Tag Archives: Chiapas textiles

In San Pedro Chenalho, Chiapas, Women Unite By Weaving

In March 2022, I had the good fortune to meet the weavers of the Maya cooperative Tsobol Antsetik (Women United) where they live and work in the township of Chixilton, Chenalho, Chiapas, on International Women’s Day. The group was formed over two decades ago and has 25 members. They use the back strap loom to weave for personal use and to sell, when they can. This is so important because without this work to sustain their life on ancestral lands, they would be forced to migrate to other parts of Mexico or the USA for employment. Besides weaving, they help husbands and sons to grow corn and beans and coffee.

I went through the auspices of Weaving for Justice, a Las Cruces, New Mexico not-for-profit founded by Christine Eber, Ph.D., an anthropologist who teaches at New Mexico State University. This is an organization that knows no boundaries. Members are from throughout the USA, Canada and worldwide. Flora Graham and Sheryl Williams, both members, who were participants on our Chiapas Textile Tour, arranged the visit.

To get there is easy … and not. Chenalho is a mountain town about an hour from the hustle bustle of San Cristobal del las Casas. We find the designated colectivo taxi garage on a commercial street beyond Santo Domingo Church, deep in the indigenous market that encompasses many city blocks. The streets are packed with tianguis, the temporary tents where informal vendors sell fruit, vegetables, housewares, brassieres, infant clothing, and occasional handcrafts. After paying the fare of 200 pesos for five of us, we make out way out of the valley and up the winding road.

Curves and switchbacks take us through terraced fields where spring corn has not yet been planted. on one side of the road, fern-filled rock walls send forth rivulets of water cascading down the hill. On the other side, a sheer drop off gives us views of lush green fields where giant round winter squash are ready for harvest. Sheep, goats and cows graze. Bromeliads cling to tree branches. A curl of smoke in the distance is either from a field being cleared (slash and burn agriculture) or a cooking fire. Humble wood dwellings dot the landscape. As we get closer to town, we begin to see women wearing their traje (indigenous garments) as they sweep porches or tend to children and livestock. A lonely painted wood road sign offers gasoline for sale at the neighborhood convenience store around the bend.

I’ve always admired the back-strap loomed striped cotton cloth of Chenalho, typically embroidered or woven using the supplementary weft technique on the bodice with symbols central to life on the highlands, central to dreams and mythologies: stars, a crescent moon, corn stalks, field furrows, strawberries, turtles, butterflies, hearts, spiders, grapes, dog paws, the heads of caterpillars and fish bones. A design called five spines is most emblematic of the village.

Years ago, during my first visit to Chiapas, I found this incredible weaving and embroidery in the artisan market in front of Santo Domingo Church. Today, there are few pieces to be found. It’s been a dream to go to the village, but I never managed it until March 2022. Here, I found a creative, dedicated and energetic group of women of all ages, dedicated to preserving their textile traditions.

Christine Eber writes, “Since the 1990’s, young women have been inventing new designs that include animals, insects, plants and fruits. They embroider these designs on their blouses and some put them on their skirts.” As time progressed, more shiny, synthetic threads were incorporated into the embroidery in addition to cotton. As these threads became more available, there was a move away from using wool which produced a bulky embroidery that wasn’t as fine.

We are adding a visit to Chenalho on our 2023 Chiapas Textile Tour. There are four spaces open. Come with us for a textile adventure of a lifetime!

Our tours are always off-the-beaten path, exploring the best textiles, meeting with makers.

Weaving for Justice provides support through Sophie’s Circle, the 501(C)3 that accepts tax-deductible donations and offers books and clothing for sale to support the women and their families.

Our tours are aligned with Weaving for Justice values: We ensure that producers receive fair prices and their values, goals and needs guide the fair trade process. We never bargain. It takes hours and months to make these garments. We support providing equal employment opportunities for all people, particularly the most disadvantaged. By bringing visitors to remote villages, we offer opportunities for creativity and individual recognition. We support providing healthy and safe working conditions within the local context. We respect cultural traditions, do not judge another way of life nor compare it to our own. We value reciprocity and respect. We have been bringing groups of textile lovers to Chiapas for many years and we are committed to building long-term relationships, to autonomy and human rights.

Sophisticated San Cristobal de Las Casas: A Changing Scene

It’s different this year in San Cristobal de Las Casas. There are more upscale shops and sophisticated clothing designs using indigenous textiles. Just meandering the three andadors — cobblestone walking streets here — I see remarkable differences.

Sophisticated handwoven pillow covers at Sna Jolobil Cooperative

There are more visitors coming who are interested in textiles and the Maya culture. There is a greater influence from designers and the styles are definitely geared to a more upscale buyer. Some of the jackets and tops encorporate small elements of the Maya counting system but are magnified into stunning graphic designs.

Ex Convent Santo Domingo, now Museo Mundo Maya

It seems as if there is a new energy in San Cristobal. Yes, there are still young European back-packers who pass through on their way from Guatemala to Mexico, populating the busy new pox (posh) bars after 6 p.m.

Frogs, feathered serpents and diamonds representing the center of the universe

However, there is innovation in the air, the kind I haven’t seen in the five years I’ve been bringing small groups of textile travelers here.

Perhaps this is because young weaver and designer Alberto Lopez Gomez from Magdalenas Aldama made a big buzz this year at New York Fashion Week. We are going to his cooperative this Saturday morning.

Today we are off to the traditional weekly market in Tenejapa.

Intricate embroidery work on a huipil of birds and flowers

Sheri Brautigam and I have committed to repeating this popular and always sold-out Chiapas Textile Study Tour in 2021. Our dates are February 23 to March 3. Send us a Registration Form if you are interested in participating. The itinerary will be mostly the same. Only the dates will change.

El Camino de Los Altos, A.C., Chiapas-French Connection

The non-profit association El Camino de Los Altos was established in Mexico as a result of a twelve-year collaboration between Mayan weavers in Chiapas and the French non-profit group El Camino, made up of eight professional designers all working voluntarily together to create a high quality collection.

El Camino de Los Altos recently held an exhibit and sale at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and I was fortunate enough to be in town that weekend at the start of the opening day.  The group is composed of 150 indigenous weavers from five different municipalities in Los Altos de Chiapas.  The aim of the partnership is to improve the living conditions of the weavers and their families, to contribute to the long-term survival of an outstanding ancestral art, and to provide the women weavers, who have been learning textile design for twelve years, the opportunity to grow professionally both as weavers and designers.

To accomplish these goals, the association has established a new training center where the weavers meet and exchange ideas with designers, artists, and others interested in promoting the collection.  The designs combine bold, contemporary colors and motifs with ancient techniques and iconography.  the materials used are of the highest quality cotton.  The members of El Camino de Los Altos are also learning to manage and administer the association and market their products internationally.  The association continues to seek financial support in order to promote and market the beautiful textiles.

The collection focuses on interior design, bed linens and accessories, in additional to shawls, table coverings, scarves, handbags and shoulder bags, pillow covers, and bed spreads.  I loved the small, intricately hand-embroidered baby bibs that were on display alongside adult sized garments.

Most of the textiles are woven on pre-Hispanic backstrap looms using mercerized cotton yearn or sheep wool and dyed with natural dyes.  The association includes the follow municipalities:  Chamula, Larrainzar, Oxchuc, Pantelho, and Zinacantan.

Contact Information:

elcaminodelosaltos@gmail.com

Cerrada Prolongacion Peje de Oro No. 3-A

Barrio de Cuxtitali C.P. 29230

San Cirstobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

Tel: (967) 631 69 44