Tag Archives: tour

Hopeful! 2021 Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour

October 28 to November 4, 2021 – 7 nights and 8 days, starting at $2,795

We are hopeful! Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true. A $500 deposit will secure your place. This tour is limited to 10 participants.

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we hope to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Oaxaca by October 2021. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MuertosMitaAltar-724x479.jpg
Day of the Dead Altar

Now, back to the tour: Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, the smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depends on each village.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 13_PanteonJungle-724x526.jpg

You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in four different villages who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0181_Mask_2-724x485.jpg

Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in four Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • As a group, build a traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Best-91-Muertos-9-479x724.jpg

We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza in downtown Oaxaca.  We will compare how city celebrations differ from those in villages by participating in city events first.  Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like 20 or 50 years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Best51Muertos-47-724x518.jpg

Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10-12 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MuertosCatrinasBest38-35-479x724.jpg

You have the guidance of local expert Eric Chavez Santiago who will co-lead this cultural tour with Norma Schafer, founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.  

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b-724x482.jpg

Eric is a graduate of the Anahuac University, and speaks English and Spanish. He can translate language, culture and traditions, tell you about practices in his extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NormaBest11Xoxo10312013-6-724x479.jpg

Moreover, he is deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, ceramic artists, apron makers and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

You will spend the first two nights in Oaxaca City, then you will move to a comfortable Bed and Breakfast Inn based in Teotitlan del Valle for the remainder of our time together.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc_0169-724x486.jpg
Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

Thursday, October 28: Arrive in Oaxaca City and check in to our centrally-located boutique hotel

Friday, October 29: After breakfast, explore the city and the Benito Juarez market to see preparations for Dia de los Muertos, and gallery/shop decorations. We will also catch a comparsa – the traditional Muertos parade – along the pedestrian street as our schedule permits. Overnight in Oaxaca. (Breakfast and welcome dinner)

Saturday, October 30: Travel to Teotitlan del Valle and check in to our comfortable B&B, take a chocolate making workshop with a traditional cook that includes a visit to the local molino (mill) to grind the cacao bean mixture. See how traditional mole Amarillo tamales are prepared and have a tasting.  We will talk about family altars, their significance and what goes into making one. You will then enjoy comida (late lunch) in the home of a local family.  (B, L)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tamales-e1498503964227-543x724.jpg
Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

Sunday, October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec villages of San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and embroidered apron making and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). (B, D)  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 6_Zapotecs-7-724x479.jpg

Monday, November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet weaver artisans who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about this village and their history and traditions. Visit homes where traditional altars tell the story of ancient Zapotec culture. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altars to honor the deceased of our hosts.  We will take lunch at a local comedor along the way (at your own expense). Then, make a stop on the way home for a mezcal tasting – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NormaBenchDSC_0153-724x485.jpg

Tuesday, November 2: After breakfast, you will visit the homes of selected weavers in Teotitlan del Valle to experience each family’s variation on altar preparation, and see a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration. You’ll then join a local family for lunch and accompany them to the cemetery to sit with their loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will have a cena (late repast) of bread and hot chocolate, discuss how participating in Day of the Dead had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

Wednesday, November 3: After breakfast, the choice is yours for this free-day. You may like some downtime to write about your experiences or take a hike to the reservoir or meander the village. You can also arrange a taxi to take you to neighboring villages or archeological sites. We will enjoy a final goodbye supper before you depart.

Thursday, November 4: Departure. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is i-482x724.jpg

What Is Included

  • 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
  • 2 nights lodging at an excellent boutique hotel in Oaxaca City
  • 5 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services

What is NOT Included

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 • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,445 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc_0100-724x486.jpg
Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 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 June 15, 2021. The third payment is due on or before September 1, 2021. 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 September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds. If we cancel for whatever reason, you will receive a full refund.

The tour and COVID-19: You are required to send proof of vaccination to participate. You must send Proof of Vaccination by email on or before June 15, 2021. You can take a photo of the documentation and forward it to us. All participants are required to wear face masks, use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. We will sanitize vans and keep the windows open when traveling together. Please note: You MUST also provide proof of international travel insurance including $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage.

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is San-Marcos-Tlapazola2-494x724.jpg
Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If we receive notice of your cancelation on or before September 1, 2021, 50% of the funds you have paid to date will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

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.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour 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 free time to go off on your own if you wish.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0292_Abuela_2-724x485.jpg
Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos

Chiapas Textile Study Tour 2021: Deep Into the Maya World

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, the plumed serpent, woman and man, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun, plus more, depending on each weaver.

Andrea with her award-winning huipil, San Andres Larrainzar
San Juan Chamula woman, Los Leñateros print + paper making studio

We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 23 to March 3, 2021. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of 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.

Church official, Zinacantan, Chiapas
Melanie brought 25 boxes of crayons to give to children along the way

Our dates of February 23 to March 3, 2021, are reserved in a fine historic hotel. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $2,695 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,195 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.

Ancient Maya cemetery, San Juan Chamula
We distributed more than 50 pairs of glasses to help weavers see

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.

Home goods for export made on flying shuttle pedal loom
Extraordinary gauze woven huipil from Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas

We are committed to give 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.

Saints dress in traditional garments, Magdalena Aldama
Julia and friends in Tenejapa during Carnival

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

Embroidered skirts and shawls, Zinacantan Sunday Market

There will be only ONE study tour to Chiapas in 2021.

Your Study Tour Leader is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, will be your expert resource guide.

Lynn and Andrea — of course! She bought it.

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
Men wear flowers, too, in Zinacantan

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Alejandro is a native Mexican who knows textiles and can explain the meaning of the woven symbols embedded in the cloth. You will enjoy learning from him.

Keeping the edges straight on a back-strap loom

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
Innovative colors with traditional designs from Alberto Lopez Gomez

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

Winn finds a treasure at our Regrets Sale on the last day

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 23: 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. 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.

Fine food and beverage is a cornerstone of our visit, too

Wednesday, February 24: 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)


Carnival in Tenejapa, Chiapas

Thursday, February 25: 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 the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. 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)

Maruch using a warp board called stairway to the moon to prepare back-strap loom
It was cold in the Chamula highlands at over 7,000 feet altitude

Friday, February 26: After breakfast, we set out for a full morning at 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)

Sergio Castro explains Naha Lacondon jungle rituals

Saturday, February 27: We set out by foot to a nearby textile collaboration that houses three different cooperative groups, one of which is founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2019. We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Next, we stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Alberto Lopez Gomez combines tradition with innovation and creativity

Sunday, February 28: 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.

Alejandro and Maria Meza Giron, Tenejapa
Magdalena Aldama back-strap loom weaving, the finest

Monday, March 1: 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)

Hearty lunch Rosita + Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas
Bitty peeks out from behind exquisite cloth, San Andres Larrainzar

Tuesday, March 2: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an amber wholesaler, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and other artisans 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 gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Enjoying cocktail hour in hotel garden before gala dinner

Wednesday, March 3. 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 • $2,695 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,195 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Melanie adorned in pompoms and her Cancuc huipil

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  30% of the total is due on or before October 1, 2020. The third 30% payment is due on or before December 15, 2020. 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 15, 2020, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

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.

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

Pom poms are us, and Sheri models them well!
Meet our guide, Alejandro — a knowledgeable textile and cultural translator, too

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 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.

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.

Sunnie and Phoebe from behind a flying shuttle pedal loom at rest

In the Villages: Tenejapa, Romerillo and Chamula, Chiapas

The weather turned. It got cold. Cold enough for wool socks, down jackets and mittens. There are fourteen of us and we climbed into the van with our guide Alejandro and our resource expert Sheri. Our destination was the weekly Thursday market in Tenejapa.

Leslie, Felicia, Marsha, Biddy and Irene at the Tenejapa market
Selling threads for weaving and embroidery, Tenejapa

It’s Carnival time here. In Tenejapa, this coincides with a pre-Hispanic celebration to pray for a good corn planting. This is a mash-up time of celebration — to mock political leaders including Lopez Obrador, the president of Mexico, and El Señor Trump whose costumed character paraded around in arrogant style. It is a time for drinking posh, the local distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane, and eating tamales.

Recognize this man?
Young men participating in village rituals and celebrations
We saw a woman working on this embroidered piece inside a pharmacy

I advised our travelers to look deep and carefully along the market street, into dimly lit shops selling food, medicines, household goods, shoes, to find handwoven textiles suspended in the shadows. This is how they might find a treasure to take home from this distinctive backstrap loom weaving village.

Julia found this amazing furry shawl hidden away in the Tenejapa market

At the cooperative founded by 65-year-old Maria Meza and others in 1980, we learned about women’s lives, the passing on of the tradition to young women, and how everything in the cooperative is made without compromise on the traditional backstrap loom — from simple bags to elaborate huipiles.

The Mayordomo of the Fiesta and his Wife, two steps behind

The cold fog never lifts and it seems it got colder by the time we arrived at Romerillo cemetery. Everything was shrouded in fog. We ate our lunch of sandwiches and chips like campers, huddled under the the Maya crosses adorned with dried pine branches, sitting on the concrete base or standing. It was a quick visit.

Maria Meza, 62 years old, cooperative founder, with naturally-dyed textile
Innovation with new colors, traditional designs — key to the future
Melanie with a favorite bag
Organic (criollo) homegrown radishes, Tenejapa market

Our final stop was at the home of Maruch and her son Tesh, in a remote Chamulan village about 30 minutes from Tenejapa up a winding dirt mountain road. This is not standard tourism. Here, they showed us how they weave the furry Chamula-style wool skirts dyed with mud filled with minerals that turns brown sheep wool the color of black.

Pine trees and Maya crosses, pre-Hispanic symbols of life, cardinal points
Maya cemetery, the graves are covered with boards, the door to the underworld`
Maruch wrapping warp on the stairway to the moon, the counting board

After the demonstration and the opportunity to buy ponchos, shawls, and embroidered bags, we ended our day with a sip of nanche-flavored posh and a demonstration of ancient Chamula musical instruments — including ocelet skins with bells — and song performed by Tesh and his brother Alejandro.

Mary, Sunnie and Margaret present reading glasses to Maruch, Tesh’s mother
Weaver acculturates her infant daughter at the backstrap loom

We were back in San Cristobal de las Casas in time for dinner!

Lynn with her dazzling, sparkly bolsa (bag)

Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, and I are organizing another Deep Into the Maya World: Chiapas Textile Study Tour in 2021. The 2021 dates are February 223-March 3, 2021 and the itinerary will be about the same. Our trips usually sell-out, so if you are interested in joining us on this adventure, please complete the registration form at the top of this website and send it to me. Registration is now OPEN.

Our group of 14 travelers with Tesh’s family — we supported them!

Sophisticated San Cristobal de Las Casas: A Changing Scene

It’s different this year in San Cristobal de Las Casas. There are more upscale shops and sophisticated clothing designs using indigenous textiles. Just meandering the three andadors — cobblestone walking streets here — I see remarkable differences.

Sophisticated handwoven pillow covers at Sna Jolobil Cooperative

There are more visitors coming who are interested in textiles and the Maya culture. There is a greater influence from designers and the styles are definitely geared to a more upscale buyer. Some of the jackets and tops encorporate small elements of the Maya counting system but are magnified into stunning graphic designs.

Ex Convent Santo Domingo, now Museo Mundo Maya

It seems as if there is a new energy in San Cristobal. Yes, there are still young European back-packers who pass through on their way from Guatemala to Mexico, populating the busy new pox (posh) bars after 6 p.m.

Frogs, feathered serpents and diamonds representing the center of the universe

However, there is innovation in the air, the kind I haven’t seen in the five years I’ve been bringing small groups of textile travelers here.

Perhaps this is because young weaver and designer Alberto Lopez Gomez from Magdalenas Aldama made a big buzz this year at New York Fashion Week. We are going to his cooperative this Saturday morning.

Today we are off to the traditional weekly market in Tenejapa.

Intricate embroidery work on a huipil of birds and flowers

Sheri Brautigam and I have committed to repeating this popular and always sold-out Chiapas Textile Study Tour in 2021. Our dates are February 23 to March 3. Send us a Registration Form if you are interested in participating. The itinerary will be mostly the same. Only the dates will change.

Japan Blue: Textile Study Tour to Mt. Fuji Indigo Studio

The Japan Textile Study Tour is filling up. We are a small group, limited to 10 people, and there are 4 spaces remaining! If you are thinking about coming with us to Japan, please don’t wait much longer.

Japanese ikat, indigo dye

I have confirmed plans to visit a noted Japanese national treasure, a textile artist who works in indigo, known as Japan Blue. Her studio is at the foot of Mt. Fuji near Lake Kawaguchi. We will spend a good part of the day with her, dyeing with indigo in her studio.

Variety of indigo cloth

I have explained to her that we are visitors who understand and appreciate the art of indigo dyeing. I am told that our dye master is very selective about who visits her and welcomes anyone who understands and appreciates her art. 

Indigo colored dye equipment

We will have a several hour immersion experience with her as we learn about her dye process and participate ourselves in dyeing pure cotton cloth that she will provide. Since she is very serious about what she does, she asks that we participate fully rather than just coming to visit and observe. I have promised her that we are coming to honor the age-old tradition of indigo dyeing in Japan, and honor her work as a serious artist and dyer. 

The man who is helping me put this experience together is Japanese, a Harvard graduate, and he will serve as our guide and translator for our time at Mt. Fuji. He tells me the following:

The dye master is “living” with 4 pots of indigos in her small atelier, and she cares for her indigos like her pots 24/7 — like they are her babies!

During cherry blossom season

In order to create the exact colors she needs in her art works, she precisely controls the fermentation of each of 4 indigo pots during the production processes of her art works. When she is preparing art works for big exhibition events, she pays special attention to the fermentation status of the indigo.

That is the basic reason why she does not usually provide easy-going, superficial “experience” programs for travelers; it will damage her indigos. From her artist’s point of view, she believes that brief“experience” programs that are business-focused and the art creation profession cannot co-exist.

Traditional indigo dye vats

What makes this indigo dye master’s art unique can be summarized into several points.

  1. She is “building” indigo exactly in the same traditional way as the artisans back in 17th and 18th centuries.
  2. She uses traditional fermented indigo grass which is now only produced in limited supply from Tokushima Prefecture.
  3. She utilizes timber ash NOT sodium carbonate for the fermentation in the pots. To obtain good quality timber ash, she must use a wood-stove in her daily life.
Vintage indigo katazome cloth

So, our dye master is literally “living” with indigos.

She believes this was one of the most important aspects of traditional “Japan Blue” – artisans fed, cared for and raised indigo like it is their baby! They literally lived with indigos.

Our dye master is an artist first and foremost. She is creating contemporary art utilizing traditional indigos.

After the advent of chemical dyeing productions, and also Japanese apparel culture being westernized, traditional indigo dyeing has lost its position in the dyeing industry. But, our dye master believes that there must be artistic expressions which only “Japan Blue” can make. She is committed to proving that traditional “Japan Blue” can existent as a way of artistic expression in an era of high technology and streamlined processes. This is the only way that traditional “Japan Blue” can survive into the next generation.

To our best knowledge, there are no artisans or artists who are incorporating all of this.

Meiji period vest

We will be one of the few groups that our dye master will accept into her atelier, and let us “use” her indigo. We will have a unique opportunity to dye with Japan Blue and have our own piece of art to take with us.

She asks that if we appreciate what she does, we can also purchase her art work ONLY IF we like it! 

We now have 6 people registered to come with me and Nathan Somers, a North Carolina indigo dye master, on this Japanese textile adventure. I will accept no more than 10 people. If you know of anyone else who would like to join us, please ask them to contact me. It is important that we have a small group experience that is meaningful for each of us.

Nathan, with a vintage indigo textile from his collection