We’ve just added this new day tour to our menu of workshops and tours. It is designed to give textile collectors, retailers, wholesalers, fashionistas, and aficionados exclusive access! Different and more specialized than any of our other one-day textile experiences, we take you into the homes and studios of some of the finest weavers and cooperatives found in the State of Oaxaca. What makes this different?
Based on our vast experience working with weavers, we know who makes the absolute best garments! They are individuals and families who come from remote areas of Oaxaca: the coast, from the Mixtec, Triqui or Mixe regions. They represent their families here in the city, where they maintain a residence. Where they live and work are obscure, unknown, off the beaten path, up switchback roads high in the mountains beyond the Guelaguetza stadium, or in the foothills of new neighborhoods under the shadow of the Sierra Madre del Sur. Because we have personal relationships with them, they welcome us and whomever we bring to their homes to see their collections.
Because this tour is so personal, we limit it to FOUR people at a time.
Cost: $450 for one person. Add $200 per person for each additional person.
Itinerary: We pick you up in the historic center of Oaxaca at 9:00 a.m. in a comfortable four-wheel drive vehicle. We need this to pick our way up the switchback road up to the top of a mountain that overlooks the Oaxaca valley! We return you to the city around 5:30 p.m.
You meet the makers! All along the way, you will see demonstrations, discuss motifs and iconography, how the fabric and dyes are created, and learn about the cultural history of the cloth. A rare and insider experience.
Who we visit:
- Nationally recognized back-strap loom weavers from San Mateo del Mar, where they create gauze clothing embellished with sea life, flora and fauna of their region, mostly 80/2 and 60/2 finest gauge cotton or silk. Three types of weaving are employed — 1) passed thread technique; 2) supplementary weft technique; and 3) double-faced technique. San Mateo is on the ocean on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, eight-hours from Oaxaca city.
- Award-winning back-strap loom weavers from San Juan Cotzocon in the Sierra Mixe of Oaxaca. You find symbols of serpents, flowers, mountains and whimsical animals in their work. Fine, intricate detail using the supplementary weft technique. High in the mountains, about half-way between Oaxaca city and Salina Cruz, were you to go there it would take five-hours on a curving mountain road. Then, would you know who to contact?
- Outstanding pieces from a cooperative based in San Pedro Amuzgos in the Sierra Sur, that includes pieces made from hand-spun coyuchi and green cotton, indigo and cochineal dyed threads, and the rare caracol purpura. This cooperative also represents work from Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan, sister Amuzgo villages in Guerrero, plus Santiago Ixtayutla and Santa Maria Zacatepec — a mere 125 miles from Oaxaca, but a seven-hour road trip over winding mountain passes!
- The exclusive bodega of a famous collector who explains how he works with artisans and supports them OR a young, innovative Triqui weaver who is working only in natural dyes using traditional motifs created on the back-strap loom.
Mid-way through the day, we make a lunch stop in the city at a cafe that serves delicious food featuring Oaxaca specialties. Lunch is at your own expense and not included in the cost of the tour.
Note: Because artisan schedules are variable, we reserve the right to adjust the itinerary without notice.
Your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is Eric Chavez Santiago.
Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican textiles and folk art with a special interest in artisan development and promotion. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training and a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa are founders of Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. Eric is a business partner with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, too. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. A graduate of Anahuac University, Eric founded the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department in 2007 and went on to become managing director of the folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular, a post he held until late 2021. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture and community.
How to Register? Send us an email at least a week in advance of your visit. Give us a choice of dates you could be available. This is important because artisan schedules are irregular. We customize every appointment. We then send you a request for a 25% non-refundable deposit that can be paid using Zelle or Venmo after we confirm date availability. We will need your pick-up location, too.
Note: Some artisans only accept bank deposits using wire transfer. We recommend you install the App Remitly to make purchases. Others may accept credit cards. All accept MXN pesos in cash. (U.S. dollars require that artisans take funds to a money exchange, which charges them high commissions. We don’t recommend this form of payment.) Also of note: We highly discourage bargaining. Prices are fair and you are buying direct from the makers. It takes hours, days, weeks, months to make one garment.
Inside Out: Primer to Buying Mexico Handmade Clothing — Quality Tips
On Friday, I took a 40-minute trip with my friend Laurita to Magdalena Teitepac in the foothills on the other side of the Carretera Nacional Mexico 190 (aka Panamerican Highway) for the purposes of textile shopping, always my favorite past-time.
Magdalena Teitipac church next to the municipal building
The Zapotec village is beyond San Juan Guelavia, the basket-making village. A group of entrepreneurial Magdalena women who do needlework staged this First Annual Embroidery and Weaving Fair, promoted with a banner hanging from the highway overpass. Laurita spotted it coming home one day.
Can you tell if this beautiful embroidery is hand- or machine-stitched?
Spaces Open: Chiapas Textile Study Tour
The visit got me thinking about quality variations in clothing that is sewn, embroidered, woven and crocheted here in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.
Some of the women showing us their needlework blouses.
We are coming into Oaxaca’s peak tourist season when travelers come from all over the world, and many snowbirds plant their wings here from December through March.
Great cut-work and embroidery with unfinished seams
It is particularly challenging for first-time visitors who are blown away by the quantity of blouses, huipils, rebozos and other garments sold by street vendors, in small markets, and in tourist shops throughout the city.
Beaded blouses finished with French seams on 100% cotton, the best
How do you know what to buy and how much to pay for it?
Tip #1: Shop around. Look before buying. Look at lot. Go in and out of stores. Stop and look at the clothing the vendors have for sale. Ask prices. See what you like. Take your time.
Tip #2: Turn the garment inside out. Look at the seam edges of the cloth. Are they finished with a machined zigzag stitch or serger for reinforcement? Has the cloth edge been trimmed with a pinking shears? It is rough and will it unravel after a few washings? How strong are the stitches?
Softest, finest manta cloth, great embroidery, dense pleating
Tip #3: Check out the fabric. Is it populina? This is what locals call the commercial cloth mix of cotton/polyester blend. Locals like this cloth because it dries much faster than pure cotton. It is also less expensive. Is it manta? This is 100% cotton cloth, more expensive, and preferred by many of us for softness, wearability and comfort.
Populina has a sheen. You can feel the polyester.
Tip #4: Check out the cloth again. If it’s manta, is it a fine, lighter weight weave or it is coarse and scratchy? Is it yellow color or white? What are your preferences?
#whomademyclothes .... is a Fashion Revolution movement dedicated to sourcing textiles direct from makers, awareness for buying disposable clothing made from cheap materials, assembled by underpaid workers.
Tip #5: If the clothing is embroidered, how fine is the embroidery? Is it by hand or machined? Are the stitches dense or loose? What about the crochet edge? Is it tied off or are there loose threads? Is it shiny, synthetic thread, dense/coarse polyester thread or good quality cotton?
Amazing pleated work from the Mixteca, with coarse embroidery yarn
Tip #6: Shop first in some of the better clothing galleries like Los Baules de Juana Cata or Arte de Amusgos to compare what you see on the street. See what the best looks like. Turn these inside out. Look at the finish work. Are the edges straight? What about the stitches that join two lengths of hand-woven cloth together? How is the neckline finished? What about the hem?
Want to buy direct from artisans? Take a study tour!
Tip #7: Price is usually based on quality, but not always. I recently bought a beautiful deshillado and embroidered blusa in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. I paid 2,500 pesos, quite a lot! The embroidery is exquisite and the crochet edges are fine. The seams are not finished well and I may need to take it under the needle of my sewing machine to reinforce it. But, I knew that when I bought it.
Locals gather for the Magdalena Teitipac Feria
What are you willing to pay? What is it worth to you? Is there a whimsical design you like and you are willing to sacrifice some of the quality issues?
Tip #8: Don’t hesitate to walk away because you notice stains on the cloth, raveling threads or holes in the seams. Work is done quickly and quality can suffer.
I’ve seen excellent work done on very poor cloth. I’ve seen embroidered, beaded and woven pieces made by one women that are attached to cloth that doesn’t match. Needlework and sewing can often be made by two different people. The sewing can be haphazard. The corners don’t match up and the joining work isn’t good. It is up to us to educate ourselves and to also say in a gracious, caring way, that we would like a better quality product.
We can support artisans and cooperatives who take the time to work on quality improvement.
Banner advertising the event
Tip #9: When is a bargain not a bargain? When the color bleeds. When the seams unravel. When the embroidery stitching loosens. When you get it home and ask, Why did I buy that?
Tip #10: Please know that because you are in Mexico, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BARGAIN. It is not a culture of bargaining, much to the surprise of many. The average daily wage is 150 pesos, or about $8 USD. We have a big advantage. The exchange rate is about 18-19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to create a handmade textile. Let’s pay people a fair wage for their labor and creativity. They will offer a discount because they need to feed their families, not because it is part of the “game.”
On the street, Magdalena Teitipac
Did I buy anything in Magdalena Teitipac? Yes, a lovely, beribboned apron for 100 pesos and some amazing artisan chocolate from Tlacolula, 20 pesos a bag.
Why didn’t I buy a blusa? Because indigenous women here in Oaxaca like their blouses tight across the chest and snug under the arms. Sizes are deceiving and it’s best to try something on first, otherwise you can get it home and find out it doesn’t fit. Nothing fit me!
Basket weavers outside the Magdalena Teitipac market
Cooperatives working with NGOs on product improvement are receiving education about quality control, making finished seams,and patterns to fit women from the U.S.A. and Canada.
If you have any tips you’d like to share, please add them.
Of course, the final caveat is always — if you love it, buy it. You’ll never see the same thing again!
Posted in Clothing Design, Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged buy, Embroidery, Mexico, Oaxaca, price, quality, shop, textiles, tips, value