Tag Archives: handmade

Preview: French Knots Embroidered Blouses from Chiapas

This is a preview of what’s to come tomorrow, when I offer 9 beautiful hand-embroidered blouses from Aguacatenango, Chiapas. Sizes small, medium and large. Most short sleeves. A few long sleeves. There are no sewing machines there. The hand-sewing on these garments is impeccable with finely finished seams.

Shop Opens, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2 PM Eastern Time Zone

Yes, all those gathers made by hand!

I met embroiderer Francisca some years ago when I brought our Chiapas textile tour to the village. Our group exited the van and gathered at the big tree in the church courtyard. Within minutes we were surrounded by twenty women offering us embroidered blouses for sale. Francisca’s were far and away the best!

I’ve never seen such densely embroidered French Knots

She invited us to her home, a one-room, concrete block cabin outfitted with table, chairs, two beds, and bags of dried corn in storage. We assembled on the patio where she gave us an embroidery demonstration and showed us an array of beautiful blouses.

Love this tone-on-tone workmanship

A few weeks ago, I contacted Francisca and asked if she could make and send some blouses. This is a custom order, so I specified that I wanted solid-color bodices, all French Knots on 100% cotton cloth we call manta. So many in Mexico are struggling now, and I knew she and her family were no exception. I want to give her meaningful, rewarding work.

Flowers and feathers are the details

The blouses arrived yesterday. They are better than gorgeous. Today, I will steam and iron them, take measurements and photographs, and post them tomorrow.

This is your heads-up!

From San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas to Durham, NC

Las Sanjuaneras Huipiles are Here! Shop Open!

Las Sanjuaneras huipiles are here! Below are 14 beautiful pieces. On July 29, 2020, I posted the first batch of huipiles and we sold-out on the same day! Thank you for supporting this incredible cooperative of weavers from San Juan Colorado, Jamiltepec, Oaxaca on the beautiful Costa Chica. You can read more about them by clicking on the link above.

SOLD OUT! Next group arriving in 3-4 weeks.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

Note: All measurements are in inches. Width is across the front (one side). Please double for circumference. Length is shoulder to hem. Most necks have an 8″ opening from shoulder to V.

First come. First served. First email in gets first choice.

SOLD. #1. Andrea. Wild marigold with iron oxide bordado. 37″ w x 44-1/2″ L. $345
SOLD. #2. Maria Lucia. Mahogany, nanche, banana, indigo, 31w x 29L. $265.

These textiles are airy and gauzy. They drape beautifully. Even though they are wide, they are beautiful flowing works of art. In summer, wear with a tank top or bra. In winter, layer over a long-sleeve T-shirt or dress. The texture and colors are delicious, just like the natural dye materials used.

SOLD. #3. Camerina. Mahogany, beets, avocado, wild marigold. 31w x 30L. $265.
SOLD. #4. Camerina. Indigo, beet, mahogany, marigold. 31w x 38L. $285.
SOLD. #5. Camerina. Guava, iron oxide, indigo. 34-1/2w x 34L. $325.

The cotton is all locally grown in small plots, hand-picked. The cotton is rolled inside palm mats and then beaten with sticks to soften it. Women sit cross-legged to take out the debris, pods and seeds, caressing each cotton ball as they work. A few women are experts using the malacate or drop-spindle used to make the thread. This is a laborious process. All the threads used in these garments are made this way.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

SOLD. #6. Brisaida. Indigo, guava, iron oxide. 37w x 30L. $265.
SOLD. #7. Camerina. Indigo, banana, mahogany. 31w x 26L. $265.
SOLD. #8. Rufina Nicolas. Mahogany, banana, natural. 30w x 34L. $310.

A back-strap loom is warped with this cotton. Then, the weft is woven into the warp threads. The designs are achieved using a weaving technique the Mexicans call bordado. These designs are not embroidered, but actually woven into the garment — a technique weavers know as supplementary weft. Often, as with some of these, the rayas or stripes add diversity to the design and an opportunity for color variegation.

SOLD. #9. Aurora. Wild marigold, indigo, banana, iron oxide. 34w x 32L. $240.
SOLD. #10. Camerina. Indigo, mahogany, banana. 30w x 33L. $240.
SOLD. #11. Andrea. Oak, marigold, indigo, natural. 33w x 29L. $265.

Before the loom is warped, the weaver will decide on the primary color of the piece, along with what colors to use for the patterning. She will take the raw white native cotton and dip it into dye baths she has prepared herself from native plants. Weavers here use wild marigold (sempesuchitl or pericone), mahogany bark (caoba), oak bark (encino), avocado leaves and dried fruit (aguacate), indigo (añil), beets (betabel), guava (guayaba), nanche (a fruit), and baby banana pulp or banana tree bark.

SOLD. #12. Aurora. Beet, marigold, iron oxide, banana. 37w x 36L. $285.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

SOLD. #13. Cleotilde. Oak, avocado, indigo, nanche. 37w x 31L. $240.

Sometimes these may be prepared in an iron pot to yield a dulled color or gray that results from the iron oxide chemical reaction. The plant world is in your huipil!

SOLD. #14. Brisaida. Mahogany, marigold, indigo. 32w x 29L. $345.

Thank you very much for your caring and support. We all appreciate it!

Please let me know if you have any questions. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Soft Landing Oaxaca, and Teotitlan del Valle

It’s a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Puebla CAPU to Oaxaca ADO bus station. Taxi from Puebla historic center to CAPU is 80 pesos. Bus ticket is about 450 pesos on ADO GL deluxe service. Easy. Scenic. The road dips and rises through mountains studded with mature saguaro and nopal cactus, flowing river beds (it’s the rainy season) and dramatic gorges. When going south, choose a seat on the right side of the bus.

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Prep kitchen — al fresco — at La Biznaga Restaurant

A good time to write, read, lean back and enjoy the ride. I arrived in Oaxaca on Sunday night, just in time to skip the last Guelaguetza performances on Monday but not the crowds strolling the Andador Macedonio Alcala. Or, the sounds of the festivities echoing from the Cerro del Fortin pinnacle starting at 10 a.m.

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People asked me, are you going to Guelaguetza? Did you go to Guelaguetza? I told them no. I went for the last two years, had a great time, took lots of photos and decided I didn’t need to repeat the experience for a while.

Sunday night, I discovered La Salvadora, a patio bar on Guerrero that serves great artesenal Mexican beer, sandwiches, salads, and usually has live music. A great way to land. Thanks, Hayley.

On Monday I walked over 12,000 steps Oaxaca is one of the best walking cities in Mexico with the Andador limited only to pedestrian traffic.

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Carol and David invited me to lunch at their departamento under the shadow of Basilica de Soledad on the other side of town, so I walked there, passing colonial adobe buildings in need of renovation.

Before that, I walked to ceramic Galeria Tierra Quemada and recycled glass studio Xaquixe to check out mezcal cups that my sister asked me to get for her, and then I went back again as she honed the decision.

I finished off the day with a Spanish potato and egg torta (a famed tapas) with organic salad, and a glass of excellent, reasonably priced (40 pesos) red wine at Tastevins on Murguia close to Benito Juarez, with Hayley. This place is becoming a favorite, relaxed, good food, moderately priced.

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On Tuesday, I clocked a bit over 10,000 steps. Janet and I met for a great breakfast — organic blue corn memelas with poached eggs, red and green salsa — at Cabuche before she went to work. (It’s my in-the-city-neighborhood-go-to-eating-spot.)

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Then, a return trip to Tierra Quemada (meaning burnt earth) for the final order and shipping.

TierraQuemada2 Xaquixe


And a return to the Xaquixe shop on 5 de Mayo between Abasolo and Constitucion to oggle the handmade paper and glassware once again.

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

After taking care of fingers and toes from all the pavement pounding, I met Martha and Hayley at La Biznaga for a great vegetarian spinach lasagna (Tuesday is vegetarian comida corrida). The portions are so generous, there was enough for lunch today.

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My good friend and taxista Abraham picked me up late afternoon and I arrived back in Teotitlan del Valle. I don’t have internet connection where I live, so I’m now at my Teoti go-to restaurant Tierra Antigua for reliable service and an excellent horchata.

This Saturday Abraham and Rosa are getting married. It’s been in the planning for a year. I’ve known Abraham for about eight years — smart, always reliable, taught himself English, muy dulce — very sweet. He asked me to be the madrina (godmother) of the photography! It’s my gift to them, and I’m excited about participating in all the related activities and then sharing them with you. I have permission!

Soft landing!


Viviana Alavez Hipolito, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art–Beeswax Candlemaking

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It takes over one hundred passes of hot dripping wax poured over a four or five-foot tall woven cotton wick to create a handmade ceremonial beeswax candle. We are in the Teotitlan del Valle home workshop of traditional candlemaker Viviana Hippolito Alavez, who is recognized as one of the Grand Masters of Oaxaca Folk Art.  Her work is exemplary.

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The family lives on an unpaved road off the main street just as you enter the village, about two miles from the Pan American Highway 190.  There is a freshly painted, brand new sign at the corner directing visitors to Abasolo #7.  It is a humble house, filled with activity and warmth.

Viviana greets us with a wide smile and guides us to the covered outdoor space where she works alongside her son and daughters-in-law.  They are learning from her, just as she learned from her grandmother.  In the corner, a pot of cochineal-dyed wax simmers over a wood fire.  It is hazy and aromatic.

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The wicks are suspended from wheels.  Viviana climbs on a small chair that she tells us she has been using for thirty years.  It is crusted with wax layers like an archeological discovery.

Today, there are only four artisans remaining in Teotitlan who craft these traditional candles that are used every life cycle celebration: baptisms, funerals, engagements (contentamientos), weddings.  These are candles used in the church, home altar rooms, and posadas during Christmas, Day of the Dead, and Semana Santa.

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We talk about the abuelas, the traditional grandmothers who keep craft alive. Viviana tells Crespo, you must present your wife with a bouquet of candles when you ask her to marry you.  Did you do that? she asks.  Crespo’s wife, Ana, stands next to us, smiles and says, no, but he will do that today!

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Claudia wonders how long this art form will survive as we watch Viviana first spit on and lick the bottom of the clay bowl before dipping it into the hot wax colored red with cochineal.  An enzyme in the saliva must make it easier to remove the wax once it hardens.  She then dips it into a bowl of cool water and peels off the circle that will become a flower decoration for an elaborate candle.

Will this be the last generation to do this work?  Is our visit something that only tourists do, as one village visitor said as she declined to join us?  What can we learn here about family, environmental sustainability, and the hard work and time that goes into creating something made by hand?  What do we value as a society?

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The family uses only natural dyes to color the beeswax and the clay molds made in Aztompa that Viviana inherited from her grandmother.  Her son shows us the molds that are intricately carved with figures of hummingbirds, nuts, ducks, and lilies.  The type of clay used then is no longer available today.

Should it be our responsibility to visit, support, and buy the handcrafts and artwork created here, whatever it is, in order to offer and demonstrate our respect for the traditions that keep a culture vibrant?  I believe so.

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Over the years, I have visited Maestra Viviana many times, never tiring of watching her create, the expression in her face, appreciating the knowledge and rootedness and love she expresses for her traditions.  I see the caring and support of her children who help her continue her work.  This is a blessing for all of us as she teaches the next generation of candle makers.

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Best to call in advance to make an appointment for a visit.  Impromptu often leads to the disappointment that no one will be home! Although serendipity happens, too!

Viviana Alavez Hipolito, Abasolo #7, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, tel: 951-524-4309

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Indigo Dye Workshop: It’s Called Shibori, Not Tie Dye

Actually, using resist dye technique using indigo to create patterns and designs on cotton is called shibori, tritik, amarra or plangi(depending upon country of origin).  It’s not the hippie dippie 60’s tie dye that’s been reincarnated on beach blanket bingo T-shirts.  It’s high fashion wearable art.  Not long ago, I saw an Eileen Fisher designer label Made in Japan shibori design on a finely woven cotton scarf dyed with indigo at a Nordstrom selling for over $100USD.  The technique is universal.

Norma's Indigo Dyed Shibori Napkins -- A Gift for Jacob and Michelle

As frequently as once per month, Eric Chavez Santiago teaches a hands-on indigo dye workshop for people of all ages at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  At a recent workshop, a mother, father and baby sister accompanied a six-year-old who made a fish design on a white cotton T-shirt.  Dad was right by his side and the learning was a fun family adventure.  Other participants included local artists, university design program students, and visiting tourists.


Indigo can be used to dye cotton, wool, alpaca, silk, linen and the fiber of the agave plant.  Some women in Oaxaca villages even use indigo to dye their hair.  Dyeing with indigo is all about chemistry.  Cellulose fibers such linen, cotton and agave absorb less indigo to get an intense color than do protein fibers of silk and wool.  Said another way, it takes less indigo to dye cotton than wool.  That’s why, we are using 100% cotton for the workshop.  Polyester blends just won’t work because indigo saturates only the surface of the fiber, not it’s core.

Look for Felted Fashion Oaxaca Style, coming in February 2013.                                                                                It includes dyeing wool roving, silk, and cotton with natural materials and  making your fabric into luxurious scarves, blouses, wraps.   Contact me to get on the mailing list for complete course description.  Instructors are clothing designer Jessica de Haas, Vancouver, B.C., and Eric Chavez Santiago, Oaxaca, Mexico.  Limited to 8 participants.


The process is fairly simple.  First, we rinse the white fabric (I dyed white, handwoven cotton napkins from the Amuzgo tribe) in clear water to soften it.  Then, we squeeze out all the moisture and make our design.

1. To make the shibori design, you can make accordian folds and then tie this together with rubber bands or with string.   You can drape cloth over marbles or beans, securing them with string or a rubber band.  You can whirl the fabric and then tie it with string or rubber bands.


2. To make the tritik design, you use a needle and thread to create a very specific pattern, folding the cloth and then sewing through it.


3. It probably takes about an hour to make the design.  Tie a lead string onto your fabric so you can easily fish it out of the water.

4.  Dip the folded and/or sewn fabric into the dye pot for 20 minutes.  Be careful to immerse it gently into the solution.  Do not stir or disturb in any way.  Pull the piece out of the dye pot with the lead string.

5.  Hang on a line from the string until the fabric changes from green-yellow to blue, for 15-20 minutes.


6.  Repeat two more times.

7.  Remove the rubber bands or thread.

8.  Rinse well in water.  Then, dip in vinegar water for 5 minutes to set the dye, soften the fabric and remove any of the alkaline residual and garlicky odor

9.  Let hang to dry.