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Oaxaca City Textile Collector’s Tour

We’ve just added this new day tour to our menu of workshops and tours. It is designed to give textile collectors, retailers, wholesalers, fashionistas, and aficionados exclusive access! Different and more specialized than any of our other one-day textile experiences, we take you into the homes and studios of some of the finest weavers and cooperatives found in the State of Oaxaca. What makes this different?

Based on our vast experience working with weavers, we know who makes the absolute best garments! They are individuals and families who come from remote areas of Oaxaca: the coast, from the Mixtec, Triqui or Mixe regions. They represent their families here in the city, where they maintain a residence. Where they live and work are obscure, unknown, off the beaten path, up switchback roads high in the mountains beyond the Guelaguetza stadium, or in the foothills of new neighborhoods under the shadow of the Sierra Madre del Sur. Because we have personal relationships with them, they welcome us and whomever we bring to their homes to see their collections.

Because this tour is so personal, we limit it to FOUR people at a time.

Cost: $450 for one person. Add $200 per person for each additional person.

Itinerary: We pick you up in the historic center of Oaxaca at 9:00 a.m. in a comfortable four-wheel drive vehicle. We need this to pick our way up the switchback road up to the top of a mountain that overlooks the Oaxaca valley! We return you to the city around 5:30 p.m.

You meet the makers! All along the way, you will see demonstrations, discuss motifs and iconography, how the fabric and dyes are created, and learn about the cultural history of the cloth. A rare and insider experience.

Who we visit:

  • Nationally recognized back-strap loom weavers from San Mateo del Mar, where they create gauze clothing embellished with sea life, flora and fauna of their region, mostly 80/2 and 60/2 finest gauge cotton or silk. Three types of weaving are employed — 1) passed thread technique; 2) supplementary weft technique; and 3) double-faced technique. San Mateo is on the ocean on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, eight-hours from Oaxaca city.
  • Award-winning back-strap loom weavers from San Juan Cotzocon in the Sierra Mixe of Oaxaca. You find symbols of serpents, flowers, mountains and whimsical animals in their work. Fine, intricate detail using the supplementary weft technique. High in the mountains, about half-way between Oaxaca city and Salina Cruz, were you to go there it would take five-hours on a curving mountain road. Then, would you know who to contact?
  • Outstanding pieces from a cooperative based in San Pedro Amuzgos in the Sierra Sur, that includes pieces made from hand-spun coyuchi and green cotton, indigo and cochineal dyed threads, and the rare caracol purpura. This cooperative also represents work from Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan, sister Amuzgo villages in Guerrero, plus Santiago Ixtayutla and Santa Maria Zacatepec — a mere 125 miles from Oaxaca, but a seven-hour road trip over winding mountain passes!
  • The exclusive bodega of a famous collector who explains how he works with artisans and supports them OR a young, innovative Triqui weaver who is working only in natural dyes using traditional motifs created on the back-strap loom.

Mid-way through the day, we make a lunch stop in the city at a cafe that serves delicious food featuring Oaxaca specialties. Lunch is at your own expense and not included in the cost of the tour.

Note: Because artisan schedules are variable, we reserve the right to adjust the itinerary without notice.

Your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is Eric Chavez Santiago.

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican textiles and folk art with a special interest in artisan development and promotion. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training and a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa are founders of Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. Eric is a business partner with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, too. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. A graduate of Anahuac University, Eric founded the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department in 2007 and went on to become managing director of the folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular, a post he held until late 2021. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture and community.

How to Register? Send us an email at least a week in advance of your visit. Give us a choice of dates you could be available. This is important because artisan schedules are irregular. We customize every appointment. We then send you a request for a 25% non-refundable deposit that can be paid using Zelle or Venmo after we confirm date availability. We will need your pick-up location, too.

Note: Some artisans only accept bank deposits using wire transfer. We recommend you install the App Remitly to make purchases. Others may accept credit cards. All accept MXN pesos in cash. (U.S. dollars require that artisans take funds to a money exchange, which charges them high commissions. We don’t recommend this form of payment.) Also of note: We highly discourage bargaining. Prices are fair and you are buying direct from the makers. It takes hours, days, weeks, months to make one garment.

Encore! San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, Textile Sale Notice

This will be the last sale from this cooperative for a while. Perhaps until Christmas. I’m not sure. In fact, no more sales until mid-October when I will have more blouses coming from Chiapas and a few more rugs from Oaxaca.

Shop Opens Friday, September 11, 12 Noon ET

The texture of hand weaving — from dense to gauzy!

Tomorrow, Friday, September 11, I will have 20+ pieces for sale from the Las Sanjuaneras cooperative in San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca. We sold out the prior two-shipments in one day. So, get this on your calendar!

This coming Tuesday, I’m taking a break from the blog, from masks, from textiles, but not from Covid-19! I’ll be driving to Ohio and Indiana to visit dear friends — playing it safe on the road with mask, face shield, gloves (for gas stations and toilets), and plenty of hand sanitizer and alcohol spray. I likely won’t be back online until sometime in October.

Kaftans or Huipiles???

Fashionistas are telling us that in this Covid-19 era, we are opting for comfortable, free-flowing clothing that we can wear casually — for social distancing get-togethers, working from home or for lounging around. Lounge-wear is in, they say.

Designers are calling this clothing kaftans or tunics. Most likely because this is a style/name most American women are familiar with. Many designers, like those working with indigenous groups in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico, have appropriated centuries-old textile iconography, branded the pieces under their own label, and are calling what they are selling kaftans or tunics instead of huipiles. Sometimes the woven cloth is cut up and incorporated into a design, something the artisan-makers don’t agree with. The prices can be in the stratosphere. Quadruple what you may find here. We call this cultural appropriation — a human rights issue, I think.

What is a kaftan?

What is a huipil?

What is a tunic?

All natural dyes: beets, mahogany bark, indigo, wild marigold, natural native cotton

My goal is to support a few women artisan weavers who live in remote, inaccessible areas, and who do not have an on-line sales presence. My goal is to sell to people who appreciate the hand-work involved and the time to take a garment from thread to finished piece using the back-strap loom, which is time consuming. My goal is to send funds directly to the artisans so they get paid immediately. I pay them when something sells so your purchase has direct benefit. I pay for shipping in advance so they have no out-of-pocket expenses. So, artisans and I have upfront risk to bring these treasures to you.

We appreciate your generosity and trust!

Why and How Long?

I’m not certain how long I will continue to do this, or if I continue, how frequently I will bring the pieces to the USA. Mostly, it depends on when I return to Oaxaca. It will be more difficult to receive and mail them to you from there. I’m thinking of going back this winter, but this is just a loose confederation of thoughts for now.

One example of 20 pieces we will showcase on September 11

I do this because I can’t think of any better way to directly help the weaving cooperatives I know and who we visit during our textile tours. Since the tours have been suspended for the foreseeable future, I think this is one of the few ways to continuing to give indigenous women a livelihood and purpose. It also helps to keep me focused and purposeful during these times when it is easy to binge-watch a favorite TV show or movie, to bake and eat, to stay in bed longer than I should!

In crisis, there is re-invention, adaptation and evolution. This is what I’m telling myself these days!

Thanks always for your caring, love and support for Oaxaca, for Mexico and her artisans. Con abrazos fuertes,

Norma

To the Villages with Shuko–Backroads Oaxaca

Shuko Clouse is here. She opened Mano del Sur recently, a beautiful online shop that combines her Japanese aesthetic — simplicity and quality — with Mexican handcraft excellence. Shuko came to Oaxaca to restock the shop.

Shopping with Shuko, our Oaxaca backroads adventure into craft villages

She takes her time. She curates each item. She meets the makers and engages with them. She holds an article in her hands and savors its creation. She kneels down to touch a wool rug whose life is created on the loom. She traces the pattern with her fingertips, asking about ancient design origin.

The women who make clay mural
Each handmade, hand-formed, imperfect, burnished, beautiful

It is a marvel to go shopping with Shuko. She chooses carefully. Selects one or two items that are the same. She is not a volume shopper. I learn from her. Take your time. Each moment with a handmade article is a blessing for the maker and eventually, the buyer.

Shuko with cochineal dyed cotton warp and ikat wool throw/shawl
Arnulfo, Jr. finishes his first rug. So proud. Vendido. Sold!

Don’t rush. When I was in Japan, I saw that a large room with one extraordinary vase containing one exquisite flower was enough. This is antithetical to my own collecting sensibilities. It is a struggle to keep my living environment spare, and I confess I am unsuccessful. But I aspire to this — one object, beautifully crafted, as focal point.

Perfect naturally-dyed beeswax candles suspend from rebar rods
Beeswax candlemaker Viviana Alavez, Grand Master of Oaxaca folk art

Meanwhile, Shuko and I travel the villages; to San Marcos Tlapazola to visit the women makers of red clay pottery; to Mitla to see the weaver of natural dyed wool and cotton; deep into a Mitla neighborhood to visit the antique dealer whose eclectic collection tempts all; to old adobe houses of Teotitlan del Valle where humble weavers work magic.

Spaces Open: Oaxaca Discovery Tour–Textiles and Folk Art 2020

Elaborate, handmade beeswax flowers decorate church candlesticks, made here
Shuko with Viviana, a joyful moment

As always, thank you for reading and following. Can we take you on the backroads? On the Ocotlan Highway? Through the Tlacolula Valley? On a Textile Study Tour adventure?

A collection of dolls on Epifanio’s altar in Mitla
Rare, 17th century Quiatoni necklace with blown glass, coral. Anyone want it?
I’ll buy it for you. $1,200 USD includes mailing.
Shuko with Macrina and family in San Marcos
Ernestina shows us rugs she just finished weaving
Perched on a dead tree branch, Virgin of Guadalupe vintage icon

In Japan, Searching for Blue Indigo (Ai-zome)

My quest for Japanese indigo fabrics and clothing took us to remote villages and high-end designer boutiques. I searched old kimono stacked in department store corners and flea market stalls. In the old Geisha district of Gion, two vintage textile shops offer 100+ year-old pieces in varying condition. I traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto to the remote thatched roof village of Miyama with blue on my mind. We lingered at the Amuse Museum exhibition of boro cloth in awe of indigo-dyed hemp and cotton patchwork born of poverty.

Indigo is my passion. It’s why I wanted to go to Japan. Oh, and the food. Oh, yes, and the cherry blossoms. Temples. Zen. Gardens. Oh, my.

This indigo vintage undergarment from Gallery Kei, perfect as a tunic

My sister was more interested in Kabuki and Noh theatre, so we negotiated time dedicated to our interests. We attended performances of both and met with a foremost expert on Noh, a US ex-pat living and teaching in Japan for 40 years. We managed to walk blocks that became miles, traveled by bus, train and taxi, all in search of blue, art and food.

We saw the famed kabuki actor (far right) at Kyoto’s Minimiza Theatre

Finding indigo in Japan is not easy. Sometimes we couldn’t locate the address. Sometimes we got lost despite Google maps. Sometimes I would stand on a street corner and call out, Does anyone speak English? to help us get our bearings. (Always, a kind, helpful person came to our aid, even guiding us to where we needed to go!) Sometimes the source was in such a remote area that we couldn’t get there. Tokyo is a vast megalopolis, on a scale beyond my ken. Kyoto, described as smaller, hardly pales in comparison.

The art of dyeing with indigo today is uncommon, as it is in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it is necessary to travel twelve hours from Oaxaca City to meet the maker. In Japan, one must also ferret out the dye masters and makers who turn indigo-dyed cloth into clothing. The practice is almost extinct, just like Mexico. And, as with all things made-by-hand, quality comes with a price, when you can find it.

I also noticed construction similarities between traditional Oaxaca huipiles and Japanese kimonos. Both are simple assemblages of cloth squares and rectangles, with hand-stitchedSi seam sewing and no tailoring (ie. no darts). The long, drooping kimono sleeves are merely rectangles attached to the main robe. Hand-stitching for seams and embellishment a standard practice.

Meiji period shibori kimono, vintage and pristine, 100 years old

Few pieces, I discovered, are hand-loomed now. Indigo-dyed ready-to-wear can be designed in Japan and made in India to keep prices in check. I found one amazing Meiji period kimono in perfect condition. Price tag, $1,800 USD. Pass. I’m looking for wearable art and not creating a museum-level collection.

At Chingireya Vintage Textiles, this outstanding kimono, $1,800 USD

What I also discovered is that a focused quest for indigo takes time. Even more than a three-week introductory visit such as the one I just completed. Perhaps another trip is needed to go deeper and wider. Perhaps.

I’m grateful to Elli Sawada, a Kyoto-based indigo dye student originally from San Diego, who referred me to several sources for investigation. Elli is studying with famed master-dyer Fukumi Shimura. Elli and her brother participated in our Oaxaca One-Day Natural Dye and Weaving Study Tour last month.

Vintage indigo cotton cloth, once used to wrap gifts, repurposed as large scarf

I also want to thank Nancy Craft of Esprit Travel and Tours, Japan Travel Expert, who generously shared her list of Kyoto textile shopping resources with me. I hunted down those most relevant to my interests.

Resist-dyed detail of large cloth, patterns perfectly matched

My friend Madelyn wrote, I hope you found yourself a wonderful indigo garment or textile. Plural, I replied. I filled a duffle bag with blue. Ancient blue. New blue. Traditional blue. Deep, dark, almost black, blue. Kimono with wide, boxy sleeves. Cozy, contemporary long-sleeved jacket with roll-up cuffs. Vintage farmer’s coat with sashiko stitching. All perfect with blue jeans or black skirt. I have satisfied my lust for blue.

Sashiko stitching detail, indigo farmer’s jacket, all hand-sewn,

Sidebar: Barbara and I were flaneuring down the main street of Tokyo’s Aoyama district (which easily overshadows Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive) after visiting the Meiji Jingu Shrine. I noticed a pop-up shop and stepped in to find Yu Design Office featuring hand-crafted indigo clothing.

Cropped tunic, hand-woven by Yu Design Office, similar to the Oaxaca blusa

Yu Design Office was founded by artisan Hiromi Yamada and her architect son Yuji Yamada. They use natural indigo dye from Hanyu City, Saitama, employing a traditional kimono-making technique called itajime from Mizuho City, Tokyo, and fine cloth from Hachioji, Tokyo. Combining indigo, persimmon juice and pitch black, the wool-silk scarf they make takes on a deep greenish blue hue. The cloth is folded and stacked and pressed between wooden boards to give it texture.

Yuji Yamada showing us ai-zome from Yu Design Office

Recommendations for hunting down Japan Blue:

Konjaku Nishimura Old Textile Arts, Gion, Kyoto, Nawate Street, Higashiyama-Ku, Kyoto. Email: info@konjaku.com

Indigo ikat remnant, now a scarf for Barbara, at Konjaku Nishimura Textiles

Chingireya Vintage Textiles, Gion, Kyoto, Nawate Street, Higashiyama-Ku.

Textiles Yoshioka, exquisite, all natural dyes, mostly scarves, shawls, accessories, Gion, Kyoto.

Aizenkobo, indigo workshop and gallery, Kyoto. Third generation workshop, producing traditional garments, scarves, yardage. People love it. I was underwhelmed.

Little Indigo Museum, Miyama, Kyoto Prefecture, is operated by Mr. Hiroyuki Shindo. In picturesque town of thatched-roof houses, this is a full-day trip. Small souvenir indigo samples and scarves are for sale. shindigo@cans.zaq.ne.jp

Indigo dye vats at The Little Indigo Museum, Miyama

Gallery Kei features vintage textiles and is operated by Kei Kawasaki on the famous Teramachi Street (671-1 Kuoinmae-cho Teramachi Ebisugawa-agaru), just south of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. At our visit, she had vintage boro from Northern Japan, garments and cloth fragments of hand-woven natural materials (hemp, linen, cotton, silk) and dyes. Write to confirm they are open. gallerykei@live.jp

With Kei Kawasaki at Gallery Kei. Shawl was once mosquito netting. Hemp and indigo.

Gran-Pie, also on Teramachi Street between Ebisugawa-dori and Nijo-dori, is a contemporary clothing store with garments designed in Japan, dyed and made in India.

I can’t publish this post without mentioning NUNOworks Fabrics in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. On our last afternoon in Japan, I went bonkers over the bolts of fabrics, and sewn-on-the-premises clothing. Delicious scarves. Beautiful garments. Outstanding design. Reasonable (by Japan standards) prices. Though few pieces are naturally dyed.

Department stores like Isetan (Kyoto Station), Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi and Matsuya Ginza feature contemporary Japanese designer boutiques, including Issey Miyake, Comme de Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and others. Some use indigo and other natural dyes, and are priced in the stratosphere.

Exquisite creativity is boro, from northernmost Japan

Where to Stay in Tokyo: the b roppongi hotel. Loved our stay here. Convenient to metro, restaurants, fair price, excellent service.

Where to Stay in Kyoto: we loved the YADO Hotel in Arashiyama. Book room #308. Recommend also staying in Gion area for more central experience.

Post-Thanksgiving Oaxaca Jewelry + Clothing Extravaganza

I’m going to the US for an impromptu short visit before the Winter Holidays, returning to Oaxaca on December 24. Need a couple of routine exams. No worries.

So, I’m offering this pre-sale. Buy it now and I’ll bring it with me and mail by December 15.  18 Items. Just-in-time unique gifts, all made by hand and personally curated. Keep scrolling.

How to buy: Send me an email and tell me which item you want BY NUMBER.  Include your mailing address. I will send you a PayPal invoice for the cost, plus $8 for USPS priority mail. If you live outside the USA, ask about mailing fees.

#1 All natural dyes, San Juan Colorado

#1 SOLD is from the oldest women’s weaving and dyeing cooperative in San Juan Colorado, Jini Nuu. Our textile study group will meet them on the Oaxaca Coast Tour, but you can have one, too. They use the drop spindle to spin the wild, native cotton and weave using the back strap loom. This is a short blouse, 3″ long from the shoulder and 26″ wide across the front, side seam to side seam. NEW. It’s called a blusa, seams and finish work all hand-embroidered. Natural dyes include Coyuchi brown cotton unique to Oaxaca, wild marigold and cochineal. Size L-XL. $175 USD plus mailing.

#1 Pattern woven into the cloth

#1 needlework seam joinery

#2 Wool and Cotton Shawl with Indigo

#2 SOLD is Oaxaca’s version of ikat. The wool is tied and dyed with indigo. The loom is warped with highest quality cotton. Lightweight, warm and drapes beautifully. 24″wide x 80″ long. NEW. Large and long, cozy enough to wrap around your neck or use as a throw. $145 USD plus mailing.

#3 Wild Marigold and Indigo Shawl

#3 SOLD is also ikat. NEW. The wool is tied and dyed with wild marigold interlaced with indigo. The loom is warped with highest quality cotton. Lightweight, warm and drapes beautifully. 24″ wide x 80″ long. Large and long, cozy enough to wrap around your neck or use as a throw. $165 USD plus mailing.

#4 Zayzelle indigo block print tunic

#4 is a hand-stamped 100% cotton fabric, indigo on white. I bought this yardage in Ahmedabad, India and just had it made into a Zayzelle tunic. NEW. Short sleeves with deep pockets and French seams. Size L-XL. $135 USD plus mailing.

#5 Deep blue dangle earrings

#5. New. Pair these hand-carved gourd earrings made on the Oaxaca coast with #4 for Blue Pizzaz. 4″ long from ear hole, 3″ diameter. $45 USD plus mailing.

#6 Save the Turtles

#6 are hand-carved gourd dangle earrings adorned with endangered  sea turtles that lay their eggs on the coast every winter. NEW. 3-1/2″ long from ear hole, 2-3/4″ diameter. $45 plus mailing.

For Zayzelle Dress dimensions, see https://zayzelle.com

#7 Zayzelle India block print dress with deep pockets

#7 I brought this beautiful block print fabric back from Ahmedabad, India, and just had it made up into a Zayzelle dress, long sleeves, lightweight 100% cotton dyed with madder. NEW. Size L-XL with deep patch pockets. $165 USD plus mailing.

#8 Black Stars Earrings

#8 hand-carved gourd earrings, dramatic and lightweight, made on the Oaxaca coast. NEW. 4″ long from ear hole, 3″ diameter. $45 plus mailing.

#9 Vintage 12K gold filigree and pearl dangle earrings

#9 SOLD Three baskets of pearls swirled with filigree, hand-made, Mexican vintage 12 karat gold with French hooks. Dress up or wear with jeans! $265 plus mailing.

#10 Zayzelle Think Spring dress

#10 is a lovely, soft, easy-to-wear spring green linen dress in my exclusive Zayzelle design, with top-stitched deep patch pockets. NEW. Long sleeves that can roll up for a more casual look. Wear over a long sleeve T and leggings for a Think Spring winter. Size L-XL. $155 USD plus mailing.

#11 earrings from Malinalco, Estado de Mexico, crotchet waxed linen

#11 Think Pink snowflakes or a full bloom flower. 3″ long from ear hole, 3″ diameter. NEW. Fun and fancy. $45 USD plus mailing.

#12 elegant VINTAGE earrings, Gusanos, silver on gold filigree with white sapphires

#12 is a vintage Oaxaca pair of earrings with 14k gold backs and hooks, studded with sparkly white sapphires set in silver, with drop pearls. 2-1/4″ long x 3/4″ wide. $185 USD plus mailing.

#13 Lavender blue gourd earrings

#13 earrings hand carved from gourds on the Oaxaca coast, NEW, 3-1/2″ long from ear hole, 2-3/4″ diameter. $55 USD plus mailing.

#14 Zayzelle natural cotton dress

#14 SOLD our Zayzelle pattern in a soft, cream manta cotton woven in Puebla state. NEW. The fabric has a subtle cross-hatch pattern that gives it texture, luxurious and comfortable. Size L-XL.  $135 USD plus mailing.

#15A and #15B two 12K gold filigree rings, priced each. Vintage.

#15A (top) and #15 B SOLD (bottom)are $65 USD each plus mailing. They are 12K gold filigree and handmade in the state of Veracruz. Size 5-1/2 or 6. Can be sized by a jeweler. Please specify which you want.

#16 Hot Tomato Red Dangle Earrings

#16 are hand-carved gourd earrings from the coast of Oaxaca. NEW. 4″ long from ear hole, 3″ diameter. $55 USD plus mailing.

#17 Verdant Blusa from Aguacatenango, Chiapas, with extraordinary details

#17 All this smocking and embroidery is made by hand in the village of Aguacatenango, Chiapas. Blouse fits size L-XL.  $65 USD plus mailing.

#18 Unisex Winter Green Shirt, weighty cotton

#18 SOLD is a casual shirt woven on a back strap loom in Chiapas, Mexico. NEW. It will fit a Men’s Size Small or a Woman’s Size L-XL. Seams are hand stitched, secure. Side slits. Roll up your sleeves, if you wish. $35 USD plus mailing.

P.S. Two spaces open in our Chiapas Textile Study Tour, end of February 2019.

To Be Continued!