Tag Archives: backstrap loom

San Andres Larrainzar and Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas: Textiles, A Conduit to Culture

Our last road trip on the Chiapas Textile Tour: Deep Into the Maya World takes us to the Maya highlands villages of San Andres Larrainzar and Magdalena Aldama. Many feel that both these villages produce some of the most outstanding textiles of the region. Here, we visit extended family cooperatives where both women and men weave, and a flying shuttle loom workshop that employs over 80 men in a remote village far from the center of town.

Worthy news: We all tested COVID-negative before leaving Chiapas and returning to the USA. This was the fourth tour this season where every participant tested negative.

It is a delight to be here and experience how the textiles are a roadmap to the culture. Weavings incorporate symbols of everyday life and spiritual beliefs. We understand more by seeing, sharing, and learning. We know that for women, the work of weaving is incorporated into other daily activities of cooking, caring for children and elderly family members, attending to the needs of husbands and friends.

Registration Open for 2023 Chiapas Textile Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

How long does it take to weave a huipil? we ask.

Time is a dimension here, not a precise measurement. Life is governed by the rising and setting of the sun, the rotation of the earth, the alignment of moon and stars. The answer to the question is tentative. Oh, maybe eight or nine months, a woman says. Each day is different. She picks up her loom, ties one end to a tree trunk and cinches the waist tie around her mid-section while watching the sheep or goats and children, all is women’s work. Then, she picks it up again while the baby is napping or the husband goes to the field to plant or harvest corn, beans and squash. Work is intermittent and unpredictable.

Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico. Highlands villages are isolated at the far reaches of winding mountain roads. Poverty keeps people in their place. They live in cinder block houses that have no heat. The floor can be packed earth. A wood-fueled cooking fire gives off a smokey essence that penetrates cotton and wool on the loom The fire is a source of light from which to weave as the sun sets.

Perhaps there is an elementary school there with access to a sixth grade education. Yet from this, the creativity of the human spirit rises and some of the most extraordinary textiles emerge.

My advice is to our travelers is to observe and understand. We do not come here to judge. We can compare values, lifestyle and culture in order to appreciate and explore similarities and differences.

I want to share with you this photo-essay of our last road trip together. I hope you enjoy it.

From San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Textile Sale

My modus operandi is to visit the homes and cooperatives of the finest weavers wherever I travel in Mexico and elsewhere. I can’t possibly wear everything I love. But that does not deter me from buying to support what they do. We hear time and again from weavers on our textile tours that the pandemic has wrought economic havoc on their lives and there have been few if any customers who come to visit and buy. Without this support, extraordinary artisans will give up their work and turn to something more economically sustainable — servers and cooks in restaurants, hotel maids, shop girls. The men who make the looms, leave to work in the USA to provide food for their families.*

We don’t want that to happen! So, here I am again, with a stash of beautiful textiles to offer to you for sale.

Buy now. I’ll be mailing after April 1 when I return to the USA.

How to Buy: mailto:norma.schafer@icloud.com Tell me the item you want by number. Send me your mailing address. Tell me how you want to pay. Choose one of three ways.

You can pay one of three ways: 1) with Zelle (account number 919-274-6194) and no service fee; 2) with Venmo or 3) with PayPal. If you choose either #2 or #3, we add on a 3% service fee which is their charge to us, and we will send a Request for Funds to your email address. The request will include the cost of the garment + $12 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing. I’ll be mailing from Santa Cruz, CA, when I return to the USA after April 1, 2022.

SOLD 1. Magdalena Aldama huipil. Cotton. 25” wide x 29” long. $450 + mailing. a stained glass window for Joan!
#2. Venustiano Carranza gauze huipil, 24” wide x 36” long. Cotton. $195 + mailing.
SOLD 3. Venustiano Carranza huipil, 23” wide x 35” long. Cotton. $195 + mailing
SOLD 4. Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas shawl. Cotton. 14-3/4” wide x 56” long. pair with the hot pink huipil. $85 + mailing.
SOLD 5. San Lorenzo Zinacantan, land of flowers, free-form machine embroidered blouse. 21” wide x 30” long. Polyester. $120 + mailing.
SOLD 6. 29” wide x 23” long. Rayon with a subtle hint of glitter. Chiapas. Backstrap loom. $135 + mailing.
#7. Aguacatenango, Chiapas French knot embroidered blouse. Size M-L. 23” wide across embroidered bodice. 25” long. Sleeve length from shoulder 21” $135 + mailing.
This short sleeve green bodice blouse is also available, Size XL $135 + mailing gorgeous smocking

*Agustin, the husband of my friend Francisca who made this blouse (above), left almost a year ago to work in a Chinese restaurant in High Point, NC, where he is washing dishes. He will be there another year to pay off debt incurred during the pandemic. She is at home with her daughter and mother.

SOLD 8. Cream on cream from Venustiano Carranza. 23” wide x 26” long. Loose drape. Gauze weave. 4-Selvedge edge. $135 + mailing.
SOLD 9. White on white. 4-Selvedge edge. Gauze. Venustiano Carranza. 19” wide x 23” long. $110 + mailing.
SOLD 10. White on white gauze. 4-Selvedge edge. Venustiano Carranza. $110. 23”wide x 26” long. To Olive
SOLD #11. White on white. Gauze. 4-Selvedge edge. Venustiano Carranza. $135 + mailing. 22” wide x 23” long.

San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, Where Textiles Tell Stories

San Juan Colorado is up the mountain about an hour-and-half from Pinotepa Nacional along the Costa Chica. It’s at the end of the road, so secluded that the Spanish Conquest and proselytizing priests didn’t reach here until much later. It’s why traditional backstrap loom weaving and natural dyeing have survived over the years.

Mostly women weave here, but some men are also learning. Girls start when they are around ten years old. Native wild preHispanic cotton grows here, too — caramel colored brown, mint green, creamy white make up the palette. White thread can also be dyed red with cochineal, blue with indigo, yellow with wild marigold, brown with nuts and bark. Brazilwood turns white cotton to a fucsia hot pink. Cooking cotton in an iron pot dulls the color. White becomes a soft grey.

We visit one of the oldest cooperatives, Jini Nuu. We gather in the courtyard under the shade of an almond tree The bark is also a dye material. Yuridia and Verónica welcome us. The older women are sitting on the ground, legs tucked under them, bare toes peeking out from their posahuanco wrap-around skirts, spinning cotton with the drop spindle, picking seeds from the cotton to get ready to spin it, and weaving on the backstrap loom.

Our group sits down for lunch. We are served tamales stuff with a local specialty of mangrove mussels and another type stuffed with chicken. There is a spicy beef broth soup, tasty fruit waters, avocado, Oaxaca queso fresco, and plenty of made in the comal tortillas. We are in foodie heaven. Our desert is a shot of Piedra de Alma mezcal.


Mid-afternoon we cross the village to visit Camerina and the Las Sanjuaneras cooperative where they weave beautiful gauze fabric and work only in natural dyes. Their oldest member is age 81 and their youngest is in her 30’s. Cooperatives are important social and economic organizations, offering ways to marketi and also provide mutual support.

Let us know if you want to go in 2023

Designs woven into the cloth are selected by each weaver. They I clise the flora and fauna of the region. Since we are near the coast, this includes crab, turtles, ducks, birds, stars, rainbows, mountains, scorpions, pine trees, corn plants, chickens. The row of women figures holding hands depicts solidarity. Shoulder decorations of zigzag depict the Feathers of Quetzalcoatl — the serpent god. The double-headed eagle has special significance: the duality of life, ting-hangs, man-woman, fertility.

Collectibles and Wearables: Artisan Made and For Sale

My tradition is to look through my collection and offer distinctive pieces for sale just before I leave Oaxaca to return for visits to the USA. Most pieces are new and never worn, collected as part of my commitment to support artisans where I travel. A few are part of my personal wardrobe, rarely used, and now too large for me. 15 PIECES TOTAL. Scroll down!

I leave for the USA on Thursday, March 12. If you want a piece, please purchase by March 10. I will mail by March 17. Each piece is numbered and priced separately. I add on $12 USD for USPS priority mailing anywhere in USA. If you live in Canada, mailing is more than double.

I will only take with me what I pre-Sell. Email your intent to purchase to: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Send me: Item # and price, your name, mailing address (city/state/ZIP). I will send you a PayPal invoice. As soon as your purchase is complete, I will mark the item SOLD. Thank you VERY much.

1A. Embroidered dress, size Petite-Small, Aguacatenango, Chiapas, $185 USD

I bought it off the hanger at Alberto Gomez Lopez’ cooperative. Oh, I thought it would fit and it doesn’t. It must be size Petite/Small.

1B. Extraordinary embroidery and smocking. New.
1C. Sleeve detail, Aguacatenango dress
#2. Indigo, purple snail dye, native Oaxaca cotton, size L-XL, $265 USD, Dreamweavers Coop
SOLD. #3 hand-loomed gauze cotton, L-XL, San Pedro Amusgos, from Remigio Mestas, $145
#4 Tenejapa, Chiapas, hand-loomed collector piece, $285 USD
#4b. Detail of bodice
SOLD. #5 San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas, collector piece, $285 USD
SOLD. #5 bodice detail
SOLD. #6 Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, collector piece, embroidered, hand-loomed, $185
#6 bodice detail
#7 San Andres Larrainzar, size M-L, back-strap loom, $95
#7 bodice detail
#8 triangle scarf, Zinacantan, Chiapas, $75 USD
#9 scarf, hand-knotted fringe with beading (chakira), Tenancingo de Degollado
#9, extra-large Ikat scarf, Tenancingo de Degollado, $250 USD
#10 Multi-stripe scarf or table runner, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, $85 USD
SOLD. #11 Cross-stitch needle work dress, Oaxaca coast, $185 USD
SOLD. #11 bodice detail
SOLD. #12 size L-XL, embroidered, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, $70 USD
SOLD. #13 size L-XL, San Juan Cotzocon, Oaxaca, backstrap loom, from Remigio, $145 USD
SOLD. #14 San Juan Cancuc, Chiapas embroidered and woven huipil, size M, $120 USD
#15 Dreamweavers Coop, Pinotepa de Don Luis, size L-XL, purple snail dye, fine huipil, $245
#15 bodice detail, silk dyed w/rare purple snail, backstrap loom finely woven

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