When I posted about the process of sewing the embroidered collar onto my blusa made in Pinotepa de Don Luis, weaver Monica Hernandez from Pinotepa de Don Luis contacted me via Facebook messenger. She asked if I would help her sell handwoven blouses (blusas) and dresses (huipiles) she and her sister made. Her husband is Rafael Avedaño, son of the famous Don Habucuc Avedaño, who learned to gather and milk the rare caracol purpura snail that yields the beautiful purple snail dye found in the rocky crevices along the north coast of Oaxaca. Rafa learned from his father and a lot has been written about how this indigenous group is preserving an ancient tradition that goes back centuries. The purple snail dye is used in all ceremonial dresses, including the wedding dress which women will be buried in when they die.
Most of these seven huipiles include threads dyed with caracol purpura, making them very collectible because this type of snail is on the cusp of extinction. It takes two-to-three months to make each piece.
Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour 2023 is SOLD OUT. (I am taking a waiting list.) This is the next best thing to owning a piece of history and a garment that you can wear with pride that it is completely handwoven on the back-strap loom and dyed with natural materials. You support indigenous weavers who live in remote areas where tourists rarely travel. You are supporting sustainable entrepreneurism — it is unusual for a weaver to reach out into the greater world without the help of a middleman who buys cheaply and makes a big profit. As soon as a piece sells, I send funds directly to Monica.
How to Buy:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Tell me the item you want by number. Send me your mailing address. Tell me how you want to pay. Choose one of three ways.
You can pay one of three ways: 1) with a Zelle transfer and no service fee; 2) with Venmo or 3) with PayPal. If you choose either #2 or #3, we add on a 3% service fee which is their charge to us, and we will send a Request for Funds to your email address. The request will include the cost of the garment + $14 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing. Tell me which payment method you prefer and I’ll send you more information. Buy now and I’ll bring your garment back with me on August 9 when I return from Oaxaca to New Mexico. If you want the piece sooner, I can mail via FedEx or UPS from Oaxaca at a cost of $60 USD.
Now for these breath-taking garments! Prices are lower than usual — as if you were there and buying directly.
Note: width is measured across the front — it is not the circumference. please take your measurements carefully and compare to your favorite garment. All sales final. Monica thanks you! so do I
Did I mention that the Oaxaca coast is HOT! At 90 degrees Fahrenheit and close to equal humidity, the Costa Chica, the area between Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, Guerrero, is sultry, even in winter. Women here in recent memory, wore wrap-around skirts called posohuancos, and were bare-breasted. In the 1960’s, the Church (ie. Catholic church), evangelizing missionaries and tour guides who began to penetrate the area, urged the women to cover-up. So, they designed a top that is a combo between an apron and a bra to go with their traditional wrapped skirt. And, this is how culture changes! Now, the younger women dress in Western-style clothing and save their traje (traditional festival dress) for special occasions — engagement parties, weddings, Saint’s Day festivities, and other ceremonies.
Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour is for the adventuresome who can ride in a van and travel long distances to get into the remote villages that we visit along the north coast of Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. Before decent roads and vehicles, the intrepid went into these areas on horseback or riding mules. We are lucky for a two-hour ride, not a day-long endurance trail up the mountainside.
In Pinotepa de Don Luis, we visit the Tixinda Cooperative whose leader is famed Don Habacuc Avedaño, the 81-year old who has been harvesting the rare purple snail dye on the Oaxaca coast since boyhood. In years past, he would travel by donkey or on foot from the village tucked into the folds of the coastal mountains to the sea. The caracol purpura proliferated along the Costa Chica then. They are smaller and harder to find now and it takes a day or two to journey to where they can be found, often as far as Huatulco, which is two-days from Pinotepa de Don Luis by vehicle. In the old days, it would take several weeks to get there. Don Habacuc and his compadres would find work along the way to finance their journey.
He is now one of only a few snail dyers left in the village. A rare commodity any way you look at it.
Today, he still climbs the rocks, a treacherous ordeal, with his adult son Rafael (who we call Rafa), to pick the snail from the rocky crevices, often prying them loose with a stick. He has skeins of hand-spun, pre-Hispanic locally grown white cotton draped around his left forearm. With his right hand, he squeezes the snail to activate the protection gland Slot Gacor Hari Ini to release the rare purple dye, careful not to kill the crustacean. He then returns it to the rocks. It takes 50 snails and one hour to dye one skein of cotton yarn that weighs 20 grams. That’s not even 1/2 an ounce. Not long ago, they could harvest and dye 15 skeins in an hour. No longer.
The threads are now used sparingly, as embellishment along collars with embroidery stitches depicting sea life, flowers and birds. Or, they are used as a narrow accent stripe or for the intricate, fine designs woven into the cloth using the supplementary weft technique. Experts are saying this beautiful purple thread may become a way of the past as the snail is endangered and difficult to find.
Our group sits on plastic patio chairs (of the Walmart variety) in a semi-circle on the packed dirt patio of the family compound. Chickens and roosters run underfoot, dipping beaks into buckets filled with water, wings flapping as they run between chair legs and human legs. We are surrounded by the finest back-strap loom woven huipiles and blusas suspended from clothing lines strung criss-cross across the courtyard. Rafa explains the snail harvesting and dyeing process. Don Habacuc is upstairs on a conference call with Mexico City officials about how to put more teeth into the federal laws written to protect the endangered species. This is their livelihood.
We put the brakes on our desire to riffle through the clothes and sit down to a fine, home-cooked meal of chicken or squash tamales and fresh fruit water made with hibiscus flowers — called Agua de Jamaica. Then, we plunge in to shop.
This is only the beginning of our day. We also visit the cooperative that hand-paints Converse tennis shoes that sell for over $250 USD in Oaxaca and Mexico City (if you can find them). This group are also graphic artists who hand-carve gourds and make print art. Then, we are off to visit Sebastiana, an amazing weaver in the same village. It is here that I find the perfect dress to wear to my son’s Southern California wedding in late March!
We are back to our base in Pinotepa Nacional by sunset, ready for dinner, a Margarita, and some chill time in our air-conditioned room!
Most of us have made the difficult choice to NOT travel to Oaxaca at least until the pandemic is under control and a vaccine is readily available. I have heard from many people asking what we can do, absent of travel, to support indigenous artisans who have been VERY hard hit by the tourist economy free-fall. Bottom line: People are suffering and we can help directly by purchasing something beautiful they have made.
We are getting a jump on Black Friday by making this opportunity available to you today!
Happy Thanksgiving — Special Dreamweavers Sale for You — 10% Discount. Sale starts TODAY
That’s why I invited Patrice Perillie, founder of Dreamweavers /Tixinda Textiles from Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, to write a guest blog. Together, we are offering a select group of hand-woven, naturally-dyed textiles for sale at 10% off.
Patrice says: Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to re-think how we shop and who we support. Please consider giving a gift that will sustain indigenous weavers while delighting your loved ones! If indigenous artisans are going to survive this pandemic they need your help.
You might ask: What is tixinda? This is the rare purple dye that is extracted from the caracol purpura sea snail. Tixinda is what the snail is called in the Mixtec language.
Below are some examples of what is available to purchase:
What Patrice Perillie, Immigrant Rights Attorney, Says …
I write to you from beautiful Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, where I have called home for the past 32 years. Here we all try to keep ourselves COVID-safe by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and sanitizing, and not depending on government restrictions which are in earnest but rarely enforced. It has been a difficult time especially for the indigenous artisans of our world.
For the past 12 years, it has been my privilege to work with Tixinda, a cooperative of Mixtec women weavers from Pinotepa de Don Luis. We don’t see each other much now and we have had to adapt to the new COVID world. Many of the events we sell at have been canceled, including the prestigious International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Our all-volunteer, non-profit organization Mexican Dreamweavers*, has also been forced to cancel what would have been our 12th Annual Dreamweavers Exhibition and Sale, which normally takes place the fourth Sunday in January. Norma’s celebrated Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour to participate in this event is also canceled. We need to stay home to protect ourselves and our indigenous friends.
The Mixtec weavers of the Tixinda weaving cooperative are among the last of weavers in Mexico who grow their own cotton — white, green and native brown coyuchi. They spin it with the ancient drop spindle, color the fiber with natural dyes and weave it on back strap looms. An average of 400 hours of women’s work goes into each weaving!
Natural Colors from Local Plants and the Sea
Textiles feature the blues and blacks of indigo, red cochineal, and the sacred Mixtec purple dye tixinda that is extracted from a rare, nearly extinct sea snail. The color represents the divine feminine and fertility, a harvest is guided by the Moon! Pinotepa de Don Luis is the last place on earth where only 15 men, most over the age of 60, risk their lives and brave powerful waves along Oaxaca’s rocky coastline to lovingly extract the purple tixinda dye without killing the snail.
Wearables: Face-Masks, Huipiles, Shawls and More
Our beautiful, three-ply face masks make great stocking stuffers! A lovely shawl or table runner can dress up the holidays. Waist-length cropped blusas and longer huipiles add pizzazz to daily or special occasion wear. Even during the pandemic, we can create beauty in our lives by wearing something handmade.
As we celebrate the holidays in small bubbles of family and friends, we can express our love for Oaxaca by supporting her talented weavers. Our purchases give indigenous women the opportunity to stay in their villages and work from their homes, for themselves, instead of migrating without documentation to become cleaning and service industry help.
As an immigrant rights attorney, the reverse migration aspects of this work are what draws me to it, not to mention that I am an unabashed cross-cultural cross-dresser! Since the pandemic hit, I have received more and more requests to help indigenous artisans go to the US to make a living. Instead, let’s join together this Holiday Season and help them stay home and stay safe!
*Mexican Dreamweavers is a reverse migration project of La Abogada del Pueblo,Inc., a registered 501(c)(3). All donations are tax deductible!
As if it weren’t enough to lose El Maestro Francisco Toledo this week, news comes this morning from dear friend Patrice Perillie that Margarita Avedano Lopez, founder and president of Tixinda Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, has died.
The cooperative, one of the most famous on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, is in the Mixtec weaving and dyeing village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, about an hour up the mountain from the Pacific Ocean.
Margarita’s brother, Don Habacuc Avedano, is one of the few remaining men who harvest the rare caracol purpura snail for its incredible purple dye, which Margarita used in her weavings.
We know this village intimately because we visit it as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. We know Margarita for her outstanding collection of regional textiles that she sold in the village market, and for her extraordinary prowess as a back-strap loom weaver and dyer.
True, there are others to carry on. Yet, recognizing women in this region who preserve culture and tradition through artisan craft is essential. The work of Margarita, known as Tia Tere, deserves special acknowledgement because of her dedication to traditional methods: weaving the posahuanco (wrap-around skirt) using natural dyes such as indigo, caracol purpura and cochineal, and carding and hand-spinning (with the drop spindle) native coyuchi and white cotton into the finest threads.
As the generations age and pass from us, how do we keep their memory and their talent alive, going forward? To honor Margarita, it is imperative that our appreciation for Oaxaca traditions carry forward. It is essential that we continue to support handcraft. I feel privileged to have known her and to have acquired cloth that she wove and fashioned into fine garments.
Descanse bien, Margarita Avedano Lopez. We will miss you immensely.
The 2019 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has come to an end. The three-day extravaganza is a chaotic mix of tribal, ethnic, indigenous creativity from around the world. It brings together many talented artisans who have no other paths to reach international markets.
Santa Fe is a destination for many reasons. This is where friends from all over the country converge to volunteer, too. A group of us planned a reunion around being here. We coordinated our volunteer time. We stayed at the same, small, old Route 66 motel that has been in service since the 1950’s. I imagine my dad may have stayed there as he pulled a trailer with all our family household belongings behind our 1953 Plymouth station wagon on the journey west from Detroit to resettle in Los Angeles.
The market officially begins on Friday night with a special opening night preview at $250 per person admission. I always volunteer, so I get to watch the passing parade of Texas and Oklahoma oil and gas heiresses and collectors dressed in their finest attire. It’s a cocktail party that goes from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. The ticket gives one first pick. I volunteered with Santa Fe de Laguna, Patzcuaro, potter Nicolas Fabian Fermin, and I packed up lots of beautiful pots that night.
The frenzy continued on Saturday morning when the Early Birders got in at 7:30 a.m. After the late night on Friday of bubble-wrapping ceramics, I just couldn’t get going to get there before 10 a.m. when the event opened to general admission. With hundreds of artisans and thousands of people, it was a crush to get through the aisles to see all that was offered at this huge bazaar.
That didn’t give me much time to cover more than a fraction of the aisles, since I was meeting friends Jennifer and Mark Brinitzer, Ann Brinitzer and Katie and Don Laughland for an early lunch in the cafe. The women came with me on our 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour (a few places open for 2020) and we became fast friends.
It was thrilling and heartfelt to see so many artisans I know from Oaxaca represented at this outstanding exposition. It takes years of making highest quality work to gain this level of recognition, plus it takes entrepreneurship and some luck to gain entry to this juried show.
It’s very expensive for artisans to participate, too. They must cover their own shipping, travel, lodging and food expenses and they give 20% of their sales to the IFAM organization for the opportunity to sell.
If they are part of a cooperative with many makers, the profits must be divided. As with the case of Dreamweavers Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis, there were three representatives at the Folk Art Market — Amada, Teofila and Patrice. Patrice did a fundraiser and collected over $4,000 USD to cover some of the expenses. And, they had excellent sales. However, the net gets divided among 30 weavers and dyers, so each person might earn only a few hundred dollars.
For individual artisans and families, the profits are much better but ONLY IF there are sales. If it is a slow year, there is an opportunity to sell at a discount (the artisan names the percentage) on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show. Brisk sales one year does not guarantee success for the next. The risk is entirely on the shoulders of the artisan.
Odilon Merino Morales from San Pedro Amuzgo on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, Mexico, consigns what he doesn’t sell with Sheri Brautigam who runs the online Etsy shop, Living Textiles of Mexico. If you didn’t get to the show and want one of these incredible textiles, please contact Sheri. She also has pieces from Pinotepa de Don Luis’ Dreamweavers Cooperative.
The benefit of doing this is that the artisans do not need to pay the return shipping for unsold goods and it leaves the beautiful pieces in the USA for better access to those of you who missed the show and want to make a purchase.
I volunteered on Saturday afternoon from noon to 6:00 p.m. with the Dreamweavers Cooperative. I know these women well since I lead study tours to their remote village on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica.
The IFAM show is a destination and an adventure. Since I know many of the artisans, it is a special and heart-throbbing experience to meet them outside their humble homes and villages in the world of commerce. For some, this is their first visit to the USA. Their first flight on an airplane. Their first success at getting a visa to enter the USA and overcome the fears of border crossing and disrespect.
This is the moment to applaud what Oaxaca artisans have accomplished. There are so many more talented people whose work goes unrecognized and unrewarded. For those of us who love Mexico and appreciate the talent, history, culture and art, the process of bringing accomplished artisans to the world marketplace is an on-going effort.
Thanks to all who support and applaud what they do.
In the vast New Mexico landscape, one can disappear, rediscover Georgia O’Keefe, experience Nuevo Mexico, land of enchantment, understand the history and artisanry of nearby Native Americans who live along the Rio Grand River. It is hot, dry, high desert with the kind of beauty that brings the romance of the Old West into one’s spirit.
Look at the rain over purple hills, fields of sage and lavender, the dry withered look of dehydration — plants and people, wrinkles in the earth and on weathered faces. I imagine what it would be like to be an indigenous person here, too. I know the Oaxaca story well. There are many similarities — both experienced the Conquest, the attempt at culture annihilation, and the resurgence of identity amidst the face of adversity and hardship.
Again, let’s applaud the talent of our First Peoples.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
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We offer textile experiences in our studio where we weave and work only in natural dyes.You can see the process during our textile tours, dye workshops or customized weaving experiences. Ask us for more information about these experiences, customized scheduling, and prices.
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
1-Day OaxacaCity Collectors Textile Tour.Exclusive Access! We take you into the homes and workshops of Oaxaca State's prize-winning weavers. They come from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Mixteca, Mixe, Amuzgos and Triqui areas and represent their weaving families and cooperatives here. For collectors, retailers, buyers, wholesalers, fashionistas.
1-Day Oaxaca Textile Walking Tour When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
February 5-13, 2023: Bucket List Tour: Monarch Butterflies + Michoacan. Spiritual, mystical connection to nature. Go deep into weaving, pottery, mask-making and more! We haven't offered this tour since 2019 and we anticipate it will sell out quickly. SOLD OUT
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. In Oaxaca, wear your mask. Questions? Want more info or to register? Send an email to Norma Schafer.
Maps: Teotitlan + Tlacolula Market
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after order received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle