Tag Archives: natural dyes

What is a Oaxaca Fiberista?

My friend Carol Egan from Savannah who has wintered in Oaxaca for almost 20 years uses the term Fiberista to describe those of us who love and wear (and who demonstrate cultural appreciation for) clothing made on the back-strap loom by the very talented indigenous weavers of Oaxaca. Carol is a graduate of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and she has an impeccable sense of color and style. Maybe Fiberista is an adaptation of Fashionista, a word that has been part of the Urban Dictionary vocabulary for a while, though likely applied mostly to those who follow haute couture. Fiberistas have an affinity for the handmade textile. We are sewists, knitters, dyers, designers, spinners, embroiderers, crocheters, weavers, photographers, artists, and artisans or we just appreciate the texture of beautiful cloth. We know we have something to learn from indigenous cultures.

Our mantra on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour is to gain a greater cultural appreciation for the women and men who make garments from scratch — the talented people who grow native Oaxaca green, white and coyuchi (brown) cotton that goes back to before the Spanish Conquest. This is why we visit remote mountain villages — to see the traditional techniques, uncover the designs (or iconography) in the woven patterns that are an integral part of the cloth, and to show our support by being able to purchase directly to put much needed funds into the hands of the makers.

Next Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour will be in mid-January 2024. Get on the interested list! Email us!

We don’t believe that we are appropriating another culture by wearing the garments they make. We believe we are supporting and sustaining women and families. Without our admiration and support, their ancient back-strap loom weaving art form will be lost to future generations. Today, not many women in traditional pueblos are wearing traditional traje (costumes). They have adopted Western-style dress, which enables them to fit in and assimilate into the larger, dominant community. This clothing, usually made with synthetic fibers, is easier to wash and dry, too. So, the huipiles we have gone in search of are brought out only for special celebrations. That is why our visits are so important.

It takes an extraordinary amount of labor to make one of these garments. First, the seeds are picked from the cotton bolls, to save for the next planting. Then, the cotton is beaten with sticks after it is laid on a rolled woven straw mat inside of which is stuffed corn stalks and leaves. It is then hand-spun with a malacate or drop spindle. If it is green or coyuchi cotton, both quite rare, it will be woven in its natural state and not dyed. Sometimes, the native white cotton is dyed with natural pigments — indigo, cochineal, wild marigold, or tree bark, for example. Fine commercial threads, purchased from the last cotton mill in the State of Puebla, will also be dyed. Then, it will be the man’s task to warp the back-strap loom. It usually takes a women three to four-months to make a complete full-length huipil, weaving five to six-hours per day. She will tie one end of the loom to a post or a tree, tie the waist harness around her, get on her knees or sit cross-legged, moving her body to create the weaving tension, swaying back and forth in a gentle motion.

We bring eye glasses with us to distribute. If the brocade or supplementary weft of the designs in the woven cloth is intricate, this takes a toll on a weaver’s vision. So many say they now have difficulty seeing. So, it is a blessing to be able to give reading glasses to the many groups in five communities we visit along our route from Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, north to Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero.

Think of fashion as an art form, extolls one source I researched. This is not difficult to do on the coast of Oaxaca, where diversity of weaving techniques, colors and designs tell stories of ancient myths and beliefs. Look at the stars, animals, sun, moon, plants woven into the cloth to learn about how rooted these communities are in the natural world and their social history. We embrace this as the world has become more commercialized, mechanized; as our attention spans have shortened with instant information and gratification, as we cannot leave our smart phones behind for even a minute. However, we are careful not to romanticize. The economic poverty is palpable. The talent is immeasurable.

We go deep into Mixtec, Zapotec, Chatino and Amusgo territory. We hear languages uncommon to our ear. We travel to villages where few who look like us dare to venture. Not because it isn’t safe, but because it takes hours to reach a remote destination. The Spanish friars never penetrated deeply into these mountain towns until the 18th century because they were so inaccessible. We are intrepid travelers who are interested in discovery!

What we find are people who want to educate their children, provide them with good food and health care, access to opportunity, who are not interested in out-migration unless all other options are closed to them. They want the same things that we do for our own families. And, this is what connects us.

Traditional indigenous clothing is not form fitting. It is lengths of squares or rectangles that are sewn together using a needlework joining technique called a randa, that looks a bit like embroidery. This means, the garment is not tight-fitting. It is loose and airy, and will drape beautifully if the woven fabric is lightweight. This is style we come to appreciate since this is a different look than we are used to. Sometimes, the skirt or dress can be tied with a belt. In all instances, the stand-out quality is not so much the structure of the garment but the weaving techniques used to create designs woven as an integral part of the cloth. The more complex and dense the design, the more costly a garment will be. Price is often related to the quality of the materials used — finest cotton and natural dyes are what we are looking for.

The experience broadens our view of how we dress ourselves. We know that the New York and Paris runways are not the only source for beautiful inspiration.

The day before our tour ended, we gathered under the palapa by the upper pool at Hotel Santa Fe, for a show and tell. We each brought three pieces we purchased along the way, and we wore one more. We then talked about the experience of where we got these, who wove them, what dyes were used, and what designs were incorporated into the cloth. It was a way to review our visits and to see others’ choices. Being Oaxaca Fiberistas!

Virtual Trunk Show: 16 Oaxaca + Chiapas Huipiles

Before I left Oaxaca in August to return to New Mexico (to pack, make the mortgage deadline, move, get cataract surgery, unpack, get settled), I went through my collection of back-strap loomed dresses and blouses (huipiles and blusas) in my Teotitlan del Valle casita and made some hard decisions about what to sell. I did this based on 1) the size I was when I bought them, 2) the size I am now, 3) if I ever wore them, 4) if I ever will wear them, and 5) their rarity. Many pieces ARE RARE. Not surprisingly, many still have their tags on them, and all are in pristine condition. Another factor for this sale now is that I FINALLY got fiber internet connection yesterday to my house after waiting for months. So, it’s much easier for me to write and post on my computer rather than using the slow-as-molasses, funky roaming service on my iPhone. Supply chain and labor scarcity has set me back in many ways. I also want you to know that the prices for these huipiles are about what they would cost if purchased directly from the maker. Some are deeply reduced and I’m happy to take a loss. I just have to pare down my collection. I decided recently that I was not going to start a textile museum and best they go to friends, acquaintances, and followers who appreciate these handmade pieces as much as I do. That’s the story!

How to Buy: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com and tell me the item(s) you want to purchase by number, your email, your mailing address and which payment method you prefer: 1) Zelle bank transfer with no service fee; 2) Venmo or 3) PayPal each with a 3% service fee. I will send you a request for funds and then add on a flat rate $14 mailing fee. Happy to combine shipping. Thank you.

SOLD. #1. This creamy white pullover blusa is a perfect pair-up with slacks or jeans. Wear it in winter over a cozy T to add some pizzaz to your style. This is handwoven on the back strap loom by the Oaxaca Amusgo people. The top has crotchet edging around the bodice, seams, and sleeves. Measures a drapy 40″ wide x 22″ long. $165.

SOLD #2. From the famous workshop of designer Alberto Lopez Gomez, Aldama, Chiapas (remember, he was invited to NYC fashion week and has exhibited all over Europe). This is a densely woven back strap loomed blusa in a dusty rose on white. All the patterning in the cloth is done with the supplementary weft technique, which means it is woven into the cloth as the weaver progresses, taking months to make. Note: This is NOT embroidered! Measures 23″ wide x 24″ long. You can have this at cost: $385.

SOLD. #3. This is a lovely short huipil measuring 29″ wide x 29″ long, handwoven on the back strap loom in Pinotepa de Don Luis on the Oaxaca coast, where master weavers work in natural dyes. This one is dyed with the shell of the jicara gourd and the designs are created using the rare caracol purpura purple snail, almost extinct. $295.

#4. The Amusgo people are some of the finest weavers in Oaxaca. This is a collector’s piece, rare, dyed with indigo and native brown cotton in the Guerrero village of Xochistlahuaca. Measures 32″ wide x 40″ long. Priced at $595.

#5. I spotted this beauty in the corner of a cooperative in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. It is dyed with cochineal and alderwood. Very special because it is a contemporary adaptation of the traditional huipil from San Juan Cancuc, located far into the mountains and difficult to get to. Note the hand-tied fringes at the hem and embroidered detail on the bodfice. Size small. Measures 21″ wide x 36″ long. $225.

SOLD. #6. Another Pinotepa de Don Luis beauty — a very fine indigo and coyuchi (native brown Oaxaca cotton that is pre-Hispanic in origin) huipil that is 29″ wide x 42″ long. $345. This comes from the Tixinda cooperative whose members include Don Habacuc who goes to the coast to harvest the rare purple snail.

SOLD #7. A floral masterpiece. From the Amusgo community in Guerrero state just across the Oaxaca border to the north along the Pacific coast, comes this huipil from the Flor de las Llanuras cooperative. This is a finely woven gauze piece that is unusual in its subtlety of color and masterful weaving. Measures 25″ wide x 41″ long. $495.

SOLD. #8. Originating from a famous cooperative in San Juan Colorado, this traditional huipil features all natural dyes on hand-spun native cotton. The dyes include nanche (a local fruit) and iron oxide. Measures 27″ wide x 44″ long. $185.

#9. Far south on the coast of Oaxaca is the small fishing village of San Mateo del Mar near the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The few weaving families remaining are masterful interpreters of sealife, flora and fauna of the region. This one is made by the most famous weaver, Francisca Palafox Heran, and her iinitials are woven into the bodice of the cloth. For the discerning collector among us! It very fine cotton woven on the back strap loom, dyed with alderwood and indigo. Measures 24″ wide x 38″ long. $395.

#10. Another blue and white beauty from San Mateo del Mar, woven by one of Francisca’s family members. Measures 25″ wide x 42″ long. $295.

SOLD. #11. Amusgo white gauze huipil, measures 30″ wide x 40″ long. See the fine detail of the patterning in the cloth — a weaving technique called supplementary weft. White on white is a rarity to find. $285.

#12. Blue indigo and coyuchi native brown cotton huipil from Las Sanjuaneras cooperative in San Juan Colorado. These women are spectacular weavers. Measures 31″ wide x 34″ long. $225.

SOLD. #13. Pinotepa de Don Luis huipil woven with threads dyed with rare purple snail called caracol purpura and native brown coyuchi cotton. The purple dye is rare and on the verge of extinction. Measures 25″ wide x 36″ long. $375.

SOLD. #14. Las Sanjuaneras indigo, mahogany bark, and native white cotton huipil from San Juan Colorado. Measures 30″ wide x 37″ long. Graceful and flowing. $265.

SOLD. #15. Amusgo beige huipil, fine details in the supplementary weft weaving, measures 31″ wide x 42″ long and priced to sell at $195.

SOLD. #16. Weavers and dyers are experimenting (a very good thing for innovation), and they have come up with a color-fast raw indigo dye that comes out a muted green/blue. This one has subtle strips and is embellished with caracol purpura purple snail threads that depict traditional designs found in San Juan Colorado. Measures 33″ wide x 31″ long. $285.

In the next weeks, I’ll be looking through my boxes and featuring a few more huipiles, plus an array of beautiful shawls and scarves — perfect adornment for chillier weather coming on. Or use these for table runners, I’ve never been able to say NO to a beautiful textile or to supporting the weavers who need our patronage. Plus, Day of the Dead is coming up and I have masks, carvings, and sculpture from Mexico that I’ll be listing, too. Be on the alert!

Zapotec Oaxaca and Oriental Rugs for Sale

I am offering several rugs from my collection for sale! Why? They don’t fit into my Taos house. The sizes and colors are not adapting well to my new environment. Some are new. All are in excellent condition.

How to Buy: send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com and tell me the rug you want to purchase by number, your email, your mailing address and which payment method you prefer: 1) Zelle bank transfer with no service fee; 2) Venmo or 3) PayPal each with a 3% service fee. I will then send you a request for funds.

Shipping cost is based on weight and destination, and is additional. I will need to know your address and determine weight to calculate mailing costs.

SOLD. #1. 6 ft x 8-1/2 ft. 100% churra sheep wool in all natural shades of gray, Caracol design.

This new, never used rug is made by a master weaver in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca who is a personal friend. It took him two months to create this masterpiece. The colors are a mix of gray on a cream background. The edges where it was cut from the loom are finished with an intricate braiding technique. No fringes to get stuck in your vacuum cleaner. The Caracol design is the most difficult to achieve because of the curves. It is symbolic of communication and the frets have deep meaning regarding the continuity of life, interpreted from nearby Mitla archeological site. Tapestry woven rugs of this size and quality are retailing for between $2,800 and $3,200. I’m selling it for $1,800 plus shipping. I calculate shipping cost to be around $60 but I will let you know if you wish to purchase this.

SOLD#2. Mitla Grecas are designs found on the archeol site temples rug measures 2.5 ft x 5 ft

This is woven at the Fe y Lola studio in Teotitlan del Valle of churra sheep wool colored with natural dyes the yellow comes from wild marigold a d it is paired with a warm natural gray wool the warp is sturdy cotton. The design is an innovative version of a traditional style. this rug usually sells for $510. You can buy it for $425.

SOLD #3. From the studio of Francisco Martinez Ruiz, This is a stunner, perfect as a wall-hanging with hand-knotted macrame fringes.

This tapestry is made with all natural dyes and measures 2-1/3 ft x 3 ft. the wool is dyed with cochineal, moss, and wild marigold. It is very fine and dense weaving using 10 warp threads per inch. Retails for $450. Will sell for $325.

SOLD #4. Runner measures 2.5 ft x 9.5 ft Gorgeous, natural dyes in wild marigold, indigo overdyes, and cochineal.
Another caracol masterpiece from Fe y Lola studio. The green is achieved by dipping a wild marigold skein of wool into an indigo dye bath. Original cost $1,300. Selling for $750.
#5. Hand-knotted wool pile rug in the Persian style, made in India. Measures 4’ x 6’ and in excellent condition.

This rug has no wear and will surely provide pleasure and comfort for another two or three generations. Thick wool pile. Vintage. Outstanding. Last photo is reverse side of rug. Valued at between $600-800. Will sell for $385. This rug is heavy and I estimate shipping could be $75-100.

Thank you VERY much for looking. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank

A World of Indigo in Albuquerque, NM

In Oaxaca, indigo is cultivated in the hot, sub-tropical climate along the southern coast in a town called Santiago Niltepec on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A leafy plant, it is usually found in the band around the world along the equator. For example: Africa. India. Japan. South Carolina. There are exceptions, as this Indigo Around the Globe exhIbition at the Albuquerque Museum describes the works of Scott Sutton, who is growing and dyeing with indigo in Taos, New Mexico, where I live when I’m not in Oaxaca. Nikesha Breeze, also from Taos, explores her own identity through Negro Cloth, the root of American blue jeans.

Nikesha Breeze sculpture, from cotton and raw indigo to blue jeans, homage to the enslaved

I love indigo. I look for it and collect it. i wore an indigo tunic woven and dyed by Sebastiana Guzman in Pinotepa de Don Luis to my son’s wedding. My sister and I traveled independently to Japan in 2019 on a quest for indigo. Same when I went to Gujarat, India — I had indigo on my mind. I’ve not been to west Africa, but I know Gasali Adeyemo, originally from Kenya who now lives in Santa Fe. He makes stunning shibori cloth that is featured in this exhibition, and that he sells online and at the International Folk Art Market.

Indigo isn’t really a dye. It is a pigment. It adheres to the surface of a fiber — cotton, wool, silk, etc. and requires no mordant (fixative). It is used to stain wood and concrete, too. An indigo bath needs to be kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the delicate process requires oxidization in order to work.

Japanese indigo jacket embellished with sashiko

Indigo was the African cloth of royalty. It’s cultivation and harvest and transformation into a dye material was also dependent on the labor of African slaves who brought their knowledge to the Americas, exploited for economic gain by 18th and 19th century planters who exported it to England’s textile industry. At one time, indigo was the second most valuable export to Britain from the Americas.

Hispanic New Mexico, wool and indigo

In North and South Carolina, slaves were given indigo-dyed cloth to wear because of its durability and as a way to distinguished the enslaved from plantation owners. During the Civil Rights Movement, denim was reclaimed by African Americans who wanted to push against the pressure to dress in a way deemed “acceptable” by white peers.

in Japan, indigo jackets were worn by fire fighters because of its flame retardant properties. In the cold north islands cotton didn’t grow, so rough hemp was used to pad layered quilted fabrics that served as jackets and bed coverings. Known as boro, this cloth was pieced using salvaged indigo scraps, held together by stitches called sashiko, and handed down through the generations. A fashion born of poverty, it is now very collectible and priced in the stratosphere.

Early Navajo Dine weavers used indigo in the chief blankets they wove to keep them warm in harsh New Mexico winters.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca indigo rug

In Oaxaca, my family, Fe y Lola Rugs, uses indigo in the rugs they weave. They prepare the dye bath and dye hand-spun organic churra wool yarn skeins in small batches to get the most intense color.

Our family also offers natural dye workshops that introduce people to the chemistry of indigo.

i found this exhibition beautiful, comprehensive and satisfying. If you are coming to New Mexico, don’t miss it. Thanks to Nancy Craft for suggesting that I see it.

Artist Laura Anderson Barbata from Brooklyn, NY, uses indigo-dyed cotton brocade, printed cotton and machine embroidery from Oaxaca, to create costumes for stilt dancers. We also saw her work a few years ago at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

On exhibit through April 24, 2022.

Yes! I’m now back in Taos. Still snow on the mountains.

San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, Where Textiles Tell Stories

San Juan Colorado is up the mountain about an hour-and-half from Pinotepa Nacional along the Costa Chica. It’s at the end of the road, so secluded that the Spanish Conquest and proselytizing priests didn’t reach here until much later. It’s why traditional backstrap loom weaving and natural dyeing have survived over the years.

Mostly women weave here, but some men are also learning. Girls start when they are around ten years old. Native wild preHispanic cotton grows here, too — caramel colored brown, mint green, creamy white make up the palette. White thread can also be dyed red with cochineal, blue with indigo, yellow with wild marigold, brown with nuts and bark. Brazilwood turns white cotton to a fucsia hot pink. Cooking cotton in an iron pot dulls the color. White becomes a soft grey.

We visit one of the oldest cooperatives, Jini Nuu. We gather in the courtyard under the shade of an almond tree The bark is also a dye material. Yuridia and Verónica welcome us. The older women are sitting on the ground, legs tucked under them, bare toes peeking out from their posahuanco wrap-around skirts, spinning cotton with the drop spindle, picking seeds from the cotton to get ready to spin it, and weaving on the backstrap loom.

Our group sits down for lunch. We are served tamales stuff with a local specialty of mangrove mussels and another type stuffed with chicken. There is a spicy beef broth soup, tasty fruit waters, avocado, Oaxaca queso fresco, and plenty of made in the comal tortillas. We are in foodie heaven. Our desert is a shot of Piedra de Alma mezcal.


Mid-afternoon we cross the village to visit Camerina and the Las Sanjuaneras cooperative where they weave beautiful gauze fabric and work only in natural dyes. Their oldest member is age 81 and their youngest is in her 30’s. Cooperatives are important social and economic organizations, offering ways to marketi and also provide mutual support.

Let us know if you want to go in 2023

Designs woven into the cloth are selected by each weaver. They I clise the flora and fauna of the region. Since we are near the coast, this includes crab, turtles, ducks, birds, stars, rainbows, mountains, scorpions, pine trees, corn plants, chickens. The row of women figures holding hands depicts solidarity. Shoulder decorations of zigzag depict the Feathers of Quetzalcoatl — the serpent god. The double-headed eagle has special significance: the duality of life, ting-hangs, man-woman, fertility.