Tag Archives: tips

Inside Out: Primer to Buying Mexico Handmade Clothing — Quality Tips

On Friday, I took a 40-minute trip with my friend Laurita to Magdalena Teitepac in the foothills on the other side of the Carretera Nacional Mexico 190 (aka Panamerican Highway) for the purposes of textile shopping, always my favorite past-time.

Magdalena Teitipac church next to the municipal building

The Zapotec village is beyond San Juan Guelavia, the basket-making village. A group of entrepreneurial Magdalena women who do needlework staged this First Annual Embroidery and Weaving Fair, promoted with a banner hanging from the highway overpass. Laurita spotted it coming home one day.

Can you tell if this beautiful embroidery is hand- or machine-stitched?

Spaces Open: Chiapas Textile Study Tour 

  • Study Tour 1 — February 13-22, 2018
  • Study Tour 2 — February 27-March 8, 2018

The visit got me thinking about quality variations in clothing that is sewn, embroidered, woven and crocheted here in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.

Some of the women showing us their needlework blouses.

We are coming into Oaxaca’s peak tourist season when travelers come from all over the world, and many snowbirds plant their wings here from December through March.

Great cut-work and embroidery with unfinished seams

It is particularly challenging for first-time visitors who are blown away by the quantity of blouses, huipils, rebozos and other garments sold by street vendors, in small markets, and in tourist shops throughout the city.

Beaded blouses finished with French seams on 100% cotton, the best

How do you know what to buy and how much to pay for it?

Tip #1: Shop around. Look before buying. Look at lot. Go in and out of stores. Stop and look at the clothing the vendors have for sale. Ask prices. See what you like. Take your time.

Tip #2: Turn the garment inside out. Look at the seam edges of the cloth. Are they finished with a machined zigzag stitch or serger for reinforcement? Has the cloth edge been trimmed with a pinking shears? It is rough and will it unravel after a few washings? How strong are the stitches?

Softest, finest manta cloth, great embroidery, dense pleating

Tip #3: Check out the fabric. Is it populina?  This is what locals call the commercial cloth mix of cotton/polyester blend. Locals like this cloth because it dries much faster than pure cotton. It is also less expensive. Is it manta? This is 100% cotton cloth, more expensive, and preferred by many of us for softness, wearability and comfort.

Populina has a sheen. You can feel the polyester.

Tip #4: Check out the cloth again. If it’s manta, is it a fine, lighter weight weave or it is coarse and scratchy? Is it yellow color or white? What are your preferences?

#whomademyclothes .... is a Fashion Revolution movement dedicated to sourcing textiles direct from makers, awareness for buying disposable clothing made from cheap materials, assembled by underpaid workers.

Tip #5: If the clothing is embroidered, how fine is the embroidery? Is it by hand or machined? Are the stitches dense or loose? What about the crochet edge? Is it tied off or are there loose threads? Is it shiny, synthetic thread, dense/coarse polyester thread or good quality cotton?

Amazing pleated work from the Mixteca, with coarse embroidery yarn

Tip #6: Shop first in some of the better clothing galleries like Los Baules de Juana Cata or Arte de Amusgos to compare what you see on the street. See what the best looks like. Turn these inside out. Look at the finish work. Are the edges straight? What about the stitches that join two lengths of hand-woven cloth together? How is the neckline finished? What about the hem?

Want to buy direct from artisans? Take a study tour!

Tip #7: Price is usually based on quality, but not always. I recently bought a beautiful deshillado and embroidered blusa in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. I paid 2,500 pesos, quite a lot!  The embroidery is exquisite and the crochet edges are fine. The seams are not finished well and I may need to take it under the needle of my sewing machine to reinforce it. But, I knew that when I bought it.

Locals gather for the Magdalena Teitipac Feria

What are you willing to pay? What is it worth to you? Is there a whimsical design you like and you are willing to sacrifice some of the quality issues?

Tip #8: Don’t hesitate to walk away because you notice stains on the cloth, raveling threads or holes in the seams. Work is done quickly and quality can suffer.

I’ve seen excellent work done on very poor cloth.  I’ve seen embroidered, beaded and woven pieces made by one women that are attached to cloth that doesn’t match. Needlework and sewing can often be made by two different people. The sewing can be haphazard. The corners don’t match up and the joining work isn’t good. It is up to us to educate ourselves and to also say in a gracious, caring way, that we would like a better quality product.

We can support artisans and cooperatives who take the time to work on quality improvement.

Banner advertising the event

Tip #9: When is a bargain not a bargain? When the color bleeds. When the seams unravel. When the embroidery stitching loosens. When you get it home and ask, Why did I buy that?

Tip #10: Please know that because you are in Mexico, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO BARGAIN. It is not a culture of bargaining, much to the surprise of many. The average daily wage is 150 pesos, or about $8 USD. We have a big advantage. The exchange rate is about 18-19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to create a handmade textile. Let’s pay people a fair wage for their labor and creativity. They will offer a discount because they need to feed their families, not because it is part of the “game.”

On the street, Magdalena Teitipac

Did I buy anything in Magdalena Teitipac? Yes, a lovely, beribboned apron for 100 pesos and some amazing artisan chocolate from Tlacolula, 20 pesos a bag.

Why didn’t I buy a blusa? Because indigenous women here in Oaxaca like their blouses tight across the chest and snug under the arms. Sizes are deceiving and it’s best to try something on first, otherwise you can get it home and find out it doesn’t fit. Nothing fit me!

Basket weavers outside the Magdalena Teitipac market

Cooperatives working with NGOs on product improvement are receiving education about quality control, making finished seams,and patterns to fit women from the U.S.A. and Canada.

If you have any tips you’d like to share, please add them.

Of course, the final caveat is always — if you love it, buy it. You’ll never see the same thing again!



Safety in Mexico City. Advice for Travelers. Featured in Mexico News Daily.

Mexico News Daily asked me to write about SAFETY IN MEXICO CITY.  The feature story was published today! Let me know what you think.


When The New York Times picked Mexico City as the #1 among 52 places to go in the world in 2016, I felt like doing a somersault. Finally, my much beloved and unfairly maligned Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX)—so deserving because of its remarkable history, culture, architecture, archeology, fashion, great food, and sophistication—was being recognized as a top tourist destination.

Recently, the World Tourism Organization Mexico named Mexico City the eighth most popular travel destination, garnering 35 million foreign visitors a year.

Yet, many still consider Mexico City a dangerous place, fraught with robbers, drug lords, pickpockets, scammers, muggers, kidnappers, purse-snatchers and other sordid folk ready to take the unsuspecting visitor for a ride to who knows where.

Read the Complete Feature Story Here!

The Mexico News Daily feature story includes tips for travelers, what to see, how to make a personal safety plan, and other advice based on my years of visiting there.





Happy New Year 2017 From Mexico City

The clock strikes 2017. Yet the Zocalo in Mexico City today is almost empty. All museums and most shops are closed, too. Most Mexican families celebrate the new year at home.  On New Years’ Eve last night there were only a few strollers in the Historic Center as everything closed up by 4 p.m. and people dispersed.

Restaurant Azul Historico patio, Mexico City, festive blue

I had an early birthday dinner with my son Jacob at Entremar in Polanco. After a great fish dinner and superb bottle of Valle de Guadalupe Nebbiolo, we returned to Hotel Catedral and I climbed into bed. It was not yet 8:30 p.m. I did not dream about sugar plums and fairies, but thought about the year past and the one to come.

Organ grinders on Mexico City streets, a dying breed

Tips for Visiting Mexico City Over the New Year Holidays

  • January 1 is a National Holiday. Most museums, shops and restaurants are closed. They begin to shut down at 2 p.m. on December 31.
  • Check hours and make reservations in advance. Do your museum visits on December 29, 30 and 31
  • We were turned away at Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo, even though we got there well before it opened at 10 a.m. on December 31. Most in line had bought advance tickets via the Internet, something I didn’t think of. And, the museum closes at 2 p.m. on December 31,  is not open January 1.
  • Use UBER. It’s totally safe and reasonably priced. We did not have to wait more than 5 minutes for a car to take us anywhere.  No cash. Just a payment through your PayPal account.

Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, under the Cathedral

No specific resolutions for me other than to walk and live with intention, focus on travel only between Mexico and the USA, spend time with family and friends, walk, reflect and do good in the world. The world needs our help.

Alameda Park, Mexico City. Warm enough for fountain play in December.

My son Jacob has been with me this weekend, the best gift I could ever receive. It was his first time in Mexico City. On our first full day, we explored the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica and the Orozco murals at the Colegio San Ildefonso, had lunch at Restaurant El Mayor, then pushed on to the Tenochtitlan Templo Mayor archeological site and adjoining museum.

Day of the Dead Altar to Frida and Diego, Museo Dolores Olmedo

On the second day, December 31, we started out for a visit to Casa Azul but when we got there discovered they were closing at 2 p.m. and had sold out all tickets in advance through online sales.

Special exhibition at Museo Dolores Olmedo

While we missed getting into the Casa Azul, we took an UBER from there to the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño near Xochimilco to see early Rivera works, the hairless xoloitscuincle dogs, and a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins, Rivera’s protege. NOTE: All paintings by Frida Kahlo in this museum are on traveling exhibition in Europe until April 2017.

Man, Controller of the Universe by Diego Rivera

Then, we saw more Rivera, Orozco, Siquieras and Tamayo murals at Museo Bellas Artes.  When you get here, pay attention to the second floor mural painted by Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe. He recreates what was destroyed at Rockefeller Center.

The New Democracy, by David Alfaro Siquieros, Museo Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Art historians interpret the Siquieros mural (close-up above) as liberation from oppression. This was especially meaningful for me as we are experiencing damaging political changes in the USA that could likely effect social justice and environmental causes well into the future.

Close-up, The Torment of Cuauhtemoc, Siquerios depicts the oppressors

Here, art is a universal language and reminds us that we must be vigilant.

Another section of Siquieros’ The Torment of Cuauhtemoc mural, riveting, painful.

On the same day, we visited Rivera’s mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park, 500 years of Mexican history

Gathering for an outdoor Scrabble game on the plaza, Mexico City

Out in front on the plaza in front of this last museum, the chess and Scrabble players gather. I accepted an invitation to join a Scrabble game until I realized they were playing in Spanish and returned my tiles to the bag.

Jacob Singleton takes a photo of an Orozco mural

Museo Palacio Bellas Artes, Mexico City

In 2016, I legally changed my name to Schafer, bought a condo-apartment in Durham, NC, organized over a dozen workshops and study tours, contributed chapters and photographs to Textile Fiestas of Mexico book, volunteered at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, commemorated the anniversary of our mother’s death, traveled to India, and went back and forth between Mexico and the USA to vote, attend to health care, visit family and reconnect with friends.

Cathedral candles, Mexico City

In 2017, I want to stay put more and be present in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico. I have friends who dream of becoming vagabonds, taking to the open road, living with more freedom and unpredictability.

Aztec sculpture, Tenochtitlan, Mexico City

I want to think globally and act locally, make a difference in North Carolina, USA to effect change and make a difference, continue to bring people to Mexico to understand her art, history, culture, textiles.

Happy New Year to all. May we each participate in creating a world we are proud to live in, with respect for family, diversity and uniqueness.





India Journal: New Delhi Textile Shopping Guide

New Delhi is a whirlwind city filled with honking cars, traffic congestion, auto rickshaws that zoom in and out inches from the next vehicle and an efficient, safe metro system. I never saw an accident but thought we would surely collide on multiple occasions. Traffic lanes do not exist although the roads are marked.

Curated textile choices at Kamayani, New Delhi

On a good day the air pollution is passable. On a good day, I could muster the stamina to visit two or three places — a museum or two, a textile boutique or emporium or folk art exposition.

Where To Shop for Textiles in New Delhi

Based on recommendations from my textile expert friends, Nidhi Khurana and Aditi Prakash and what I discovered on my journey, here is my list of where to shop for great cloth in New Delhi, India.

  • Fab India*, retail shops with fine Indian clothing and silver jewelry
  • Crafts Museum* Gift Shop, near Connaught Place
  • Kamayani* (private boutique), 16 Anandlok, Khel Gaon Marg, New Delhi. Tel. 011-262-58680
  • Kamala*, opposite Hanuman Mandir near Connaught Circus
  • Khadi*, A-1, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, Tel: +91 11 2334 3741
  • Anokhi Clothing and Outlet*
  • Nature Bazaar*, Andheria Mor, Kisan Haat, near Chattarpur Metro stop. A curated, rotating artisans exhibition that features vendors from throughout India. Wonderful!
  • Raj Creations, 30 Hauz Khas Village, Tel. 91-11-26963602. Clothing gallery owner Sunaina “Dimple” Suneja curates a stunning textile collection from throughout India. Don’t miss the historic archeological site at the far end of the village.

*Takes international credit cards.

Embroidery on pashmina (cashmere) shawl, Craft Museum, Delhi

Shopping Tips

  1. If you like it, buy it. You will likely never see the same thing again.
  2. Once more, if you like it, buy it. Each textile in India is unique.
  3. Fixed prices in retail shops. Don’t bargain.
  4. You can bargain in big local markets, if you wish. I didn’t. Exchange rate is 70 rupees to the US dollar.
  5. Get rupees at the airport or from your bank before you leave the USA. There’s a big cash crunch. You need cash to pay taxis and vendors. Still no $$ in ATMs throughout India.
  6. Many shops that “take credit cards” are not set up to accept international credit cards, only those issued in India
  7. Sign up for Transferwise, an easy way to wire transfer funds from your bank account to a hotel or textile artisan
  8. Ask your hotel if you can charge the car/driver to your room to save spending rupees

Bhuj bandhani and mirror work embroidery at Kamayani, Delhi

How To Get Around

The best way to get around is to hire a car and driver for the entire day at around 1200-1800 rupees (about $17-25 USD). The downside is you can sit in traffic for an hour (or more) to go a few miles. But the driver takes you door-to-door and waits for you. For intrepid travelers who like an independent approach, I say, try to adapt.

If you use the Metro, you still need to get from the Metro stop to your destination, a challenge in and of itself. Sure, you can save a few dollars but you’ve spent time trying to find a vehicle and then communicating where you want to go. It’s always a choice about how to spend your time.

Walking is impossible.

Indigo block print and shibori fashion, Nature Bazaar, New Delhi

Where To Stay

Saket Bed and Breakfast, extraordinary hospitality and accommodations, walkable to Saket metro stop. French press coffee. Great food. Dinner available. Accepts credit cards. Easy to arrange car/driver services. Clean and comfy. Currency exchange services available. Close to Nature Bazaar, Sanskriti Museum and Hauz Khas Village.

If you have any other recommendations, please add them in the COMMENTS section!

hand-woven, embroidered mirror shawl from Bhuj at Craft Museum, Delhi

India Journal: Taj Mahal and Textiles

One of the best days so far is the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Yes, it’s definitely a tourist attraction and not off the beaten path. But, how can one come to India and not go there? Certainly not me!


Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Midday is the best light.

We traveled by train and took a taxi from the station to the guesthouse. Both the Delhi and Agra stations are a mishmash of individuals and families, sitting, squatting, waiting, eating snacks. Horse drawn carts and bicycle rickshaws compete for passengers with Tata taxis. Noise and humanity is fierce.

Women visiting from the far north of India.

Women visiting from the far north of India, block prints, tie-dye, embroidered trim.

But not so inside the grounds of the Taj, where manicured lawns and well-mannered travelers offer a visual distraction to the looming white marbled domed building.  Perfect Mughal symmetry. Perfect in every way.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

Entry gate to the Taj Mahal, ornate with inlaid jade, coral, lapis lazuli and amber.

I feel the presence of many who come from around the world as if on pilgrimage. There is a mix of Moslems, Hindus, Jains, Christians, Buddhists. Women, young and old, wear sarees or the more contemporary pantsuit. The cloth colors are jewels. The patterns and designs signify the region of the wearer. The red bindi mark on the forehead between the brows designates those who are married.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

Family members from Gujarat state traveling together.

For me, this was as much about meeting people and commenting to them about their beautiful textiles as it was about being in the presence of this famous mausoleum. I am beginning to identify the regions where the cloth is woven, and which is made with natural dyes.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

Sarees in glorious colors. I prefer the cotton ikat and block prints.

It was definitely a fashion show that kept my attention from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The weaving is very intricate, especially the ikat, and it is a joy to see the cloth used as daily wear.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

Gatiman Express, to Delhi from Agra in 1-1/2 hours.

We left the guesthouse to catch the 5:50 p.m. Gatiman express (1-1/2 hours to Delhi) back to Delhi, arriving in time for a late dinner. Buy tickets in advance through a travel agent.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

Worker uses damp rag to clean Taj Mahal exterior.

My recommendation is NOT to hire a guide but instead rent the audio cassette in English once inside. There are 16 stops that fully explain the architecture and the history. You can move at your own pace and not be harassed by an over-eager attendant who leads you at his pace.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Women wearing batik block prints Malaysia walk along the garden path.

Guides tell tourists to go inside the monument at 6:30 a.m. for sunrise and  at sunset to see the Taj from the gardens across the Yamouna River.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

This saree is a fine quality cotton ikat with natural dyes from Orissa.

In my opinion, it’s best to see the Taj in midday, when the strong sun glows and the domes are white iridescent. My personal experience was that sunset was not dramatic. There’s pollution in Agra, although locals call it fog!

Buddhist tourists from Japan.

Tourists from Japan. I just loved their style!

Foreigners pay more for admission, 1,000 rupees. You can buy tickets online and then print them out and take them to the ticket office. From the ticket office near the East Gate, there are free electric vehicles to transport you directly to the site.Don’t fall for taxi drivers who tell you it’s too far and you need them to drive you around to get in.

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border

Ikat saree from Assam state in north India near the Bangladeshi border.

Traveling without being in a group has its downsides. And, it’s not easy here to navigate a world where noise, pollution and traffic (hours of it) dominate the experience. Were I to do it again, I’d do it differently.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Monkeys run free throughout the Taj Mahal grounds, especially the mosque.

Agra is multi-cultural. About 60% of the population is Hindu, 30% is Moslem, and the remaining 10% are minorities: Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

Family from Gujarat, our next destination.

We heard so many languages and I identified people from Japan, Malaysia, the U.K., throughout India by their dress.  My friends here tell me that the traditional saree is making a comeback and more young women who want a cultural connection to their country are adopting the saree for everyday wear.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Architecture of infinite passageways. Built with local red sandstone.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Old rickety carts to collect trash and grass clippings.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

Bas relief plaster embellishment on mosque and entry gate walls.

We have found the people to be friendly, warm and kind for the most part. The young, educated people especially, who helped us with bags, helped us find our way, helped us get taxis, ensured that we were going in the right direction.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Agra Cantt train station. Bustling, finding our way to the right platform.

Of course, the first topic of discussion from Indians is our presidential election. People are so surpised at the outcome and wonder how this could happen. I find myself in a continuous state of apology.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

Attendant on the Gatiman Express, fast train between Agra and Delhi.

My hands clasped together, I bow slightly and say, Namaste. What else can I do?

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Festooned horse-drawn carriages take people around Agra town.

Inside the mausoleum, people stand before the crypt of the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her 14th child at age 38. Shah Jahan is buried with her. Women bend their heads as if in prayer atop the railing, throw rupees into the center. Wishes. I wonder what they wish for?

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

Moslem women protect themselves from the sun.

I don’t notice any breastfeeding women here, like I do in Mexico. I see babies cradled and sucking bottles. I do see (and have eaten) plenty of samosas, dal, chickpeas, and banana chips. Spice is king here.

Samosa vendors on the main road beyond our guesthouse.

Samosas on main road. Safe to eat? Probably, but I didn’t tempt fate!

One night could be enough unless you want to explore the Agra Fort, the Baby Taj and take a day trip out to Fatepur Sikri, a stunning, simple palace complex built after the first Mughal invasion of India that was abandoned after 19 years because of water shortages.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Marble floor of Taj Mahal mosque, in form of prayer rugs.

Colonialism survives in India. Because I’m a foreigner and paid more for the entry ticket, I was segregated to go into a shorter queue, given a bottle of water and slippers to cover my shoes. Later, I stood in line for the ladies room. The attendant waved me to her and I followed.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

Detail of Mosque domed ceiling, Taj Mahal.

She opened a door to a private bathroom stall, pristinely clean. I never got to see what the regular person uses. Maybe, it’s because of my venerable age or is it because of skin color?

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

School girls at the Taj Mahal. Lots of school groups come here.

Women here have their own safe Metro cars devoted exclusively to the and can go into the front of ticket lines before men, too.

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What's inside?

Woven baskets at the Agra train station. What’s inside?

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Bundles of commercial goods ready to load on the train.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Tending to the Taj Mahal lawn.

Recommended travel tips:

  • Take an early morning train from Delhi to Agra.
  • Check into your hotel.
  • Spend Day One at Fatehpur Sikri (an hour from the city) and end it at the gardens. Squeeze in the Agra Fort if your have enough fortitude.
  • Day 2, take a leisurely breakfast. Go to the East Gate to get your ticket stamped, and collect the water bottle and booties. You can’t go into the mausoleum or mosque unless you wear booties or take your shoes off.
  • Leave backpacks behind. No food or drink allowed inside except water.
  • Be prepared to go through security. Separate lines for men and women.
  • Rent a self-guided tour audio casette.
  • Lunch is iffy. Not really any good place to eat but you can get packaged snacks at the Coffee Shop.
  • You came here to see the Taj Mahal. Don’t rush through it!

Where we stayed: Aman Guesthouse. Nice people. Decent room and food. Nothing special except excellent hospitality and a good price.