Tag Archives: back strap loom

Churro Wool: How the Spanish Brought Sheep to the Americas

In a week, I climb on the magic bird to carry me back to Oaxaca. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I left, just before Covid became a pandemic in March 2021 that erased all our plans and created this hunker-down-for-a-while, I’m scared mentality. Yesterday, I got my third jab, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, plus a flu shot. I’m ready, face masks and sanitizer in the packing pile. Back to Teotitlan del Valle where churro sheep wool is carded and dyed to weave into rugs.

Churro sheep came to the Americas with the Spanish conquest. We find this breed in Northern New Mexico and Colorado, where the high altitudes are conducive to growing a thick pelt. When it is shorn, carded and woven, it makes thick, sturdy, resilient blankets (for humans and horses), and later adapted to the making of floor rugs.

Display of churro wool rugs at Taos Wool Festival

My adopted Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle, Galeria Fe y Lola, buy their handspun Churro wool from Chichicapam and the Mixteca, where 7,000 feet altitude guarantees a higher quality pelt. This elevation is similar to the Mountain States where livestock growers, spinners and dyers work in this wool to textile weavers who use the ancient European treadle loom that was also introduced by the Spanish in the New World.

Baby yak, whose wool is amazingly soft and luxurious

This sheep is descended from the Iberian Churra, prized by the Spanish for its hardiness and adaptability. It was the first breed of sheep domesticated in the New World in the 16th Century, when it was used to feed and clothe the armies of the conquistadores, clergy and settlers. We can trace the lineage to 1494 when Spain established colonies in the Caribbean and Mexico. There were no four-legged animals in North America and only llamas in South America before the Spanish arrived.

Carolyn wrote to me to add this:

How the Spanish brought sheep to America? In slings in the holds of their ships! Several years ago a replica of the Santa Maria sailed into the Oakland estuary and docked for several days. We were able to tour the ship and the sailors were more than happy to answer our questions. Four legged animals were kept in slings so their legs would not break in rough weather. The smell must have been atrocious. But the image stuck with me.I’m happy for you that you finally get to go back to Oaxaca.

Taos is host to the annual Wool Festival, now in its 38th year, and always held the first weekend in October. I made it a point to attend. Fiber art and textiles call to me here, too. Why was I surprised to see rugs woven on the peddle loom using churro sheep wool? I shouldn’t have been. I know the Navajo were resourceful in growing their herds of churro sheep, and all those beautiful blankets and rugs trace their origins to the Spanish introduction of this breed.

Today, non-native weavers use this breed, too, to make and sell beautiful rugs. I saw plenty of them at the festival, many reminiscent of Zapotec and Navajo textiles. Over the years, the churro has been cross-bred with the softer, finer merino sheep. Sometimes, churro and merino are also spun together to give a silkier, softer luster.

When I first moved here to Taos, NM, four months ago, one of the first things I did was join the Millicent Rogers Museum. It has an extensive collection of Native American folk art and craft, including early Navajo looms and textiles. This loom is more similar to the back strap loom, used as a vertical frame loom. This got me thinking about how technology is adapted to the user. It´s not a floor loom and it´s not a back strap loom. Weavers sit on the ground to weave.

History of Navajo Weaving. Some scholars speculate that the Navajo picked up this weaving technique in the 1600´s from nearby Pueblo tribes who were adept using the vertical loom. It couldńt be used to weave a textile wider than 18 inches. Larger pieces needed two identical textiles that were then stitched together. We find thesame circumstance in Oaxaca, Mexico.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the floor loom has hardly changed from when it was introduced there by the Spanish in the 1500´s, who taught the local men to weave in the tradition of the European tapestry loom. It was too heavy and cumbersome for women, who were versatile cotton back strap loom weavers, to use.

Last week I wrote about pronunciations and mis-pronunciations. Here we have another one! Settlers had a difficult time saying Churra Sheep so they said Churro instead. And, that’s how we know this breed today!

Contemporary New Mexico woven churro wool rug
Contemporary churro wool rug with natural dyes woven by Eric Chavez Santiago, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca (psst, it’s for sale, ask me about it)

Second Section: Chiapas Textile Study Tour–Deep Into the Maya World, March 2022

March 8 -16, 2022 – 8 nights and 9 days, starting at $2,795

Email me to ask about registration. http://mail to:norma.schafer@icloud.com

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Chiapas by March 2022. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us and our cancellation/refund policy.

The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs, the plumed serpent, woman and man, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun, plus more, depending on each weaver.

We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 22 to March 2, 2022. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.

Our dates of March 8-16, 2022, are reserved in a fine historic hotel. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

We are committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.

Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore churches, museums and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Your Study Tour Leader is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We have invited Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, to participate as our expert resource guide (to be confirmed).

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • culture, history and identity of cloth
  • cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
  • wool spinning and weaving
  • clothing design and construction
  • embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
  • Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
  • village and individual identity through clothing
  • social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
  • market days and mercantile economy
  • local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
  • quality and value

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Alejandro is a native Mexican who knows textiles and can explain the meaning of the woven symbols embedded in the cloth. You will enjoy learning from him.

We will travel in a large comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world. We promise a sanitized van and all necessary precautions during our visits.

  • We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
  • We enjoy home-cooked meals
  • We meet makers and directly support them
  • We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
  • We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
  • We explore three towns on their market days
  • We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs

Who Should Attend  Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, March 8: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD.

Wednesday, March 9: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and visit two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)

Thursday, March 10: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Friday, March 11: After breakfast, we set out for a full morning at Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate there we go to the outskirts of town to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. After lunch on your own, we meet in the early evening to visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B)

Saturday, March 12: We set out by foot to a nearby textile collaboration that houses three different cooperative groups, one of which is founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020. We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Next, we stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Sunday, March 13: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Monday, March 14: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L)

Tuesday, March 15: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an amber wholesaler, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and other artisans to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Wednesday, March 16. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.

What Is Included

• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets

• 8 breakfasts • 4 lunches • 1 grand finale gala dinner

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  50% of the balance is due on or before October 1, 2021. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 15, 2021. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19 to travel with us. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions. By the time we travel, it is likely booster vaccinations will be required and you will need that, too.

How to Register:  First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you an invoice to make your reservation deposit.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day at a moderate pace. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.

NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Meaningful Gifts That Support Oaxaca Artisans

This is a preview of what will be our last sale before the holidays. If you love Oaxaca and are keeping track of Covid-19 there, you know that the CDC has urged us to NOT travel there. All the social media groups I belong to warn of the same: Covid-19 is raging, hospitals are full and it is dangerous to go. In the absence of tourism, artisans are struggling. You can help by making a purchase here to directly support them.

Assortment of Las Sanjuaneras blusas and huipiles–15 pieces total

I have just received a small shipment of textiles from Las Sanjuaneras Cooperative in the remote coastal village of San Juan Colorado. These pieces will go up for sale on Sunday. Shop will open at 1 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, December 6, 2020.

Maria and her niece, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

I am also expecting a limited shipment of embroidered French knot blouses from Chiapas later next week. Most will be in large and extra-large sizes.

French knots galore–embroidery from Chiapas

Also coming from Oaxaca are a few hand-woven naturally dyed tapestry rugs from Taller Teñido a Mano, along with lengths of naturally-dyed cotton that we will sell as yardage for sewists.

Indigo-dyed wool rug, Teotitlan del Valle

I work directly with the artisans so they get full value for their work. You can be assured that as soon as you buy, I send funds directly to them via Western Union that they can pick up as cash. I also use Remitly that deposits into bank accounts, if they have one.

Indigo-dyed cotton, 12-1/2″x22″ by Taller Teñido a Mano

You get something beautiful to wear or to gift. The artisan has an income to buy the necessities of life at this moment!

Cochineal dyed cotton, 12×22, Taller Teñido a Mano

Shop Open: Las Sanjuaneras Textiles Huipiles, Kaftans, Tunics

Call them huipiles, kaftans, tunics or ponchos. Whatever you call them, call them comfortable, cozy, casual cover-ups. Perfect for lounging or working from home. Perfect for a socially distant safe get-together. Perfect for feeling good in times of Covid-19 and related stress. We are looking for beauty in our lives now especially, and this is one way to attain it.

SOLD. #1. Margarita. 34×43. marigold, iron oxide, indigo. $375.

Read about the Las Sanjuaneras Cooperative here!

There are 27 pieces I’m offering in this collection today. Some are gauzy, light as a feather hand weaves. Some are mid-weight. Some can be used as a poncho. Others are long, short, wide, narrow or cropped. Some are size large and extra-large. Others are small and will fit the petite among us. Please scroll through and make your selection carefully. All sales are final because I will have already paid the weavers by the time I mail them.

Las Sanjuaneras weaver. Photo by Ana Paula Fuentes

100% natural dyes on native, hand-spun cotton, woven on the back strap loom, with slubs and imperfect beauty

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends! We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

#20. Andrea. Marigold, iron oxide, native cotton. 22-3/4×30. $195.

Note: All measurements are in inches. Width is across the front (one side). Please double for circumference. Length is shoulder to hem. Most necks have a 7-8″ opening from shoulder to V.

First come. First served. First email in gets first choice.

SOLD. #4. Delfina. Marigold, mahogany. 34-1/2×38. $365.
SOLD. #11. Margarita. 21×34. Marigold, nanche. $185.
SOLD. #5. Cleotilde. Indigo, mahogany. 38×45. $395.
SOLD. #6. Andrea. Oak, indigo gauze. 35×44. $395.

Read about the Las Sanjuaneras Cooperative here!

#A. Camerina. Guava, iron oxide, indigo. 34-1/2w x 34L. $285.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends! We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

SOLD. #12. Catalina. Superfine indigo, native cotton. 38×43. $395.
SOLD. #7. Maria Lucia. 40×40. Indigo, iron oxide, beet, nanche. $395.
SOLD. #8. Andrea. 33×42. Guava, indigo, almond, gauze. $360.

This is the last sale from Las Sanjuaneras for a while. I’m going on a road trip to the Midwest on Tuesday and won’t return until October.

You may purchase until Monday morning. I will be doing the last mailing on Monday. Please don’t wait to decide! As you know, we sold out FAST on the last two shipments from this cooperative.

SOLD. #9. Patrocinia. 37-1/2×42. Indigo, marigold. $295.
SOLD. #B. Camerina. Indigo, mahogany, banana. 30w x 33L. $225
SOLD. #C. Andrea. Oak, marigold, indigo, natural. 33w x 29L. $265.
#10. Andrea. Marigold, chocolatillo. 35-1/2×24. $295.
SOLD. #13. Brisaida. 31×23. Beet, mahogany, indigo, iron oxide. $295.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends! so I don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

SOLD. #14. Patrocinia. 39×28. Indigo, mahogany. Gauze. $295.
SOLD #15. Andrea. 33×28. Indigo, marigold, mahogany, natural gauze. $295.

Read about the Las Sanjuaneras Cooperative here!

Textile Care: Dry clean or wash by hand. To wash, turn garment inside out. Immerse in cold water using a mild soap such as Fels Naptha or baby shampoo. Don’t use Woolite — it leeches color. Gently massage the cloth. Squeeze and roll in a towel to absorb excess water. Hang to dry. Use medium heat to iron if needed.

#16. Patrocinia. 38×25. Indigo and native cotton. $195.
#18. Aurora. 19×28. Nanche, mahogany, almond, beet. $195.
SOLD. #19. 21×23. banana, almond, indigo, mahogany, brazilwood. $195.

Return Policy: We support artisans and funds get transferred immediately. There are no returns or refunds. This is a final sale.

#21 Margarita. Marigold, iron oxide, beet, brazilwood. 22-3/4×35. $165.
SOLD. #22. Camerina. 20-1/2×26-1/2. marigold, mahogany. $165
SOLD. #17. Aurora. 21×23. indigo, banana, iron oxide. $195.
SOLD. #23. Andrea. indigo, brazilwood, oak, beet, indigo. 32×26. $295.
#24. Aurora. Beet, mahogany, nanche, almond, iron oxide. 38×22. $295.
SOLD. #3. Delfina. Iron oxide, indigo, natural. 34×32. $295
SOLD. #2. Brisaida. Beet, indigo, natural, 31-1/2×37. $325

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends! We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

Las Sanjuaneras Huipils + More to Come

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of these textiles and overcome by your response in support of this great women’s weaving cooperative from San Juan Colorado. Thank you all for your incredible support.

This beauty is now SOLD. #5.

SOLD. #5 by Catalina Garcia Nejia. Dyes: wild marigold, mahogany bark. 34″w x 41″ long. $265.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal invoice and add $12 for cost of mailing.

The weavers were thrilled we visited last January 2020

And, then there is this one. Blue and gold. Pericone and indigo.

SOLD. #17. by Camerina Cabrera. 21-1/2″ wide x 40″ long. $165 + mailing

Now, I’ve just spent the afternoon packing and mailing all the beautiful huipiles and blusas you bought yesterday. Some of you were disappointed because we sold-out early and fast!

So, I’ve contacted Las Sanjuaneras and I am arranging for another shipment of 16 beautiful textiles to come to me from Oaxaca. These will include more blusas and and a few tunics. The selection, again, is magnificent. I have seen preview pictures and chosen the ones I think you will enjoy most.

A selection of beautiful Las Sanjuaneras textiles — at their village

I’ll give you a heads-up when then arrive. I will need a couple of days to prepare them for posting — with photographs and descriptions.

Thank you for being so wonderfully supportive of Oaxaca and her weaving community. We are all deeply appreciative.

Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado
Meet Patrocinia from Las Sanjuaneras, San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca
This is Margarita, another outstanding Las Sanjuaneras weaver
Weavers Rufina with daughter Aurora and her son

Families depend on the work of women in small, remote weaving villages like San Juan Colorado. Husbands are subsistence farmers who are able to feed their families with beans, corn, squash that they raise in the field. But the produce is no commodified because everyone grows what they need to eat. It is the weaving that can bring in the extra money to the household to pay for school, medicine and health care, an occasional chicken or a fiesta.

In times like these, when there are no tourists to visit or to shop in the Oaxaca city galleries, we are doing what we can to help families sustain themselves.