Tag Archives: Oaxaca weaving patterns

Letter From Eric, May 31, 2008

I have been at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca for only for 2 weeks and I am still trying to understand and learn the complexities of the job. I had a group of 9 year old kids today to test the workshop I proposed. Mexican kids are very different from those in America. They were giggling, cavorting and talking about who’s in love with who and the school teachers. But, after it was all done, they had created a small textile woven from a cardboard loom 🙂

There are so many projects planned that I will be involved with here. I’ll be developing the certification for rugs woven with natural dyes. I will also be designing interactive display structures that explain the fibers, colors, weaving and spinning. The museum asked me to also develop an international exchange between weavers of Oaxaca and other countries. All of this could take a year or more before it happens.

The current exhibit we have is called “De Mitla a Sumatra: The Art of the Woven Fret” with over 130 pieces from different places in the world using the Greca as a universal pattern in every weaving culture. This exhibit will be up until August 2008.

Alejandro de Avila is the museum curator and I haven´t met him yet. He´s doing hundreds of things around Oaxaca.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and I am so glad I am staying in Teotitlan all day 🙂 I feel very tired by the end of the work day. I have been reading a lot about Oaxacan textiles and natural dye books in the last two weeks. It’s a lot of information. Next week I will start to use the museum kitchen to experiment with the new methods I´ve learned from the books. Life is good, as you said. The only thing I am missing is spending enough time with my family 🙁

Norma’s Note: Museo Textil de Oaxaca is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Current exhibit: “De Mitla a Sumatra (From Mitla to Sumatra): The Art of the Woven Fret” through August 2008

Sewing Lesson: Making a Huipil From Indigenous Cloth

I’m in love with the book, Taller Flora by Carla Fernandez. In it she describes the various ways of putting webs (geometric shapes of cloth–squares, rectangles, triangles) together to create dresses, pants, skirts, blouses, shirts, sashes and jackets. Fernandez describes indigenous pre-Hispanic techniques for constructing garments, and compares this with western techniques. Westerners cut cloth to fit the body. Indigenous weavers feature the textile and, make few, if any, cuts into the cloth. huipil-mixtec-coast.jpgTheir clothing is loose fitting, comfortable, and easily adaptable to another future use. The weaving takes center stage.

Last summer, I eyed a piece of hand woven cloth tucked away on the bottom shelf case of the B&B where we were staying. It’s gloriously rich color spoke to me, and I bought it. It’s been stashed away and yesterday I decided to take it in hand and create a huipil.jalieza-backstrap-loom.jpg Imagine three long, rectangular pieces hand woven on a back-strap loom, each panel (web) 14-1/2” wide x 80” long and hand-stitched together, featuring intricate patterns of stars, birds, fish, crabs, lobster, bugs, deer, and rabbits. It is a brocaded piece from the coastal Mixtec village of Huazotitlan, Oaxaca. I don’t know for certain, but am assuming, that it is dyed with cochineal (red), indigo (blue) and caracol (purple) based on the price I paid for the cloth ($180 USD) — and that was not yet made up into anything!

Above: Example of weaving on a backstrap loom.

Lovingly, I opened the seams and took apart the hand stitching, thinking about the women who created this fabric. How many women’s hands were there? Were they mother and daughter? Dear friends or sisters?


The 4-ply cotton seam threads went on for a while, were knotted off, the trailing thread tucked neatly into the next set of stitches that continued but were different. I could tell they were made by another pair of hands by the way they entered the cloth. This was every bit as sturdy as any machine-made seam. I was deconstructing the panels because two panels would be sufficient to cover my body. I was able to create a huipil without making a single cut in the cloth. Here’s how I did it:

First using small basting stitches, I sewed two panels together at the center seam, being sure to match the direction of the pattern in the weave. I ended the seam at the opening of the neck hole, measuring how big I wanted this to be so the garment would go over my head. I made the total size of the opening 16″, and marked the cloth equally front to back with a straight pin (and tailor’s chalk) so I would know where to stop sewing. I continued to baste from the hem toward the neck on the other side closing the seam the same amount of inches front to back. Then, I held the side seams together to see how much of an armhole I wanted. I decided on a 12” opening for the armhole. So I measured 12” from the shoulder fold down the side-seam, marked it with a straight pin, and began to baste from the hem going up toward the straight pin.

Not being an accomplished Mixtec seamstress, I took the fabric to the sewing machine and used a basting stitch (#4 stitch length on my machine) to sew all the seams together. I decided not to make the machine stitches smaller (#3) because I didn’t want to pull the the brocade fabric together too tightly and I wanted the flexibility to take the garment apart later in case I wanted to do something else with the material. Then, I steamed out all the seams with my iron (gently) so they laid flat. I finished the huipil by folding the bottom over into a ½” hem and sewing the hem by hand using blind stitches. The entire project took me about 3 hours. I didn’t need to finish off the neckline or armholes because the selvages are perfectly beautiful.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out. A huipil of this quality would cost $500+ in any shop in the Santo Domingo – Alcala de Macedeonia neighborhood!

Norma Hawthorne is a North Carolina fiber and jewelry artist, and university administrator, who writes about Oaxaca and living in Teotitlan del Valle on her website www.oaxacaculture.com She is currently organizing weaving and natural dyeing workshops with Federico Chavez Sosa and Eric Chavez Santiago in Teotitlan del Valle.

ADDENDUM: June 5, 2008. I’ve had lots of requests since writing this post for where to purchase the Taller Flora by Carla Fernandez book.  I cannot find a U.S. source and intend to try to track down this down on my upcoming trip to Oaxaca.  Meanwhile, if you go to the website:  www.flora2.com/ you can download the book from a PDF file.