Tag Archives: Cuetzalan

Cuetzalan del Progreso Hosts Annual Fair, Puebla, Mexico

It’s sunrise in Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla, Mexico. I’m high in the mountains of the Sierra Norte where the indigenous language of Nahuatl is spoken. Beaded and embroidered blouses are predominant here. This is one of the original ten Pueblo Magico‘s and my second visit here. Definitely worth the return!

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

Selling handwoven and embroidered wool ponchos on the market steps

The triangular scarves and ponchos called huipiles (that I know as quechquemitls) are still woven on back strap looms. Local women walk barefoot on cobbled streets that climb and wind vertically through the village.

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Sleeve detail, cotton embroidered blouse, Cuetzalan, Puebla

The women and girls are adorned with blouses featuring colorful figures of birds, barnyard animals and flowers, winding vines. Bodice ruffles are edged in turquoise, orange or red. Depending on their village of origin, the cap sleeve could be shirred or plain.  Men wear traditional white shirts and pants, their feet protected by hand-hewn leather thongs, their heads covered in woven straw hats. Traditions are strong here.

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Shirred cap sleeve with elaborate embroidery, ruffles, Cuetzalan, Puebla

I’m traveling with my sister Barbara, who I met in Mexico City earlier in the week. We joined up with friend Merry Foss in Cuetzalan for the annual Feria del Cafe, the raucous celebration of regional coffee.  The coffee farms here are plentiful. We are at the right altitude and the beverage is delicious.

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to be made into a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

Finely embroidered bodice panels waiting to become a blouse, Pedro Martin Workshop

I’m using Sheri Brautigam’s guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, to find the textile artisan Pedro Martin at Taller Mazatzin known locally as Casa Rosa. The book has an ample section on Cuetzalan. To get to his village of Cuauhtamazaco, 30 minutes from town on a winding mountain road, Barbara and I hop into the back of a covered pick-up truck that is lined with passenger benches. In remote regions of Mexico, this transport mode serves as the major means of getting around. Cost is 8 pesos each.

Alfredo Pisarro and crew at Pedro Martin Workshop

Alfredo Pizarro (2nd from left) and crew at Pedro Martin Textile Workshop

Pedro, his brother Alfredo Pizarro, cousins and nephews, work magic on a back strap loom. They innovate the traditional huipil design to combine colors and patterns that yields a fine cotton gauze.  For blouses that have the intricate, detailed embroidery, they source the bodice panels from only the finest needleworkers who live in remote villages and work only in 100% cotton.

I'm modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

I’m modeling an innovative two-tone huipil from Pedro Martin textile workshop

In the studio, it is the men who cut the patterns, sew and weave.  Pedro Martin and his family participated in the Feria del Rebozo at the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, last year.

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Using local transportation in and around Cuetzalan, Puebla

Internet service here is intermittent. So, I’m writing before we go off to another village where Merry Foss started a textile cooperative seven years ago. She is doing an expo-venta tomorrow morning with a group of collectors from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico, who are also here for the fair. The women of Merry’s cooperative make extraordinary beaded blouses, called chakira. The beads originally came to Mexico from Europe and Asia as ballast on the Spanish galleons and the China Poblana shirt was born.

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Embellished huipil (quechquemitl) with lots of bling, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Most of the embroidery and beadwork around town is made for the tourist market and is of average quality. No fine needlework, no finished seams. You see the finest work being worn by the women themselves. The trick is to be able to locate the best of what is made. You can find a few pieces in the artisan market. (See Sheri’s book for details.) But, I’ve been asking the ladies, Where can I get one like yours? 

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

Vendors on the steps leading up to the market, Cuetzalan, Puebla

As the coffee fair started, I wandered to the church courtyard beckoned by the waft of copal incense. I met a group of women gathered waiting for a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The majordoma, or leader of the group, kept the copal incense burner alive with intermittent puffs of breath on the burning coals.

The mayordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

The majordoma turns to smile at me. I made a 100 peso contribution to refrescos.

How to get to Cuetzalan: It’s a six-hour bus ride from Mexico City on ADO or Primera Plus. Almost four hours from Puebla on Via. Buy your tickets in advance. You can’t do this online! Sorry.

Where to stay: We are happy at Casa de Piedra, a clean, lovely hotel set down the steep hill from the plaza. It looks like a stone fortress. Great breakfast and views.

Taller Mazatzin, Pedro Martin Concepcion, tel: 52-1-233-759-3992. Get the colectivo truck at the station on the street behind the church.


Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters

Welcome to our new online store — Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters. We are sisters in real life, Norma Hawthorne and Barbara Beerstein.  We are passionate collectors and supporters of artists and artisans who express the creativity and vitality of Oaxaca and Mexico.  Textiles and folk art are our passion.  Because of this, we fall in love with people and what they create along our journey.  For us, it is as much about the people we connect with than what we are buying. Invariably, we usually come home with much more than what we need.

Today we feature huipils + blusas from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla!

This is to your advantage!  Our prices our reasonable.  We ship fast.  We have already made the purchase and paid the artist. We believe in compensating people fairly and immediately for the beauty they create.  We offer the best quality because that is what we expect for ourselves.

Each week, starting today, we will list a few select pieces for sale on this blog!  Look for the Artisan Sisters in your inbox.  

Week 1 — Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters.

#1_51412, Collector Quality Huipil, Las Margaritas, Chiapas, handwoven, $195

Detail, Las Margaritas textile

#1_51412:  This extraordinarily detailed huipil from the Mayan indigenous village of Las Margaritas, in the Los Altos (highlands) of Chiapas, is a finely woven piece of highest quality cotton cloth created on the backstrap loom.  The design is integrated and woven into weft of the cloth; it is not embroidered.  Size is ample and would fit U.S. size 14-18 comfortably.  It has three webs across the front and three webs across the back, each securely hand-embroidered together.  The huipil is 29″ wide across the front armpit to armpit and 30″ long from the shoulder seam.

Contact us first to make sure the item you want is still available.  We accept PayPal and will send you an invoice after we calculate packing and shipping costs.

#2_51412: Blusa, Cuetzalan, Puebla, hand-embroidered bodice, $175

Detail of Cuetzalan blusa, #2_51412

#2_51412: Cuetzalan is in the Sierra Norte of the State of Puebla, four hours from the city of Puebla high in the mountains. The Artisan Sisters traveled there by public long-distance bus.  The women there embroider intricate patterns of wildlife and flowers onto panels of cotton which become part of washable cotton blouses that are gently gathered across the chest.  This blusa is a stunning, intricate design, with finely finished inside seams.  The bodice stitches are really tiny.  Every inch of the bodice and sleeve fabric is covered in handwork.  Neckline and sleeves have lovely crocheted trim. Width armpit to armpit across the front is 25″.  Length from shoulder seam to hem is 30.”  Neckline opening is 13″ wide.

#3_51412: Blusa, San Vicente Coatlan, $85



Detail, blusa, San Vicente Coatlan

#3_51412:  This Blusa (blouse) from San Vicente Coatlan, is one of the most beautiful I have seen in Oaxaca.  It has lots of punto de cruz cross stitch patterning in multi-colors covering the entire bodice, extending out the shoulders, and trimming the sleeve edge.  The back collar is also embellished with fine detail. I don’t know how they do it.  The gathers are all done by hand, too.  This is a KNOCK-OUT.  Width from armpit to armpit across the front is 27″ wide.  Length from shoulder seam to hem is 34″ long.  Sleeves are 20″ long from the shoulder seam.  Embroidered panels sewn onto manta cotton (washable).

Magic Pueblo: Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico

Voladores after flight, Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico

Cuetzalan (Kwetz-ah-lahn), designated as a Pueblo Magico, is a mountain town in the Sierra Norte tropical rainforest, three and-a-half hours on the Via Rapido bus  and 183 km from the city of Puebla and three hours from Veracruz on the Caribbean. The only months it doesn’t rain here are April and May.


It is a lush, green misty, mysterious wonderland.  Orchids drape and cling to the sides of trees.  Men in white shirts and pants, straw hats, leather thong sandals, sling palm woven bags across their shoulders.  Women are either barefoot or wear ballerina slippers.

Stunning, intricate needlework blouses that depict the flowers and wildlife of the region cover them.  Children scamper and adults pick their way carefully up and down the sawtooth stone steps that frame the steep, granite cobbled streets.  The slippery stones remind me of climbing Palenque.


I’ve been wanting to make this pilgrimage trip for six years, ever since I heard about Cuetzalan from photographer friends Sam and and Tom Robbins.  Their extraordinary black and white art photos of steep, cobblestone streets lined with near vertical steps were engraved in my memory.


I invited my sister Barbara, who lives in Santa Cruz, California to join me to explore this rich textile region of Mexico.  On the day our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat ended last Friday morning, I was on a four-hour bus to Puebla, where we met, spent the night, and then started out on this see-Mexico-by-bus journey together.


We arrived on Saturday afternoon in time for the extraordinary once a week Sunday market (tianguis).  It was not difficult to spend the entire day roaming market stalls.  The town square was obscured by covered stalls filled with handcrafts, fruit, vegetables, and meat.


In the afternoon, the Voladores (the flyers) climbed to the top of a 100 foot wood pole on the Zocalo in front the the church and spread their wings in flight, arms and legs twirling, outstretched, performing the pre-Hispanic ritual that guarantees renewal of life.


In addition to their needlework skill, Cuetzalan women also weave quechquemitls (kech-keh-mees).  These are the wonderful over the head, one-piece “shawls” that were designed by Nahautl women and adopted by indigenous peoples throughout Mexico.  There is the wool variety, first handwoven on the back-strap loom, then embellished with cross stitch floral patterns or with intricate running stitches that tell a story of the natural world.  The women also weave quechquemitls using natural manta or synthetically colored cotton (not many are using natural dyes any more).


These can be embellished with commercially purchased fringes.   Others are even lighter weight (remember, it’s humid here) and woven with white polyester interspersed with glittery threads that illuminate in the sunlight.  The tips of these are embroidered with an intricate bird feet pattern on the two points of the quechquemitls.  The women are shy but their traje (costume) is filled with exuberance and they are proud of their handwork.


Our Cuetzalan base for two nights was Hotel Taselotzin, Calle Yoloxochitl, S/N Barrio de Zacatipan, hoteltaselotzin.com.mx, phone (223) 331-0480.  I did my research. Fulbright Scholars participants stay here. So do U.S. university study abroad programs based in Puebla. While we were there a group of Dartmouth College students were staying at the hotel and going out during the day to work with young people in rural communities.  The hotel is operated by a women’s cooperative that supports artisans and educational programs. They have an excellent kitchen that prepares delicious food (order sopa de hongos — wild mushroom soup) at very reasonable prices and a lovely gift shop with high quality work.  The location is not central, but it is quiet, lush and peaceful.  Rooms have private baths.

Highlights of Cuetzalan:

  • Of course! the Sunday market, a frenzy of activity. You need to know your textiles to pick out the higher quality pieces
  • Casa de la Cultura, Calle Miguel Alvarado #18, tel. 233 105 2776
  • Mercado de Artesanias, Calle Miguel Alvarado across from the Casa de la Cultura.  Here you will find the better quality handwork.
  • Francesca Rivera Perez has a stall in this market and her work is stunning. We splurged here!
  • Breakfast at Cafe Epoc de Oro on the zocalo — great coffee; order chilaquiles with pollo in salsa verde.
  • Return to the Zocalo on Monday morning where all is clean, quiet, beautiful to see the details of life.  Have breakfast at El Portal: delicious!
  • Yes, to those incredible seed and bean necklaces.  The best ones are strung with beautiful, twisted macrame chord.
Cultural Observations: 
  • Many of the traditional people, especially the older folks, turn their heads or walk away from the camera.  Always ask before taking a photo that is up close and personal.
  • Fog muted vistas offer photographers glorious opportunities to capture sense of place.
  • Traditional practices of weaving with natural dyes and manta cloth are dying out with the older generation.
  • There are evangelical Christians working in Cuetzalan.  This is a very poor area and the promises of a better life are very appealing to some.
Clothing Recommendations:  It’s damp here and everything is moist.  Bring along a polypropylene shirt and leggings, wool socks, wool sweather or buy a beautiful wool quechquemitl.  Barbara suggests a walking stick for the steep, slippery cobblestone streets, a rain jacket with hood and a clear plastic cover for your camera with a rubber band to keep it dry.  I wore a wool hat and my Patagonia shirt and leggings under a skirt and short sleeve top.  During the day I topped it off with one wool quechquemitl.  At night, I needed two to keep me warm.  
How to Get There:  A direct Via bus from Puebla CAPU costs 116 pesos one way per person.  There are actually two schedules.  The Via Rapido takes 3-1/2 hours and makes two stops.  There is another version that makes more stops along the way and takes an hour longer.  Take ginger drops in water and chew candied ginger and/or take a motion sickness pill if you are susceptible, since the last hour of the trip is on a narrow, winding mountain road.  




Puebla Textiles at the Arts Cooperative “Siuamej”

So far, I have discovered only one shop in Puebla city that sells high quality indigenous, handwoven textiles.  Siuamej is a cooperative representing over 16 groups of women who work in local crafts from the various municipalities of the state of Puebla.  The sales help contribute to the well-being of more than 600 indigenous women scattered throughout the mountainous region of Puebla beyond this major city.

Most of the pieces are wool and woven on back-strap looms.  They are hand-embroidered with intricate designs of birds, flowers and geometric shapes and patterns.  The remote mountain villages are cold in winter and wool is a necessity.  Few pieces are reformatted for the “tourist” market, and as a consequence can be considered “traditional.”

Puebla weaving and embroidery style

Contemporary pieces are not likely to be woven with cloth colored with natural dyes.  The piece below is an antique and made of wool colored with natural dyes.  It is a riot of primary color and intricately embroidered.  The price was 5,000 pesos — a bit too rich for my pocketbook!  But hopefully, someone who knows its value will have snarfed it up by now.

Antique Rebozo Colored with Natural Dyes

The detailing is exquisite.  Cats, butterlies, eagles, dogs, turkeys, rabbits, birds, all adorn this marvelous piece.

This and the pieces below are typical of the Hueyapan region.  Siuamej represents the crafts of Chachahuantla, Chigmecatitlan, Cholula, Cuetzalan, Huatlatlauca, Mezontla, Pahuatlan, Yaonahua, and Zacatlan, in addition to the capital city.  Each area has a distinctive design style.

Puebla, an abundance of textile creativity

I bought a lovely, backstrap loom woven natural cotton (off white) quechquemetl (an over the head sewn-together scarf-like shawl) make in Cuetzalan, a town I have heard of but never visited.  I was tempted to go home with more, but I knew my two pieces of  luggage were already close to maximum weight.  Even a few ounces more might have tipped me over and I was already planning on wearing two outfits  on the plane ride home.

Puebla textile detail

Puebla textile detail

Here, you can see the traditional handwork along with the hand-tied fringes.  It’s quite lovely.  Most pieces are priced in the $40-$100 USD range.

For a complete visual compendium of Puebla textiles, see www.mexicantextiles.com and search for the word “Hueyapan” which is the region where these pieces are made.

To find the shop Siuamej, walk from the Zocalo on Av. Juan de Palafox y Mendoza toward the antiques and talavera district.  The shop is a couple of blocks from the Zocalo on your left.  The address is Av. Juan de Palafox y Mendoza #206 Centro Historico, Tel. (222) 2 32 36 94

The Centro Historico, Puebla