Tag Archives: backstrap loom

Chiapas Textile Cooperative to Exhibit and Sell at Oaxaca Textile Museum

After calling ahead and making an appointment, we took a taxi to the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas at the end of a dirt road to find the headquarters of Camino de los Altos.  This is a cooperative of 130 weavers who make extraordinary textiles.

They will be exhibiting and selling their work at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from Friday through Sunday, February 17-19, 2012.  If you are in Oaxaca, you won’t want to miss this event!

The cooperative began in the mid-1990’s by eight French designers who had a passion for Mayan traditions, textiles, and indigenous design.  El Camino selects ancient traditional colors and re-imagines them.  They produce bags, children’s clothing, pillow covers, scarves, shawls, table cloths, runners, napkins, and dish towels on sturdy, highest quality fabric that is hand-woven on back strap looms in five Chiapas weaving villages.  Six sales are held each year in Paris and at other selected locations around the world.

Wool pillow covers can be the natural color of the sheep or dyed with either palo de Brazil or cochineal to yield a rich red. Mayan women then embellish them with traditional hand-embroidered designs.  The cotton is dyed with industrial color.  The color combinations are juicy and intense, and based upon traditional weaving patterns, too.


As a cooperative, the members meet together to decide next steps, new design and color directions, and pattern innovations. Their commitment is to each other — everyone must have work.  The marketplace speaks, so together they determine what needs to be altered, adapted, changed or discontinued.

[Cultural note: In traditional villages, the men work in the fields and do required community service (cargos).  Women are responsible for all the household work, and care for children and in-laws.  We hear that many of the women who are now able to earn their own income through weaving and other crafts, choose not to marry to achieve some level of independence.]


El Camino de los Altos operates through the sale of their work and the support of a French foundation, and are able to employ four full-time staff.  The money they earn goes directly to the weavers.  In addition, they are training indigenous women in marketing, sales, production, inventory control and other business development aspects that will ensure ongoing success.


A Chiapas retail store, Madre Tierra, sells Camino de los Altos textiles.  It is located across from the sweets market on Insurgentes in the courtyard behind the fabulous bakery that sells the most delicious whole grain onion garlic buns.


Contact:  Veronique Tesseraud, director, elcaminodelosaltos@gmail.com, (967) 631-6944.  Barrio de Cuxtitali, Cerrada Prolongacion Peje de Oro #3.  http://elcaminodelosaltos.blogspot.com/

Book Review: Weaving, Culture and Economic Development in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico

Book: Weaving Yarn, Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico; published by Almadia, 2010; photography by Tom Feher, text by Judith Lockhart-Radtke; ISBN: 978-607-411-059-3

Book Review by Norma Hawthorne

Stunning photographs and intimate personal interviews of indigenous Mixtec women weavers accentuate what it means to keep culture, community, and weaving traditions alive in this remote mountain village of Oaxaca, Mexico.

One of my favorite photographs in this book is a close-up of the calloused, gritty soles of a woman’s feet elegantly peeking out from under the hem of a fanciful floral skirt as she sits on her knees.  While I only see her feet and hemline, I know she is at work weaving on a back strap loom.  It is a sensitive depiction of both the obstacles and the hopefulness of an ancient culture struggling to survive and thrive.

The glorious full-color photography is by Tom Feher and the written narrative is by Judith Lockhart-Radtke.  The book is a culmination of almost a decade of work between the volunteer group, The Circle of Women in Boston, MA, and what developed into a self-sustaining cooperative of women weavers in the Alta Mixteca, far from Oaxaca City.   The book was published to coincide with an exhibition for the weavers at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca in 2010.  It documents and is a beautiful testimony  to a cultural interchange that encouraged learning and literacy, economic independence, and access to better health care.

Eleven Mixtec Women Share Their Life Stories in Their Own Words

The charm of this book is in its ethnographic storytelling.  Each of the eleven Miramar women who are members of the cooperative are interviewed and share their personal experiences about being a Mixtec woman, a weaver, a wife or mother or daughter.  Some are eloquent in describing the experience of their empowerment by learning to read and write. Others poignantly describe the pain of separation and isolation from husbands, sons, and brothers who are, by necessity, working in El Norte and sending money back where there is no work.

Through these visual and written stories we see and hear the struggles of poverty, deprivation, and limited access to health care.   We are also clearly reminded of the universality of womanhood: when women support each other through mutuality and connection they have much greater opportunity to thrive, especially in traditional patriarchal cultures where women have always been physically, economically and emotionally dependent.  The photographs are powerful, simple, and elegant. They are complete stories in and of themselves.

Text is in both English and Spanish

The layout of this book — left side of the page in English, right side in Spanish — creates a bridge to understanding.  The forwards by Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana, the director of the Textile Museum, and famed Mixteca singer-songwriter Lila Downs, add considerable heft to the story.  The book is definitely for those with an interest in women’s studies, grassroots organizing, intercultural exchange and the role of the outsider, economic development and sustainability, weaving, textile art and design, and anyone interested in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Effecting change and making a difference in another culture

Judith Lockhart-Radtke, a clinical social worker and writer, gives us an honest and clear account of the risks, rewards, disappointments, and joy for volunteers from other countries who want to make a difference and effect change. Ultimately, she reminds us, the generation of ideas and their implementation must originate from within to take root and have lasting impact.

The addendum, written in 2010, provides a concise summary of the village economy, the community’s approach to income earning and distribution, the ongoing challenges of maintaining a Boston-Oaxaca collaboration and a move to self-sufficiency, and the impediments to bringing these handmade textiles to foreign markets.

For Information and Book Orders – Contact: Judith Lockhart-Radtke, President of The Circle of Women, Boston, MA; judithlockhartradtke@gmail.com









Whirlwind Day Two Shopping in Oaxaca — If it’s Friday, it must be Ocotlan

Sheri picked us up in her white van at the pre-determined 9 a.m. hour, early by Oaxaca standards, though the streets were already abuzz with honking vehicles.  Our first stop was the ATM (exchange rate 13.12 pesos to the dollar) to stock up again for the day long adventure down the Ocotlan highway.  We passed the airport and headed south along the valley highway that leads to some incredible crafts villages, stopping for gas at Pemex the state-owned oil company.  The earlier the better along this road because the Ocotlan market attracts people from throughout the region whose motivations are to shop for the sheer pleasure of it or for survival needs of buying and selling everything from oilcloth table coverings, hammocks, woven baskets, pipes and gaskets, kitchen utensils, leather belts, children’s plastic shoes and everything else under the sun, including live turkeys raised for market, feet bound in twine so as not to escape.  The van boasted New Mexico license plates, a good fit for around these parts, although vehicles are brought down from every state in north America to be bought, sold and traded.

We circumvented the hubbub, stopping first at the three Aguilar sisters whose shops you might miss if you didn’t pay attention.  They are on the right side of the road heading into Ocotlan, about three blocks before arriving at the zocalo, market central.  This is true folk art at its best.  Josefina sits with legs tucked under her on a padded blanket in the courtyard of her home and sales area forming figures out of soft clay that will later be fired in a kiln that may not reach more than eight hundred degrees.  Grandchildren dart around playing with kittens.  Sons and daughters participate in the clay forming and painting.  Tourists from all corners of the earth stream in and out.  This is a famous stopping place for collecting Oaxaca art, yet the prices of the pieces match the humble working and living space:  smaller figures range in price from one hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty pesos.  That translates from about twelve to twenty dollars each.  Collectors and dealers buy, pack and resell these figures in the U.S. for triple or quadruple the cost.

Next door, sister Irene sculpts hot women of the night and paints their hair yellow, applying blue glitter to create a dress, bosom prominent, one arm on hip, the other akimbo sporting a cigarette, a snake boa wrapped to cover cleavage (just barely).  Imagination flies.  A muerta, not yet painted, bares her skeletal teeth and she flaunts a haughty lilt of the head topped with a wide-brimmed hat to shade her from the strong sun.  How will I get these home?  I ask myself as I consider a purchase.  Oh, don’t think about it, I answer silently.  Go for it anyway, and I do, and because of my magic packing suitcase, everything arrives undamaged.  My prize possession from Guillermina is a skeletal crone whose flowing dress is painted black.  The hem is adorned with cream colored skulls, a red spider crawls along the folds of her skirt, a black shawl frames the sinister face.  Dia de los Muertos is characterized by underworld forms.

Forgive me if I repeat myself.  The impressions of Oaxaca are continuous revelations in memory.   As we head back out of town, we make a left turn almost immediately onto the side road leading to San Antonino, where I want to relocate Don Jose Garcia, the blind potter.  We go down a ways, turn right, make an immediate left at the next street and look for the clay animals that hang over the door to the courtyard that signals we have arrived.  A dog barks.  The door is ajar.  We ring the bell and step inside to be welcomed by the family.  Life-size clay figures cluster around the patio, are tucked haphazardly into corners, are laying on their sides — humans, animals, children.  We are greeted by Don Jose and his wife who guide us into the workshop packed with more sculpture, wall to wall, like the clay soldiers of Xian, men, women, and children stand or kneel side by side, almost alive, waiting to be adopted and taken home.

These pieces are glorious, primitive, raw clay, unglazed.  Some are rough.  Some are polished.  Each with a unique expression that conveys individuality and personality, a special quality that Don Jose has breathed life into as he forms the clay, braids the hair, fashions the nose, tilts the neck, arches the brow or mustache.  These are heavy pieces, primitive.  To ship them would require a crate and an investment of hundreds of dollars.  We admire and take our leave.

Hungry, our next stop is at Azucena where Jacobo Angeles operates a fine restaurant that caters to tourists and tour buses, Elderhostel, and other forms of non-adventure travel.  This is good for San Martin Tilcajete business, since Jacobo represents many of the finest carvers in the village.  On this day, there is a special exhibition of regional folk art on the grounds of the restaurant and gallery, a perfect opportunity to pick up another carving, to eat and drink well, and to make a necessary bathroom stop.

We backtrack to Santo Tomas Jalieza to visit Abigail Mendoza and her family at Nicolas Bravo #1.  On backstrap looms, they weave fine cloth with intricate figures that are fashioned into handbags, belts, wrist bands, table runners, and placemats.  Abigail does the finish work for the rugs woven by Arnulfo Mendoza and Tito Mendoza.  This is among the finest quality backstrap loom weaving you will find anywhere in the Oaxaca valley.

By now, it is five o’clock in the afternoon and the light is beginning to wane.  We travel along the highway back to Oaxaca with a trunk full of goodies, ready for a fresh mango margarita and guacamole at La Olla.  Descanse.

Remigio Mestas: Textile Museum of Oaxaca Exhibition

“Remigio Mestas: A Mirror on the Rich Textiles of Oaxaca” Exhibition at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca November 9, 2008 to February 16, 2009

Here is an exhibition you won’t want to miss if you are in Oaxaca through mid-February.  Sr. Remigio Mestas has an incredible shop in the arcade next to Los Danzantes Restaurant on the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the old city — Alacala Macedonio.  There are gorgeous textiles from throughout Oaxaca, including handwoven fabrics you can make up into your own huipil, tablecloth, bedspread or pillow, as well as traditional garments that are ready-to-wear.  Below are the program notes for the new exhibition.

Remigio Mestas: Espejo de la Riqueza Textil del Estado de Oaxaca

Remigio Mestas hace brillar las cualidades del buen hacer del tejido y bordado, es un hombre que ama y disfruta su trabajo. Originario de Yalalag, Villa Hidalgo en el estado de Oaxaca, Remigio emigró a la capital del estado cuando tenía cuatro años y vivió rodeado de personas trabajadoras e involucradas en el mundo del textil. Su madre tejía en telar de cintura y también sabía coser a máquina. Su padre confeccionaba camisas y pantalones de manta, ambos eran muy creativos y pronto los hijos aprendieron el oficio y llevaban sus mercancías a vender al mercado.

Remigio Mestas illuminates the process of quality weaving and embroidering. He is the embodiment of someone who loves and enjoys his work. A native of Yalalag, Villa Hidalgo in the State of Oaxaca, Remigio emigrated to the capital of Oaxaca with his family when he was four years old. He was surrounded by family who were immersed in the creative textile traditions of Oaxaca. His mother wove on a backstrap loom and used a sewing machine, while his father made shirts and muslin trousers. Their children soon learned to weave and sew, and took the handmade clothing to sell at the market.

Un día la señora Dolores Cruz Palacios y su hija Mari Cruz Rosales le preguntaron a la mamá de Remigio si no sabía de alguien que pudiera ayudarles con sus ventas en el mercado Labastida. El pequeño Remigio, que en ese entonces tenía siete años, les pidió permiso a sus padres para trabajar con las señoras. Al principio dudaron, pero al ver tanta insistencia del niño, aceptaron que fuera si tanto lo deseaba. Entonces Remigio iba por las mañanas a la escuela y por las tardes trabajaba. Al año, las señoras lo invitaron a vivir con ellas y él aceptó, porque siempre se sintió bien acogido. Le gustaba el trabajo y relacionarse con los artesanos y además se sentía a gusto con aquella familia, integrada por la abuela, su hija y dos alegres niñas: Jorgina y Ana Pérez Castellanos.

One day Ms. Dolores Cruz Palacios and her daughter Mari Cruz Rosales asked Remigio´s mother if she knew someone who could help them to sell at the Labastida market. Young Remigio, who was 7 years old, asked permission from his parents to work with the women. His parents hesitated then agreed when they saw how much Remigio wanted to do this. Each day he attended school in the morning and worked during the afternoon. A year later, the women invited Remigio to join their family and live with them. Of course, he agreed because it was a very comfortable household comprising three generations of women -– a grandmother, her daughter, and two happy grandchildren – Jorgina and Ana Perez Castellanos.

Desde entonces, Remigio admiraba el arte popular, especialmente el trabajo de los tejedores. Pronto notó cuáles piezas estaban mejor concebidas que otras, supo distinguir las regiones en que se elaboraban los textiles, los distintos tipos de tejidos y bordados, así como la utilización de fibras y tintes naturales. También se daba cuenta que había materiales industrializados que deterioraban la calidad de los textiles tradicionales.

Since then, Remigio admired popular art, the work of artisans, and especially the work of the weavers. Soon he noticed which pieces were better quality than others. He learned to distinguish the regions where the textiles originated, the different weaving and embroidery techniques, the use of fibers and natural dyes. He also noticed that pieces made with industrialized materials detracted from the quality of traditional textiles.

En 1978, doña Dolores y su hija fundaron una tienda ubicada a un costado del templo de Santo Domingo y al poco tiempo Mari Cruz y Remigio abrieron un nuevo local en la misma calle al que llamaron “artesanías de Oaxaca” con un giro más artístico y mejorando la calidad de la mercancía. Más tarde, este negocio cambió el nombre a “Juana Cata”, como se le conoce actualmente. En ese entonces, Remigio era un joven que estudiaba la secundaria, se dedicaba al comercio y comenzó a hacer trabajos tallados en madera.

In 1978, Ms. Dolores and her daughter founded a shop located next to the Santo Domingo Church and little later Mari Cruz and Remigio opened a new shop on the same street called “Artesanias de Oaxaca” with a more artistic touch and higher quality merchandise. Later, this business changed its name to “Juana Cata,” as it is now known. During that period, Remigio was attending junior high school, operating a business and beginning to create woodcarvings.

En 1996, Remigio terminó sus estudios universitarios de contador público y supo que su pasión era relacionarse con los tejedores y si algo tenía claro era que se iba a dedicar a esa noble tarea que también era su vida. Así, Remigio conseguía textiles bellísimos, piezas únicas que sólo en su tienda se podían encontrar y comenzó a tener una clientela interesada en obtener obras de exquisita factura, realizados con materiales finos. Interesado en los colorantes naturales, Remigio comenzó a teñir hilos para dárselos a los tejedores y fue de esta manera que inició una nueva etapa en el textil oaxaqueño.

In 1996, Remigio earned a degree in accounting. He also realized that his passion was to relate with weavers and he was certain he wanted to dedicate his life to this purpose. Remigio sought out only the most beautiful, unique textiles to sell in his shop, and began to build a clientele interested in purchasing exquisite handcrafted pieces made with only the finest materials, including those made with natural dyes. His interest grew and he began to dye yarn and provide them to weavers, and in this way a new era for Oaxaca textiles began.

En 2002, el éxito de Remigio lo llevó a abrir otra hermosa tienda en Casa Vieja, en la calle peatonal más concurrida de la ciudad. Con una clientela cautiva, el local se ha convertido en un punto obligado para los amantes de los textiles de Oaxaca. En 2006, por los problemas políticos y sociales, y la ausencia de turismo en la ciudad de Oaxaca, Remigio inauguró otra tienda en San Miguel de Allende, en el estado de Guanajuato. Su preocupación era continuar con el apoyo a sus paisanos indígenas, a sus tejedores.

In 2002, Remigio´s success led him to open shop in Casa Vieja, located on Alacala Macedonia, the busiest pedestrian street of the city. With a captive clientele, the shop has became a “must visit” stop for lovers of Oaxaca textiles. In 2006, due to societal unrest and the resulting absence of tourism in the city of Oaxaca, Remigio opened another shop in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. His commitment was to continue supporting his fellow indigenous people — his weavers.

Remigio es conocido por la generosidad de sus conocimientos, de ahí su éxito como un maestro que disfruta enseñar a sus clientes las características de cada textil. Con ternura explica la procedencia de la pieza, los materiales en las que se realizó, el significado del diseño, la utilización de tintes naturales y destaca la belleza de la prenda. Trabajador honesto y comprometido con los artesanos, Remigio ha logrado sensibilizar a sus clientes y concibe cada pieza como si fuera un tesoro. El comprador siempre sale satisfecho de valorar el trabajo, el tiempo y la calidad de la prenda adquirida.

Remigio is known for the generously sharing his knowledge. He is a master who enjoys teaching customers about the qualities and intricacies of each textile. Tenderly, he explains the origin of the piece, the materials with which it was made, the meaning of the designs, and the use of natural dyes. Each piece is a treasure. Remigio has succeeded in raising awareness for highest quality artisan made textiles. He represents the weavers with honesty and commitment. Customers leave his shop satisfied and appreciate what they have purchased.

La visión de Remigio ha logrado mejorar notablemente el textil oaxaqueño. Su experiencia y su origen indígena han sido factores fundamentales para haber contactado a los mejores tejedores del estado y muchos de ellos han podido comprender que al mejorar la calidad de los hilos, su trabajo luce más y es mejor remunerado. Sin duda, esta contribución es el reflejo de un hombre generoso, que creció en un ambiente de trabajo y constancia, sensible a las manos de los artesanos de Oaxaca y capaz de transformar una pieza en verdadera obra de arte.

Remigio´s vision has had a notable impact on the textiles of Oaxaca. Because of his experience and indigenous origins, he has been successful in contacting and guiding the best weavers of the state and many have understood and responded by improving the quality of the yarns they use. As a result, their work is higher quality and can command a higher price. Without doubt, this contribution reflects on his generosity, his constant work and perseverance, and sensitivity for the hand work created by Oaxacan artisans and capability to transform something into a truly great piece of art.

El Museo Textil de Oaxaca rinde homenaje a Remigio Mestas por su habilidad para comprender, experimentar y sorprender al mundo con su trabajo en beneficio del textil mexicano.

The Museo Textil de Oaxaca pays homage to Remigio Mestas for his ability to understand, experiment and surprise the world with his work that benefits Mexican textiles.


Written by Maria Isabel Granen Porrua, November 2008, translated by Eric Chavez Santiago with assistance from Norma Hawthorne

You Can’t Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear

I’m not sure about that! Oaxaqueno artists are VERY creative. In Teotitlan del Valle and throughout the Oaxaca Valley master weavers produce extraordinary art pieces that are created from the mere fibers of sheep wool and cotton plants. Designs are intricately detailed, as you can see below. And, even the smallest piece can take hours to create. The detail of the shoulder bag (below left) is in the saltillo weaving style that employs 22 threads per inch. This piece is a combination of naturally dyed wool and silk weft on a cotton warp. Mendoza Purse, Teotitlan del Valle

Mendoza Purse, detail

The red piece below is produced on a backstrap loom in the village of Santo Tomas Jalieza, a village off the main road to Ocotlan. It is a must stop, even if you only have time to spend 30 minutes at the central market. Backstrap weaving is women’s work, something Zapotecs have been doing for over 6,000 years. Look at the fine detail of this all cotton shoulder/book bag. It is s very sturdy weave. Love birds and feathered dancers are common images. Look for pieces that are tightly woven using fine threads. They will cost more but endure longerSanto Tomas Jalieza Purse, backstrap loom.

These pieces are in my personal collection.

The bag on the right (above) is a fine tapestry weave created by Josefina Mendoza. I took the piece to Luis and Licha at Casa Santiago on Ave. Benito Juarez in Teotitlan and asked them to add a long leather strap and leather gusset. Their leather craftsmanship is exceptional.

The handbag shown below (left) is a very small over-the-shoulder mini-pouch made on a backstrap loom in Jalieza. It is a much finer “sister” to the one shown above left. You can see the detail of the weaving patterns … 3 designs to the row instead of 2 with a lot of intricacy. The bag with the geometric design next to it is 100% silk, and the center wavy row is embellished with silver threads … yes, real silver. I love these two really small bags … they are perfect for holding ID, coins, bills, and a credit card or two.

Small bag, 5\