The textile cooperative Jolom Mayaetik is one of the oldest and most successful in and around San Cristobal de Las Casas, founded in 1980. This is the 5th year we have visited them and they continue to improve processes, increase production, build capacity and create highest quality weavings.
They have over 200 cooperative members in five different villages: Chamula, Zinacantan, San Andres Larrainzar, Magdalenas Aldama, and Oxchuc. Each village is known for their distinctive style of garment. All weave using the back-strap loom, are rescuing traditional designs, and are experimenting, too, with color and form to meet marketplace taste.
I’m always reminded about what cultural anthropologist Martha Turok once told me: Innovation and creativity are vital for keeping traditional indigenous textile processes alive. Without change, the practice will be lost.
Jolom Mayaetik president Elvia Gomez Lopez welcomed us again with open arms. She is the daughter of one of the founders. Their organization is based on mutual support of women, providing health care and education to families, guaranteeing a fair wage, and profit-sharing. Even those who don’t sell get paid.
These women are activist artisans. They subscribe to social justice and human rights. Resisting oppression is a cornerstone of their survival strategies. They are political. They participate in training programs to improve textile making skills and business skills. They are role models for young women in their villages who want to learn and work in collaboration with each other.
Husbands and sons participate, too. Boys are learning to weave. Men help with loom-building and some are supportive of their wives’ independence, because they are bringing money to the family and to communities.
Before we entered the newly constructed showroom where clothing and home goods are displayed for sale, we sat down around a large meeting table to share stories, break bread together, and hear from some of the cooperative leaders. The beauty of doing this first is to gain an appreciation for the values, goals, challenges and opportunities that Maya women face in their lives.
In this cultural exchange of sharing and asking questions, we come to know people as individuals, to hear their stories, and to appreciate the time it takes — often months — to create a handmade textile. Then, as we consider what we may want to purchase, we have a better sense of value for a woman’s time and materials.
We brought gifts of eye glasses of varying strengths to help weavers and embroiderers see better. We brought scissors, embroidery floss and scissors. We brought crayons and books for children. We brought our goodwill and desire to support the efforts of the cooperative by making purchases and making memories.
Thanks to our textile study tour travelers for contributing photos to this blog post: Lynn Nichols, Bitty Truan, Claudia Michel, Sheri Brautigam, Marsha Betancourt, Winn Kalmon, Margaret Sherraden.
We are offering this Deep Into the Maya World: Chiapas Textile Study Tour in 2021. The itinerary will be the same but the dates are February 23-March 3, 2021. If you want to join us, complete the Registration Form at the top of the banner of this website and email it. We will then send you a deposit invoice.
Textile Flower Bouquets of San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas
Zinacantan is about thirty minutes by taxi from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. They grow flowers here. Large greenhouses dominate the landscape like a checkerboard rising from the valley to the hillsides.
Flower growing Zinacantan garden embroidered on cloth
This is a prosperous community that exports this produce throughout Mexico, as far as Mexico City and Merida.
Toddler cradled in an embroidered rebozo carrier with scalloped chal
Local dress reflects this love of flowers. Women’s skirts and chals (shawls), men’s pants and ponchos, and rebozos to cradle babies are densely embroidered with flower motifs.
Machined cross-stitch embroidery. Can you tell the difference?
It used to be that this work was all done by hand. Now, the embroidery machine has taken over the life of the cloth, which is often completely covered in intricate flower motifs so dense you can hardly see the base fabric.
Family shop together on market day
It used to be that the base cloth was woven on a back strap loom. This is now rarely the case. Most is either woven on the treadle loom or by commercial machine.
Bling blouses–machine embroidered bodices on shiny synthetic cloth. Beautiful.
It used to be that the village was identified by its hot pink cloth. Now, we see purples and blues. It’s common to see shiny colored threads in both the woven cloth and the embroidery thread. Fashions change and the Zinacantecas innovate new designs, use new color variations, and new embroidery motifs.
Woman working her needle by hand on the street, a rarity
Far beyond Mexico City, Mexican women love their bling.
Sheri Brautigam and I went early to Zinacantan yesterday on a discovery trip to check out new places to take the next Chiapas Textile Study Tour group. Sunday is Zinacantan market day but you have to get there early. The women with textiles have spread out their wares on the street at 6:00 a.m. and start putting their things away by 10:30 a.m.
New designs this year, short scalloped collar shawl
Our best advice is go there first before Chamula.
My find of the day: hand embroidered chal, front and back
2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Taking reservations now.
Wander the streets off the Zocalo. There are homes and stalls that sell good new and vintage textiles. The old pieces might be ten, fifteen or twenty years old. People stop wearing them because the colors are outdated not because the cloth is worn.
Costume is worn with cultural pride everyday
You can easily spend an hour here.
A rainbow of threads for embroidery machines in the market.
Here you will find hand embroidered cloth woven on back strap looms. This could include cross-stitch (punto de cruz) and French knots, in addition to other traditional needlework. How can you tell? Turn it over and look at the underside.
Meandering the streets we come across handmade leather shoes
The embroidery machine has come to Chiapas and can replicate cross-stitch and everything else. The village women now wear the work made by machine and it’s beautiful, too. Everything is a personal choice!
Market day goes on under the destruction of San Lorenzo Church
The obvious tragedy is the damage to the Church of San Lorenzo during the September 7, 2017, earthquake that rattled Chiapas and the southern Oaxaca coast. The destruction dominates the horizon. The church is closed until further notice by INAH. People say it may be impossible to repair. There is talk in the village about building another church.
Saints in temporary corrugated home. Photo by Carol Estes.
I remember entering the candlelit space in years past where all corners were adorned with flowers, abundant, fragrant. The altar was like a floral arrangement unlike any other I had seen. The aroma made me swoon. Now, the saints have been removed to a corrugated shed. INAH is responsible for all historic churches in Mexico. Few in and around San Cristobal de Las escaped damage. There is years of work to be done. Will Mexico have the will to repair?
September 2017 earthquake toppled houses, too.
Back on the street we find hand-woven and embroidered bags, silky polyester blouses machine embroidered with complementary colors, belt sashes and skirt fabric. Since it’s market day, tarps are also covered with piles of fruits and vegetables, and staples for the home.
1930s wedding, San Lorenzo Zinacantan
The Aztecs ruled this territory before the Spanish. They dominated as far south as Nicaragua. The Zinacantecos had strong links with the Aztecs, and enjoyed a privileged trading relationship. The village served as political/economic center for Aztec control of the region before the Spanish reached Chiapas in 1523. Our friend Patricio tells us that many locals intermarried with Nahuatl speaking Mexica’s.
The Zinacantan feathered wedding dress is a carry over from this past.
Leaving San Cristobal at 9:00 a.m. for Zinacantan
Taxi to get there, 150 pesos from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Taxi to return, 100 pesos. Get it at the back corner of the church before you enter the market street.
On our hotel street, end of day
It costs about 150 pesos to get there.
Posted in Clothing Design, Cultural Commentary, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving
Tagged Chiapas, cloth, education, Embroidery, San Cristobal de las Casas, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, textiles, tour, travel, weaving