Monica contacted me this week and asked for help to sell her hand-woven, naturally dyed cotton huipiles and blusas. She is from the Oaxaca coast village of Pinotepa de Don Luis and is married to Rafael Avedaño, the son of the famed purple snail dyer Don Habacuc Avedaño. Rafa learned how to milk the purple snail from his father, extracting the dye and then putting the snail back into the water to regenerate. They dye the hand-spun native white cotton right there on the rocks along the tide pools near Huatulco. Monica is a master weaver and creates stunning, well made and airy garments perfect for the heat and humidity along the coast. Yes, it’s even hot there in January — the coolest month.
There are still many days left in summer and it’s likely that this heat we are experiencing will not let up for quite some time. A perfect time to adorn yourself in something hand made, sustainable, and elegant. These clothes are easy-to-wash-and-wear, and will allow your body to breathe while still looking fresh. Each one is one-of-a-kind! You know you are supporting a Oaxaca weaver directly when you purchase.
Here’s how it works: Monica sent me photos that I am posting here with dimensions and prices. Please order by August 12, 2023. You will pre-pay and I will add on $20 mailing cost. If you order more than one piece, I will combine mailing. Monica will then send me a package of all to take to the post office.
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 and include your account name, email or phone number. Choose one of three ways.
You can pay one of three ways: 1) with Zelle (no service fee; 2) with Venmo or 3) with PayPal (3.5% service fee for either one). We will send a Request for Funds (tell us how your account is registered). The request will include the cost of the garment + $17 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing.
Please measure carefully. We are unable to accept returns since we will have already paid the artisans. Width is measured across the front. Length is measured from shoulder to hem. Thank you!
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!
After I wrote about and linked Alex Szerlip’s comprehensive article, Vintage Tech–Tyrian Purple, I asked immigration attorney Patrice Perillie how the fundraising effort to get the Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative to the Santa Fe Folk Art Market this summer was going.
Patrice is the advocate for Mexican Dreamweavers and has set up a USA non-profit organization to accept tax-deductible donations.
Why Mexican Dreamweavers needs your help:
Mexican Dreamweavers supports the indigenous Mixtec women and men of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, to preserve their cultural heritage of back-strap loom weaving, harvesting and applying purple shell dye to native-grown cotton. This gift helps transport them to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market to sell their work on a global scale. So important for survival and continuity.
What is most important to Oaxaca’s weavers and dyers?
To bring what they make to market. Without buyers, artisan craft will not survive. Artisans tell me this wherever we travel in Mexico. They ask, help us sell our work. Bring us to the USA. Bring people to visit us. Often, they do not speak Spanish and cannot communicate their needs beyond their indigenous language of Mixtec, or Zapotec or Ikoots without translation.
In this case, the Cooperative demonstrated their amazing talent by being accepted into the highly competitive Santa Fe International Folk Art Market — a juried show. We can help them get there. They must fund their own travel expenses that includes hotel, food and transportation for several people.
The caracol purpura is losing ground and so are the tintoreros, the dyers who milk them, applying the dye directly to the cotton cloth on the rocky Oaxaca coast to give up its extraordinary purple color, keeping the mollusk alive. The dyers, led by 78 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, come from the Mixtec town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, high in the mountains on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. It’s the women of the village, the wives and daughters, who spin and weave this cloth into some of the most coveted textiles in Oaxaca.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.
Mexico’s cultural anthropologist Martha Turok Wallace has worked tirelessly over her career to help preserve the natural dye culture here, support villagers, and suggest ways they could adapt their work to reach new markets. Without sales to visitors, the textile culture will be lost. Without conservation and public education, the snail will become extinct.
As recently as the 1970’s, the traditional dress for Pinotepa de Don Luis women was a posahuanco (wrap-around skirt), woven in three-lengths of cloth on the back-strap loom, the lengths hand-stitched, and the cloth dyed with caracol purpura, indigo and cochineal. That’s what the purple snail dye was used for. Topless for this hot, humid climate, they wore a finely hand-woven, transparent white huipil that draped from head to shoulders. The cloth was held in place by an inverted dried gourd, worn much like a crown with a veil.
Martha suggested that the gourd could be carved and used as a container. It is now finely carved with intricate figures of birds, flowers, sea life and used as wall decor and lamp-bases, too.
I’ve heard Martha speak at conferences about how important it is to innovate and adapt in order to keep the traditions of a culture vibrant. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing people to blue jeans and polyester. But for me the question always remains, What is authentic and does this mean we behave as colonials to keep people fixed in their place? Progress means change. Progress means better education, health care, access to economic prosperity.
Today, women in the village cover themselves with bra-type aprons that drape over the posahuanco. The posahuanco has also changed. It can include native coyuchi brown and white cotton. I’ve seen it worn as a mini-skirt with a zipper by younger women.
The skirt is the main identity marker of the village along with the purple shell dye.
What is an identity marker?
An identity marker is how one defines self in relationship to the group(s) we belong to. It is cultural and distinctive, based on a common language, values, ethnicity, religion, social class, age group, where we live, or the type of dress we choose to wear. Walk into the regional market in Pinotepa Nacional and you know immediately that the woman wearing the posahuanco with the apron top is from Pinotepa de Don Luis.
What about the hand-woven long dresses (huipiles) and tops (blusas) from Pinotepa de Don Luis?
These are designed and made for foreigners — those who live outside the village. Sometimes, you will see a local woman wearing this huipil at shows or special tourist sales events, but it is rare. This is another form of adaptation to use the native hand-spun cotton produced in the village, woven on the back-strap loom, the threads often dyed with indigo or touches of the shell dyed cotton or silk.
I’ll be writing more about this region in days to come. So stay tuned. On Wednesday, I’m off to Michoacan to lead another folk art study tour.
We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle