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2023 Chiapas Textile Study Tour–Deep Into the Maya World

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs that signal coming rain, the plumed serpent, woman and man and family, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun and stars, birds, flowers, symbols of the natural environment. Each weaver chooses her themes based on what is important to her.

We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 21 to March 1, 2023. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of a cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.

Our dates of February 21 to March 1, 2023, are reserved in a fine historic hotel close to the pedestrian walking streets and the plaza.

8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $3,195 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms. Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

We are committed to giving you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.

Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore museums, churches, and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Your Study Tour Leader is Eric Chavez Santiago. Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC founder, will also accompany the group.  

Norma Schafer is a retired university administrator and founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She has lived with the Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan del Valle since 2005, and also lives in Taos, New Mexico. In 2006, Norma started offering textile weaving and natural dyeing workshops, and cultural and textile study tours, concentrating on Oaxaca and Chiapas. She is a contributor to the textile guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, has been featured in The New York Times, and has published articles in the international Selvedge Magazine and literary magazines. She writes the blog Oaxaca Cultural Navigator about life and art in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.

Eric Chavez Santiago is a weaver and natural dye expert. He is a Oaxaca native, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, and speaks Zapotec, Spanish and English.  Eric was the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from 2008 to 2016. In 2017, Alfredo Harp Helu and Isabel Granen Porrua asked him to open, manage and promote indigenous craft through their folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He resigned in September this year to grow the family enterprise, Taller Teñido a Mano, and to join Norma as a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Eric is a graduate of Anahuac University and has made textile presentations throughout the world. He is knowledgeable about Chiapas textiles and techniques.

We also travel with a local historian who was born and raised in Chiapas. She is our compass to discern meaning.

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • culture, history and identity of cloth
  • cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
  • wool spinning and weaving
  • clothing design and construction
  • embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
  • Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
  • village and individual identity through clothing
  • social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
  • market days and mercantile economy
  • local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
  • quality and value

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Gabriela is a native Chiapaneca who knows the region. You will enjoy learning from her.

We will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world. We promise a sanitized van and all necessary precautions during our visits.

  • We visit 7 Maya weaving villages
  • We enjoy home-cooked meals
  • We meet makers and directly support them
  • We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
  • We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
  • We explore three towns on their market days
  • We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs

Villages we visit: Tenejapa, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, San Juan Chamula, San Andres Larrainzar, Magdalena Aldama, Chenalho

Who Should Attend  Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 21: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD.

Wednesday, February 22: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and visit two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)

Thursday, February 23: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit an outstanding textile cooperative and then the best pom pom maker in the region. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Friday, February 24: After breakfast, we set out for Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate there we go to the outskirts of town to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. After lunch on your own, we meet in the early evening to visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B)

Saturday, February 25: We set out by foot to a nearby textile studio founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez, a Magdalena Aldama weaver and designer, who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020 and Sweden Design Week in 2022 We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Then, we climb on the van for the 45-minute ride to Chenalho where women combine back strap loom weaving and embroidery to make distinctive huipiles. We meet with an artisan cooperative who host us for demonstrations and lunch. (B, L) Evening on your own.

Sunday, February 26: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Monday, February 27: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L)

Tuesday, February 28: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and a pottery artisan to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a Regret’s Sale (just in case you have any) and a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Wednesday, March 1. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.

What Is Included

• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets

• 8 breakfasts • 4 lunches • 1 grand finale gala dinner

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $3,195 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  50% of the balance is due on or before October 1, 2022. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2022. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2022, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable reservation deposit. After that, there are no refunds.

If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date, less the non-refundable deposit.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19 to travel with us. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions.

How to Register:  First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you an invoice to make your reservation deposit.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day at a moderate pace. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.

NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Dye from Murex Snails Colors Ancient Cloth Blue and Purple

Writing from Santa Fe, NM: I’m staying at the house of my textile designer friend Norma Cross, who creates felted fiber clothing using natural dyes, wool, silk, and cotton.

An array of natural dyes, including caracol and indigo, used to weave cloth

I brought with me a shirt made on the Oaxaca coast with threads colored purple from the caracol purpura dye. That led her to send me this article about the Phoenician history of harvesting the purple snail and dyeing religious and political garments with snail ink.

Linking Ancient Snails to Common Threads in Israel Today

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

This process is still in practice today in Oaxaca, Mexico, along the Pacific Coast. The murex snail is now extinct in Morocco where the Phoenicians plied the waters during the Roman Empire. It is extinct now in most places around the world. There is a revival in Israel where the natural blue color is being used for religious garments as it once was in the 8th century.


Preservation of the snail and it’s priceless ink is alive and well in Oaxaca. Yet, the risk of extinction is high because of poaching. I hear that the resort hotels in Huatulco make a special cocktail using the purple snail. They buy the dye from people who illegally harvest it. And, people are unconscious consumers!

On our Textile Tour of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, starting January 11, 2019, we will see some glorious handwoven cotton fabrics where the supplementary weft and embroidered threads of the joinery use the rare purple dye. The pieces are created in two neighboring villages, San Juan Colorado and Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit artisans and see how they prepare the native cloth.

I hope you can join us.

Questions? Please contact me.

 

WARP Takes a Oaxaca Textile Study Tour with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Last Saturday, 70 WARP conference-goers divided up and piled into four red vans to go on an all-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I organized.

At the Montaño family weavers who make beautiful bags

We left our Oaxaca hotel at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7:00 p.m. (and in a rain storm). It takes much longer to move 70 people than it does to lead a small group of three!

Weaver Alfredo Hernandez wearing a wild marigold-cochineal dyed scarf

Of course, I couldn’t be on all four vans at once, so I had great help from dye master Elsa Sanchez Diaz, applied linguist Janet Chavez Santiago, and blogger Shannnon Pixley Sheppard who staffed the other three.

Lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, Teotitlan del Valle

Thanks to them and a schedule that brought us all together for lunch and an end-of-the-day reunion, the day went off without a hiccup.

Program Chair Judy Newland adds cochineal to her indigo hair

We hopscotched all over Teotitlan del Valle and made a detour to Lachigolo to visit weavers I know who work in naturally-dyed wool and cotton.

Lola (Dolores) and Fe (Federico) demonstrate over-dyeing techniques

We got demonstrations of the natural dye process, tapestry loom weaving techniques using the fixed frame, two-harness pedal loom used to make rugs.

In the studio of Galeria Fe y Lola — Federico and Dolores

We saw the flying shuttle, four-harness loom that can make yards of cotton cloth with more intricate patterning depending on the sequencing of the foot pedals. The cloth woven for clothing and home goods.

Preparing warp threads for flying shuttle loom

Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet each family, understand how they work in collaboration and in family units, and see how they are inspired to make very distinctive products from each other.

Francisco Martinez takes pericone — wild marigold — from dye vat

Every family has their own dye recipes and design adaptations. Some are doing very pioneering work, combining wool and agave plant fiber.

Aztecs used dyed chicken feathers to add color to white cotton – revitalized now

Some are doing very fine wall tapestries with 17 warp threads per inch. It is wonderful to see the range and variety of creativity and inspiration.

Alfredo’s son prepares bobbins for the loom — a family endeavor

Alfredo collaborates with Ayutla embroiderer Anacleta Juarez

Alfredo Hernandez weaves the natural manta with the finest cotton threads. Then embroiderer Anacleta Juarez creates the most detailed, intricate finely stitched work I’ve ever seen.

Wild marigold fixes with a local plant called marush

On day one, cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace talked about the importance of collaboration to further innovation that will sustain tradition.

A shady respite along the way — Judy, Ana Paula, Gail, Patrice

Isaac and his mom, Maria de Lourdes, wash the wool before it goes into the dye bath

Wool tapestries with natural dyes, with Francisco Martinez

We gathered at the end of the day at the home workshop and studio of Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for traditional hot chocolate, bread, mezcal and a demonstration. Big thanks, Porfirio, for your hospitality to welcome 70 people!

Cochineal grows on prickly pear cactus paddles behind Porfirio Gutierrez

The family is working in wool dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. They are innovating with rug designs that resemble a petate that incorporates plant fibers like jute and ixtle.

Two dye masters huddle: Elsa Sanchez Diaz and Juana Gutierrez, Porfirio’s sister

Wrapping up a petate design rug to go — a combo of jute and indigo!

In the courtyard, Francisco and Patrice talk about possibilities

Behind a wall, a flying shuttle loom workshop awaits us

Shopping for napkins and tablecloths made on the flying shuttle loom

Sales assistant in training!

Juana and her 6 months-old granddaughter

Cochineal dyed cotton out to dry on the line

Almost every weaver here knows how to prepare a demonstration using natural dyes. Many have the materials on hand to show visitors. Yet, it takes half the time to prepare wool using aniline dyes as it does to prepare natural dyes. The dye materials are 10 times more expensive.

Cochineal and indigo dye wool

Some say that about 10 to 15 Teotitlan del Valle families may actually use natural dyes in their work. (I don’t know the exact number.)  If this is important to you, you may want to join one of our one-day study tours to take you to them. The price will be higher for these beauties, but there is a distinctive difference in color palette and quality.

On the van, WARP conference Oaxaca

WARP president Cindy Lair with Montaño family

The little red vans that could! Gracias, Silvia and Cesar.

One more post about the WARP Conference in Oaxaca, 2017, and the walking tour of the historic center that Janet and I led last Sunday. We explored the nooks and crannies, found paper earring for Louise, good strong coffee for Diane. In two outstanding galleries, we had talks from owners and managers about quality differences in materials, dyes, and hand-looming.

Tying pom poms on purse zippers, Montaño family

Thanks to WARP for coming to Oaxaca, and thanks to you for reading.