My son Jacob (mi hijo) and my daughter-in-law Shelley (mi nuera) came to visit for a week and just returned to Albuquerque last Saturday night. We were not hard-pressed to figure out what to do during their time here. Fortunately for me, daily activities also included some resting time, which I appreciated since they arrived the day after my return from our whirlwind Chiapas Textile Study Tour (registrations open for 2024).
What did they want to do?
Soak at Hierve el Agua mineral springs
Climb the archeological site at San Pablo Villa de Mitla
Taste mezcal (of course) in Santiago Matatlan, Mezcal Capital of the World
Dine in some of Oaxaca’s finest restaurants and comedors
Visit 3M and the Mujeres del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola
Shop for hand-woven home goods
Explore the vast Abastos Market
Meander the Teotitlan del Valle and Tlacolula markets
Jacob has been here many times before. A world traveler who has lived and taught English in Japan for a year, Shelley had never been to Oaxaca. I know this won’t be her last visit.
Soak at Hierve el Agua. The toll road beyond Mitla is open and it only takes 45-minutes to get to this spectacular ancient Zapotec ritual site from Teotitlan del Valle. (More like 1-1/2 hours from Oaxaca City.) It’s mid-March and extremely hot here now — reaching the mid- to upper-80’s Fahrenheit. Jumping into the pools is a refreshing respite. Know that these are not true hot springs. The water is mineralized but it’s still a chilly, though refreshing plunge. Lots of food and drink stalls at the entrance to satisfy hunger and thirst, including micheladas, fresh coconut water, and snacks. Note that in addition to the tollroad, you will be stopped in the village to pay a per person passage fee, and another fee to park at the site. There are colectivos to take you there from Mitla. Some take a tour to get there or hire a taxi for the day. The tours only give you about an hour there, so beware you may not be able to spend enough time if you go this route.
Climb the Archeological Site at Mitla. Second only to Monte Alban, the post-classical archeological site at Mitla combines Zapotec and Mixtec cultures as expressed through the carved fretwork on the facades of the ancient temples. This is where Zapotec royalty were buried and Mitla was designated a Pueblo Magico a few years ago to acknowledge the historical importance here.
Eat at Mo-Kalli in Tlacolula. This obscure comedor is operated by Traditional Cook Catalina Chavez Lopez who is recognized as one of the best in Oaxaca. The small restaurant has about four tables and can seat 18-20 people if filled. It rarely is. There is no menu! This is mole country and featured here are usually seven different moles including: negro, coloradito, rojo, verde, amarillo, estofado, sigueza, and sometimes more. They come as a tasting selection for you to decide which you want to order. Depending on this, you will get the mole accompanied by either beef, pork or chicken and plenty of hot-off-the-comal tortillas. Order a cerveza or a fruit water to wash it down. This is the REAL Oaxaca. Tell her I referred you.
Taste Mezcal at Don Secundino 1914 in Santiago Matatlan. Another off-the-beaten path palenque where 30-something mezcalero Jorge Alberto Santos Hernandez makes amazing wild agave mezcal that rivals the best in Oaxaca, including my favorite, tepeztate. The palenque is named in honor of Jorge’s grandfather and his birth year. The family has been making mezcal for generations. This palenque is not easy to find. There is no signage, anywhere. It is hidden back in the campo off a dirt road leading from the highway. Google maps can help you get there — sort of! Best to call for an appointment and directions. Jorge speaks a bit of English. 52-951-185-4350. Tell him I referred you.
Visit 3M and Mujeres del Barro Rojo. 3M is none other than Macrina Mateo Martinez and the Red Clay Women are the cooperative she founded with family members years ago in San Marcos Tlapazola. Macrina may be the most famous of the women potters in the village of San Marcos Tlapazola where they trek into the foothills to dig the clay they work into beautiful pottery — bowls, plates, salseros, mezcal cups, comales and cooking vessels.
They ship worldwide and Macrina shows her work in New York’s Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Oh, and they have been to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, too. Why do we love Macrina? She is the story of independent, courageous indigenous women who have chosen not to marry in favor of career and an exit strategy from machismo culture.
Shop for Hand-woven Home Goodswith a stop to visit Arturo Hernandez in Mitla. Arturo’s workshop features cotton and wool textiles often colored with natural dyes. He specializes in home goods — tablecloths, napkins, dishtowels — but also weaves glorious rebozos, shawls, scarves, ponchos and quechquemitls. We know many designers who work with Arturo to make private label cloth sold around the world. Call ahead to make sure they are there! 52-951-189-9147
A forage deep into Abastos Market. This is the biggest wholesale and retail market in Oaxaca state. Some say it rivals any Mexico City market, too. Going there is not for the faint of heart. You can get lost. It’s like going through the souk in Marrakesh. Watch your pockets and purses. There are thieves who prey on visitors. However, with caution, you can meander and enjoy EVERYTHING that Oaxaca has to offer — from food to handcrafts to the outdoor grill kitchen where you can eat a fresh-off-the-comal tlayuda. This is where vendors come to shop and resell. Shop like you are a local by going here! Jacob and Shelley found the barbecue grill kitchen where they had goat tacos. You can get this at the Sunday Tlacolula market, too.
Meander Teotitlan del Valle to shop for rugs, get there in time for the daily 8:30-10:30 am. market, see the archeological site (behind the church), and get a great grilled taco de cecina (pork) at Restaurant Tierra Antigua. Teotitlan del Valle is where I live and you can find excellent lodging here for a fraction of the cost of comparable locations in the city. It’s also centrally located to all the sites I’ve noted above. Oaxaca culture is found in her villages, where indigenous language is still spoken and many still wear traditional daily dress.
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 — guardian of life, 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 Maya world of southern Mexico, from February 20 to February 28, 2024. 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, and understand the role of women in traditional life. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.
8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.
Cost • $3,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,285 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) A $500 non-refundable deposit will reserve your space. Contact: Norma Schafer to register.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
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, may also accompany the group.
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 very knowledgeable about Chiapas textiles and techniques.
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.
We engage 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. 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 will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world.
We visit 6 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
Special Hands-On Experience: we are organizing a hands-on embroidery workshop at Casa Textil with owner Ben and our favorite Aguacatenango embroidery artisan Francisca. We will teach you decorative stitches and French knots to embellish a small zipper bag to take with you. Workshop fee included in tour cost.
Who Should Attend Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Retailers and wholesalers
Tuesday, February 20: 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 Then book directly with the carrier. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you from Tuxtla to San Cris. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $60 USD or 1,000 pesos. Shared shuttle is about 200 pesos or about $13 USD. Meals included: None.
Wednesday, February 21: 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 breakfast, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, compare and contrast quality at the vast Santo Domingo outdoor market. At Casa Textil we hear about an artisan development project that encompasses several villages. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. In early evening, we meet with Sergio Castro, famed humanitarian healer, whose vintage textile collection is an important basis for our orientation to understand the mix of Maya language groups and the location of their villages. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Thursday, February 22: 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, we go to the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, then 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. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Friday, February 23: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is an ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into the weaving culture of two of the best weaving villages in the region. We visit four families of weavers in their humble homes. Their work includes blouses, dresses, bags, and home goods. One family is the last to work with ixtle, the agave fiber used to weave market bags that are often a deep coffee color gotten by hanging the bags over the smoky cooking fire. A small bag takes 42-hours to make. Several of the artisans we visit are recognized as Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art by Fundacion Banamex. 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! Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Saturday, February 24: 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, 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. Meals included: Breakfast and snack.
Sunday, February 25: 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. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Monday, February 26: About an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de las Casas is the farming and weaving village of Chenalho, situated deep into the mountains with stunning views. This is not a tourist destination! We have found a cooperative there started 41-years ago by cultural anthropologist Christine Eber when she did her PhD dissertation about the culture of weaving and women there. We hear the women’s stories, see demonstrations, and have an opportunity to support them by purchasing what they make if we wish. Then, we return to San Cristobal de las Casas for you to choose your own lunch spot and enjoy the rest of the day on your own. Meals included: Breakfast and snack.
Tuesday, February 27: 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, February 28. 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
1 Gala Grand Finale 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 • $3,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,285 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, 2023. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2023. 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, 2023, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2023, 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.
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.
Arrive on Saturday, January 13 and depart on Monday, January 22, 2024 — 9 nights, 10 days in textile heaven!
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may never get to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton in warm brown called coyuchi, verde (green) and creamy white. We cover vast distances on secondary roads, traveling to secluded mountain villages. This tour is for the most adventurous textile travelers! For hardy travelers only!
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. To register, please complete the Registration Form and email it to us. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a request to make your reservation deposit.
Cost is $3,395 per person shared room or $4,195 per person for private room. See details and itinerary below.
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. The Spanish could not get into those villages until the late 18th century. Much now is the same as it was then. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments. Beauty and poverty are twin sisters here.
What we do:
We visit 7 weaving villages in Oaxaca and Guerrero
We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
We participate in a sea turtle release with sunset dinner on the beach
We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
We visit three local markets to experience daily life
We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
We learn about Afro-Mexican identity on the Pacific Coast
We support indigenous artisans directly
We escape WINTER in El Norte
Take this study tour to learn about:
the culture, history, and identity of cloth
beating and spinning cotton, and weaving with natural dyes
native seed preservation and cultivation
clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
symbols and meaning of regional textile designs
choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
Saturday, January 13: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Meals included: Dinner
Sunday, January 14: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch, and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon with beach dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. Meals included: Breakfast and dinner
Monday, January 15: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young Mixtec weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals. We will enjoy a home-cooked meal with a regional mole dish prepared by the family. Travel by van several hours north to Ometepec, Guerrero. Overnight in Ometepec. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch
Tuesday, January 16: After breakfast, we go to Zacoalpan, a bygone Amusgo village where Jesus Ignacio and his family weave native coyuchi, green and natural white cotton to make traditional huipiles. They are rescuing designs from fragments of ancient cloth. Then, we have lunch in nearby Xochistlahuaca with an outstanding weaving cooperative that creates glorious, diaphanous textiles embellished with a palette of colorful designs reflecting the flora of the region. Overnight in Ometepec.
Wednesday, January 17: After breakfast, we visit downtown Ometepec , then make a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to learn about the rich cultural history and traditions of the region populated by Mexicans whose roots are from Africa and the slave trade. We continue to Pinotepa Nacional for a late lunch and to check into our hotel. Enjoy an expoventa and demonstration with embroiderers. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Thursday, January 18: After breakfast, we explore the Pinotepa Nacional market, the largest in the region, where you may find hand-woven agave fiber tote bags, masks, textiles, and embroidered collars, as well as household goods and food. Then, we travel about an hour to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado for a home cooked lunch and visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch
Friday, January 19: After breakfast, we go back up the mountain to the village of Pinotepa de Don Luis to meet noted weavers who work with naturally dyed cotton. Here, we will see jicara gourd carvers, too, who make jewelry and serving containers. We have lunch with Tixinda Cooperative members who are licensed to harvest the purple snail dye. In this village, the almost extinct caracol purpura snail is the traditional color accent for many textiles. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch
Saturday, January 20: After breakfast, we begin our return to Puerto Escondido, a two-and-a-half-hour van ride. The rest of the day is on your own to explore, relax and pack. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. Meals included: Breakfast
Sunday, January 21: This is a free day to return to the market, pack, relax and enjoy the beach across the street from the hotel, or the two swimming pools on the property. We gather at 5:30 p.m. for our Grand Finale Celebration Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. Meals included: Breakfast and dinner
Monday, January 22: Depart for home. Meals included: None
Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense. We also suggest you arrive a day early (your own hotel expense) to avoid any unforeseen winter flight delays.
Cost to Participate
$3,395 shared double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$4,195 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Your Oaxaca Cultural Navigator: Eric Chavez Santiago
Eric Chavez Santiago is a Oaxaca Cultural Navigator partner with Norma Schafer. He joined us in 2022. Eric 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 a distinguished weaving family, the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa Sanchez Diaz started Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. He is a graduate of Anahuac University, founder of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department, and former managing director of the Harp Helu Foundation folk-art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture, and community and personally knows all the artisans we visit on this tour.
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Founder Norma Schafer may participate in all or part of this tour.
We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She did her thesis in a nearby textile village and has worked in the region for the past 15 years. She knows the textile culture and people intimately, too. Together, we learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality, and value of direct support.
We sell out each year so don’t hesitate to make your registration deposit ASAP if you are interested in participating.
Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration
Full Registration Policies, Procedures and Cancellations– Please READ
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your place. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before August 1, 2023. The third payment, 50% balance, is due on or before November 1, 2023. We accept payment using Zelle, Venmo, PayPal or Square. For a Zelle transfer, there is no service fee. We add a 3% service fee to use Venmo, PayPal or Square. We will send you a request for funds to make your deposit when you tell us you are ready to register.
After November 1, 2023, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before November 1, 2023, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $500 non-refundable deposit). After that, there are no refunds UNLESS we cancel for any reason. If we cancel, you will receive a full 100% refund.*
Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.
About COVID. Covid is still with us and new variants continue to arise. We request proof of lastest COVID-19 vaccination and all boosters to be sent 45 days before departure. We ask that you test two days before traveling to the tour, and that you send us the results. During the tour, we ask that you do a self-test 48 hours after arrival and then periodically thereafter if you feel you have been exposed. Facemasks are strongly suggested for van travel, densely populated market visits, and artisan visits that are held indoors. We ask this to keep all travelers safe, and to protect indigenous populations who are at higher risk.
Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico! It’s a Mexico requirement.
On the Oaxaca Coast, it’s about the cloth, not the cut. Why? Because lengths of cloth meticulously woven on the back strap loom are never cut. They are squares and rectangles that are joined together at right angles to create a garment. The garment construction never has darts, either. Nor is it form-fitting. Plus, the finish work is all done by hand. Women who weave on the Oaxaca coast and elsewhere in Mexico believe the cloth is a reflection of their souls and has spiritual, mystical symbolism. A cut in the cloth is a travesty that would never be acceptable. In thinking about this, I recall it’s been about fifty years since I’ve seen a self-made button hole on any garment in the USA. I learned to make these in junior high school home economics, but it seems the skill may be lacking now or that fast fashion prevents this attention to detail. I don’t attend the Paris Couture shows, so don’t know if a multi-thousand dollar jacket even has button holes or how they are made!
Years back, for her thesis, the Mexico City designer Carla Fernandez wrote a book, now out of print, Taller Flora, in 2006. If you can find a used copy somewhere and you are interested in indigenous clothing construction and design, you might try to find this online, though the price will be hefty!
So, to go with us on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour is to go deeply into indigenous weaving and natural dyeing culture that includes how ancient garments, still made and used today, are made. I’m writing this because in Western fashion, we are so concerned with fit and the shape of our form. If something doesn’t fit right, we are inclined to be self-critical about our body shape rather than the inherent beauty of how it is made. Here, we can focus on the quality of the weaving, the meaningful designs incorporated in the cloth using a weaving technique call embordado or supplementary weft, and the drape of the cloth, rather than if it hugs our body (for good or bad!). This clothing frees us to focus on something else rather than body image.
Often, when people first look at a handwoven textile, they think the design embedded in the cloth is embroidered, a surface design technique of stitching on a piece of plain weave. Not so here! Cloth is woven on a loom that is warped with thread. Then, the weft, or horizontal threads are added row by row. This is a long process and it can take several months to make two, four or six wefts or lengths of cloth to construct a huipil, depending on the desired width of the finished piece. The designs integrated into the cloth are part of the weaving process. Individual threads are added, again row by row, to form a pattern that women keep in their heads. I think it is part of their DNA, something learned from mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers. The cloth is their heritage.
2024 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour coming soon! Get on the list. Send an email.
Almost all these garments are cotton, though some can be made with wool. The Spaniards brought sheep to the Americas and native peoples loved the warmth the cloth provided. Before that, everything here was pre-Hispanic native cotton, which we find cultivated and used in villages along the Oaxaca coast foothills. Becoming more rare now is the coyuchi (native brown cotton the color of a coyote), green cotton (pale mint or military green), and creamy white cotton.
All of these must be grown, harvested, picked clean of seeds, beaten to separate and soften the fibers, hand-spun using the malacate (drop spindle), formed into balls, wrapped onto spindles, and then woven into cloth. Even before the weaving begins, this is a labor-intensive process. Often, the white cotton is dyed with natural materials: wild marigold, indigo, cochineal, tree bark, squash pulp, caracol purpura purple snails, leaves and seeds of various fruits and vegetables. The dye materials need to be collected and prepared in dye vats. It is alchemy and chemistry. Then, according to the choice of each artisan, the threads are dyed before weaving or the garment is dyed after it is completed.
As we plan for our 2024 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, I write this to give you a sense of the importance of keeping this weaving culture viable. Very few indigenous women, except those in remote communities, continue to wear their distinctive clothing on a daily basis, instead saving them for fiestas and other special occasions. The garment they wove for their wedding will go to the grave with them. This is the reason very few vintage garments exist.
Appreciators and collectors of handmade textiles are doing much to revive interest and support the economy that gives women an opportunity to monetize their skills, encouraging them to continue the traditions. Most often, it is the women who are able to earn a cash income to supplement the work the men do as subsistence farmers. The men all grow the same food — corn, beans and squash — so there is no selling opportunity unless they take their produce to a regional market. It is the women who pay for the education and health care of their children, grandchildren, and aging parents. There is no social security in Mexico. Each family is responsible for taking care of their own.
We wrote a blog earlier this week about being a Oaxaca Fiberista. You might want to look at this for examples of garments, too.
My friend Carol Egan from Savannah who has wintered in Oaxaca for almost 20 years uses the term Fiberista to describe those of us who love and wear (and who demonstrate cultural appreciation for) clothing made on the back-strap loom by the very talented indigenous weavers of Oaxaca. Carol is a graduate of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and she has an impeccable sense of color and style. Maybe Fiberista is an adaptation of Fashionista, a word that has been part of the Urban Dictionary vocabulary for a while, though likely applied mostly to those who follow haute couture. Fiberistas have an affinity for the handmade textile. We are sewists, knitters, dyers, designers, spinners, embroiderers, crocheters, weavers, photographers, artists, and artisans or we just appreciate the texture of beautiful cloth. We know we have something to learn from indigenous cultures.
Our mantra on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour is to gain a greater cultural appreciation for the women and men who make garments from scratch — the talented people who grow native Oaxaca green, white and coyuchi (brown) cotton that goes back to before the Spanish Conquest. This is why we visit remote mountain villages — to see the traditional techniques, uncover the designs (or iconography) in the woven patterns that are an integral part of the cloth, and to show our support by being able to purchase directly to put much needed funds into the hands of the makers.
Next Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour will be in mid-January 2024. Get on the interested list! Email us!
We don’t believe that we are appropriating another culture by wearing the garments they make. We believe we are supporting and sustaining women and families. Without our admiration and support, their ancient back-strap loom weaving art form will be lost to future generations. Today, not many women in traditional pueblos are wearing traditional traje (costumes). They have adopted Western-style dress, which enables them to fit in and assimilate into the larger, dominant community. This clothing, usually made with synthetic fibers, is easier to wash and dry, too. So, the huipiles we have gone in search of are brought out only for special celebrations. That is why our visits are so important.
It takes an extraordinary amount of labor to make one of these garments. First, the seeds are picked from the cotton bolls, to save for the next planting. Then, the cotton is beaten with sticks after it is laid on a rolled woven straw mat inside of which is stuffed corn stalks and leaves. It is then hand-spun with a malacate or drop spindle. If it is green or coyuchi cotton, both quite rare, it will be woven in its natural state and not dyed. Sometimes, the native white cotton is dyed with natural pigments — indigo, cochineal, wild marigold, or tree bark, for example. Fine commercial threads, purchased from the last cotton mill in the State of Puebla, will also be dyed. Then, it will be the man’s task to warp the back-strap loom. It usually takes a women three to four-months to make a complete full-length huipil, weaving five to six-hours per day. She will tie one end of the loom to a post or a tree, tie the waist harness around her, get on her knees or sit cross-legged, moving her body to create the weaving tension, swaying back and forth in a gentle motion.
We bring eye glasses with us to distribute. If the brocade or supplementary weft of the designs in the woven cloth is intricate, this takes a toll on a weaver’s vision. So many say they now have difficulty seeing. So, it is a blessing to be able to give reading glasses to the many groups in five communities we visit along our route from Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, north to Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero.
Think of fashion as an art form, extolls one source I researched. This is not difficult to do on the coast of Oaxaca, where diversity of weaving techniques, colors and designs tell stories of ancient myths and beliefs. Look at the stars, animals, sun, moon, plants woven into the cloth to learn about how rooted these communities are in the natural world and their social history. We embrace this as the world has become more commercialized, mechanized; as our attention spans have shortened with instant information and gratification, as we cannot leave our smart phones behind for even a minute. However, we are careful not to romanticize. The economic poverty is palpable. The talent is immeasurable.
We go deep into Mixtec, Zapotec, Chatino and Amusgo territory. We hear languages uncommon to our ear. We travel to villages where few who look like us dare to venture. Not because it isn’t safe, but because it takes hours to reach a remote destination. The Spanish friars never penetrated deeply into these mountain towns until the 18th century because they were so inaccessible. We are intrepid travelers who are interested in discovery!
What we find are people who want to educate their children, provide them with good food and health care, access to opportunity, who are not interested in out-migration unless all other options are closed to them. They want the same things that we do for our own families. And, this is what connects us.
Traditional indigenous clothing is not form fitting. It is lengths of squares or rectangles that are sewn together using a needlework joining technique called a randa, that looks a bit like embroidery. This means, the garment is not tight-fitting. It is loose and airy, and will drape beautifully if the woven fabric is lightweight. This is style we come to appreciate since this is a different look than we are used to. Sometimes, the skirt or dress can be tied with a belt. In all instances, the stand-out quality is not so much the structure of the garment but the weaving techniques used to create designs woven as an integral part of the cloth. The more complex and dense the design, the more costly a garment will be. Price is often related to the quality of the materials used — finest cotton and natural dyes are what we are looking for.
The experience broadens our view of how we dress ourselves. We know that the New York and Paris runways are not the only source for beautiful inspiration.
The day before our tour ended, we gathered under the palapa by the upper pool at Hotel Santa Fe, for a show and tell. We each brought three pieces we purchased along the way, and we wore one more. We then talked about the experience of where we got these, who wove them, what dyes were used, and what designs were incorporated into the cloth. It was a way to review our visits and to see others’ choices. Being Oaxaca Fiberistas!
Norma Writes for Selvedge Magazine Issues #89 + #109
Creating Connectionand Meaning between travelers and with indigenous artisans. Meet makers where they live and work. Join small groups of like-minded explorers. Go deep into remote villages. Gain insights. Support cultural heritage and sustainable traditions ie. hand weaving and natural dyeing. Create value and memories. Enjoy hands-on experiences. Make a difference.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with makers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. We create connection and help artisans reach people who value them and their work.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
We Contribute Two Chapters!
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Meet Makers. Make a Difference
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university, textile and artisan development experience. See About Us.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your independent travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, curators, universities and others come to us to develop artisan relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
*Abeja Boutique, Houston
*Selvedge Magazine-London, UK
*Esprit Travel and Tours
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
*University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
We offer textile experiences in our studio where we weave and work only in natural dyes.You can see the process during our textile tours, dye workshops or customized weaving experiences. Ask us for more information about these experiences, customized scheduling, and prices.
One-Day Custom Tours: Tell Us When You Want to Go!
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
New--Ruta del Mezcal One-Day Tour.We start the day with pottery, visiting a master, then have lunch with a Traditional Oaxaca Cook who is the master of mole making. In Mitla, we meet with our favorite flying shuttle loom weaver, and then finish off with a mezcal tasting at a palenque you will NEVER find on your own! Schedule at your convenience!
Go on all 3 Day of the Dead Tours -- Get a 10% Discount
October 27, 2023: Day of the Dead Ocotlan Highway Tour. It’s Market Day! The biggest of the year. See special altar food and decor, visit artisans, explore culture, eat at a traditional open air cocina de humo (grill kitchen).
October 29, 2023: Teotitlan del Valle Altars and Studio Visits to natural dye and weaving artisans who invite you to their altar rooms to share family traditions. Meet a traditional beeswax candlemaker. Eat mole and mezcal in a local family comedor.
January 13-21, 2024: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Very popular! Get your deposit in to reserve. For intrepid travelers. Visit 7 back-strap loom weavers. Explore the culture of cloth and community. 4 SPACES OPEN!
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after your order is received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle