs

#6 is a vintage sterling silver beaded necklace, Taxco, $265

#6 is one of those unusual finds, 40 perfectly formed 15 mm beads made in the heyday of Taxco silversmithing, probably from the 1960’s. 23-1/2″ long. I bought these beads in Puebla. The chain broke and I had them restrung on very sturdy jewelers wire.

#6 detail of Taxco bead necklace

#8 new, Spratling sterling silver chain, $395

#8 detail, Spratling stamp

#8 is a new William Spratling sterling silver chain, made in the Spratling studios in Taxco, Guerrero, and is 22″ long. It is a contemporary piece cast from Spratling’s original molds by the Ulrich sisters, who own the famed franchise and whose father was Spratling’s business partner before Spratling died. 

#9 sterling and inlaid abalone shell fish pin, $95

#9 is a perfect specimen of Taxco silver and inlay mastery, from the 60’s or 70’s. 1-1/4″ wide by 1″ high. The abalone shell glimmers and the silver work is pristine. Fish pin, inlaid abalone on silver. Excellent. $95.

#9 Detail

Three Pillow Covers From Chiapas

These pillow covers are woven by the famed cooperative El Camino de Los Altos by women who use back strap looms. The designs are not embroidered, they are woven into the cloth. They each measure 17″ x 16-1/2″ and they are $35 each.

#10 Deep Gray, $35

#11, Gold, $25

#12, White, $35

Best of Oaxaca’s Biodiversity at Ejido Union Zapata: Day of Plenty

Oaxaca celebrates indigenous food and handmade at the annual Agro-biodiversity Fair in Ejido Union Zapata. This once a year event is building traction. The main street of several blocks, cordoned off for booths and foot traffic, was packed by noon. The natural food color was beyond belief.

Day of Plenty: native corn varieties with tortillas

Criollo, organic-natural tomatoes + More

Billed as a seed exchange, farmers came from as far away as Chiapas, the Coast of Oaxaca and the Mixteca Alta, the high mountain range that borders the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Weavers working in natural dyes and mask makers joined in. For sale were seeds, fruit, vegetables, flowers, tortillas and tamales.

Coconut from Oaxaca’s coast. Have you tasted coconut crackers?

Fitting for Thanksgiving Weekend, it was a day of plenty.

Amaranth seeds, protein-rich, makes sweet treat

There is a big and growing movement in politically active Oaxaca to conserve native food: chiles, tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash, coffee, chocolate, amaranth, jicama and more. There are so many different varieties of each.

Sierra Mixe handmade ceramics, utilitarian beauty

One of the leaders, Rafael Meir, was present along with government representatives of Oaxaca and Mexico. Leaders are becoming more conscious about the importance of keeping GMO contained to what has already infiltrated the commercial tortilla business. Yet, there is still much more to do.

Public education has so much to do with the success of programs like this one.

House made sesame crackers — yummy, or buy seeds and make your own.

Backstrap loomed textiles rom San Juan Colorado

I was so happy to see Yuridia Lorenzo and her mom, Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz from the Colectivo Jini Nuu in San Juan Colorado. They were selling their beautiful blouses and dresses made with native coyuchi, white and green cotton and natural dyes. Participants in my Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour will visit them in mid-January.

Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz and me.

If you missed it, I hope you will mark your calendar for next year. Although the dates may float, so I’m not sure exactly when it will be held. Check out these Facebook pages to keep track: Rafael Meir, who is director of Fundacion Tortilla de Maiz Mexicana. Watch a VIDEO of the fair. 

Zapotec words describe native food

Another benefit of attending is to taste and buy mezcal, Oaxaca’s organic, artisanal alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented agave.  I bought a bottle of sylvestre (wild) jabali mezcal grown and distilled in Teozacoalco in the Mixteca Alta  by Mezcalero Javier Cruz. Que Rico!

San Juan Colorado Katyi Yaa coop, native coyuchi cotton, natural dyes

I’m noticing that Oaxaca is becoming inundated with foodies and followers of What’s Hot on the food and beverage scene. We’ve got free walking tours led by guides holding colorful umbrellas and flags downtown who get paid with tips. We have USA restauranteurs coming for cooking classes to bring the cuisine home. Rent prices are escalating in the historic center. If one lives on the peso, everything is at a premium now. Those of us who live here always ask if the influx of tourist dollars trickles down to the pueblos, the makers, the field and kitchen workers.  What is your experience?

Corn, snake, cacao symbols on wool, back-strap loom

Back-strap loomed wool, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, corn, snake, cacao symbols. That’s why fairs like this one are so important — to buy direct from those who produce.  Slow food. Slow fashion. Slow mezcal. Saludos.

Know the Natural Richness of Mexico

Chiles, squash, Mexico’s gift

 

 

Oaxaca Rugs in Philadelphia, Pa.

Omar Chavez Santiago from Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca is traveling with me to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the end of the week to start a series of rug exhibitions, sales and natural dye demonstrations.

Events start on Saturday, October 27, 2018. We hope if you live in the region you can stop by.  On November 5 and 6, Omar will be in New York City — his first time to the Big Apple. We will confirm dates, announce location and time soon.

Huge thanks to Leah Reisman, Ellen Benson, Suzanne Bakewell and Kathleen Bakewell for organizing Omar’s visit. They made it happen!

We hope to see you. I’ll be there the first weekend. Stop by to say Hello!

Please share so we can give Omar a big Philly welcome. It’s his first time there.

If you want a PDF flyer, send me an email!