We introduce you to weavers of wool, cotton and silk who work with organic natural dyes. This one-day educational study tour gives you in-depth knowledge about the artisanal process for making hand-woven cloth using sustainable technologies. We visit home studios and workshops to meet some of Oaxaca’s outstanding weavers in this curated day trip. See the real indigo, cochineal and wild marigold dye process. Meet artisans who create beautiful rugs and clothing.
Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.
Full day rate of $325 USD is for one or two people. $165 per person for each additional person.
You reserve for the dates you prefer. You are welcome to organize your own small group. We match your travel schedule with our availability.
Pricing is for a full day, starting at 9 a.m. and ending around 6 p.m. Customized programs on request. The rate is based on the time we pick you up and return you to your Oaxaca hotel. Please provide us with hotel/lodging address and phone number.
Oaxaca has many talented weavers working on different types of looms: the two-harness pedal loom, the flying shuttle loom and the back-strap loom. They create many different types of cloth from wool, cotton and silk – to use, wear and walk on.
The yarns or threads can be hand-woven and made into tapestry carpets or wall hangings. They might become lighter weight garments such as shawls, ponchos and scarves or fashion accessories and home goods like handbags, travel bags, blankets, throws and pillow covers.
Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs
Most weavers dye their material using pre-mixed commercial dyes. Some buy their yarns pre-dyed. This streamlines and simplifies the production process, making the finished piece less costly. Often, there are wide quality differences.
Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from the tapestry loom
A growing number of weavers are going back to their indigenous roots and working in natural dyes. They use a time-consuming process to gather the dye materials, prepare them with tested recipes, dye the yarns and then weave them into cloth. These colors are vibrant and long-lasting. There is a premium for this type of hand work.
Dyeing and then weaving can take weeks and months, depending upon the finished size of the textile and type of weaving process used.
Preparing indigo for the dye pot — first crush it to powder
For each visit, we will select artisans who live and work in small villages scattered in the countryside around Oaxaca where families have co-created together for generations to prepare the yarn and weave it.
Natural dyes we will investigate include plant materials like nuts, wild marigold, fruit (pomegranate, persimmon, zapote negro), wood bark and indigo.
Shades of cochineal — a full range of color
Another important dye source is cochineal, which is the parasite that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. The Spanish kept the cochineal secret well hidden for over 400 years, calling it grana cochineal or grain, so that English and Italian competitors could not detect its source.
Cochineal dye bath — the most vibrant red of the natural world
During this one-day outing, we will visit four weavers, see complete natural demonstrations of yarns and threads, learn about over-dyeing to get a full rainbow of colors, and savor the beautiful results that master weavers create.
We may not always visit the same weavers on each tour, based on their availability. At each home studio you will see some of the steps that go into the completed process. By the end of the day, you will have gained a fuller understanding of the difference between natural and commercial dyed cloth as well as the various weaving techniques. This will help you become a more educated collector, able to discern nuances in fiber and dye quality.
Ikat wool rebozo colored with zapote negro (black persimmon) and cochineal
More than this, you will learn about the local culture, the family enterprise of weaving, how weavers source their materials, the dedication to keeping this ancient practice alive. You will see how using natural dyes is a small-batch, organic and environmentally sustainable process. And, you will try your hand in the dye pot and at the loom, too, if you like.
- 9 a.m. — We pick you up in the historic center of Oaxaca city
- 9:30 a.m. — We meet a flying shuttle loom weaver who designs home goods and clothing, using naturally dyed cloth
- 11:30 a.m. — We meet two weaving families who work exclusively with natural dyes to make rugs and tapestry wall hangings
- We enjoy lunch around 2 p.m. at a local comedor that uses all native and natural ingredients
- 4:00 p.m. — We visit the home studio of a women’s cooperative that makes leather trimmed handbags woven with naturally dyed wool
- You return to Oaxaca city by 6:00 p.m.
All times are approximate. We reserve the right to alter the schedule based on artisan availability. Please bring water and a snack.
Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath — turns cochineal bright orange
During this complete one-day study tour you will:
- Meet master weavers and their families in their home workshop/studio
- See the raw materials used for coloring wool, cotton and silk
- Watch the weaving process and try your hand (and feet) at the fixed frame 2-harness pedal loom and flying shuttle loom — if you wish
- Discuss the origin of cochineal, its impact on world trade and its many uses today
- Learn how to tell the difference between dyed fibers – are they natural or chemical?
- Observe processes for dyeing with indigo, cochineal, wild marigold and other organic materials
- Understand quality differences and what makes a superior product
- Discover the meaning of the various designs, some taken from ancient codices
- Have an opportunity to shop, if you choose, at the source
- Order a customized size, if you prefer
You are under no obligation to buy.
Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool
This is an educational study tour to give you more in-depth knowledge about the weaving and natural dye process. We offer a stipend to the weavers who take part to compensate them for their knowledge, time and materials. This is included in your tour fee.
Weavers do not pay commissions on any purchases made and 100% of any sales go directly to them.
Also consider these educational options:
About Norma Schafer, your study tour leader
Norma Schafer has organized educational programs and workshops in Oaxaca since 2006 through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She is an educator, not a tour guide, and is recognized for her knowledge about textiles and natural dyes.
Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton
Norma is living in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, since she retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. Before that, she made frequent visits each year beginning in 2005. Norma has access to off-the-tourist-path small production family workshops where the “manufacturing” process is vertical and hand-made.
- Earned the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge
- Holds the M.S. in business administration from the University of Notre Dame
- 30-year career in higher education administration and program development
- Created/produced international award-winning programs at Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Recognized by the International University Continuing Education Association for outstanding educational program development
- Founder/creator of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC arts workshops/study tours in 2006
- Contributor to Textile Fiestas of Mexico, with chapters about Teotitlan del Valle and Tenancingo de Degollado
- Founder/author of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog in 2007
- Learned to weave and use natural dyes as a graduate student in San Francisco too many years ago to count!
- Has an extensive personal collection naturally dyed textiles
- Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
- International textile conference advisor to Weaving a Real Peace (WARP) organization
- Consultant on tourism/economic development, State of Guanajuato, Mexico Office of Tourism
- Embedded in the cultural and social history of Oaxaca’s Zapotec village life
Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in the Tlacolula Valley, all transport to villages and honoraria to artisans. You cover the cost of beverages lunch for those in your party and for your tour leader. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We may pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca) based on group
Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. We will do our best to accommodate your requests.
Reservations and Cancellations
We require a non-refundable 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve. The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for. The 50% balance is due on the day of the tour in cash, either USD or MXN pesos (at the current exchange rate).
We will have made transportation arrangements and secured the dates/times with the weavers, plus paid them a stipend in advance for participating. We have learned, living in Mexico, that it is essential to keep commitments to sustain relationships. Thank you for understanding.
Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project
Follow Me Cultural + Photo Walking Tour, Christmas Posadas: One Day in Teotitlan del Valle
Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.
A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015
They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.
Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle
The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.
The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.
Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.
What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration with those who lives here? This is an informal cultural immersion walking tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more! Please bring your camera if you like. You will have permission to take photos.
Who is this one-day study tour for? Anyone interested in knowing more about how Christmas is celebrated in a Mexican village. All amateur photographers are welcome, from no to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.
Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.
Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas
You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.
Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom
What You Will See:
During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.
Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.
After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.
Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:
The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle
We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.
Food preparation area for posada participants
We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.
What to Bring:
Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.
Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle
About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!
The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession
How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.
Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.
Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place
Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Teotitlan del Valle, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged Christmas, class, excursion, Mexico, Oaxaca, photography, posada, study tour, Teotitlan del Valle, tour, travel