Today we played hokey to have our last day to see Oaxaca. There was my last mole negre which was fabulous. There were still a few signs of The Day of the Dead around. There was a picturesque street scene on the way back to our hotel. There was this little boy concentrating on what little boys do. It’s been a wonderful trip in every way.
Tomorrow we will try to squeeze another trip to the Textile Museum before leaving for the airport. I think I can get everything in my suitcase and carry-on bags.
We went on another trip way into mountainous country to two very out of the way villages. We saw women wearing their indigenous blouses and skirts in El Porvenir Tijaltepec, a Mixtec village. The women embroider like what we call smocking on muslin cloth to make their blouses. They did not want to be photographed except for their work. That is a shame in a way because their faces were wonderfully expressive.
The designs they made up or took from pictures in books. It was lovely to be around them for an hour or more in the front yard of one of the women. Other women from the village were there and more wandered in with blouses they had made. We bought quite a few and were able to pay the women who made each one personally.
The second village was Tlacotepec. We visited the home of a basket weaver. She made only one kind and it was used as a colander to drain corn that they boiled in limestone to make it more healthy. See the photo of the boiled corn in its basket.
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The Saturday market in town was outside the doorstep of our hotel. Unlike so many I’ve seen this one was not jam packed and many of the people dressed in indigenous clothes. We saw lots of unfamiliar foods. Prickly pear pads were being scraped of thorns. Packages of vegetables were prepared for soups. If you wanted to make mole all you needed to do was to ask the woman at the booth to prepare all the ingredients for you. Limestone needs to be boiled with corn to make tortillas. There were a lot of things I didn’t recognize. It was fun to mingle with the people.
Then we drove to a remote mountain village, Laguna Guadalupe, where Trique people live and where there the local women wear long huiples. We visited a home where many weavers gathered and set up their backstrap looms. It was fascinating to see different techniques. I watched one woman get her loom set up which had always mystified me. When you watch it being done it makes so much more sense. We were out in a yard mingling among 5 or 6 weavers. It was a heavenly experience. We were fed lunch in a log cabin. We had tamales and some other soup with shredded beef and hot tortillas, of course.
Tomorrow we go out to a remote village, too. Today we drove in the mountains on more twisty roads.
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We left Mitla after breakfast and drove north toward Oaxaca City, stopping at the Tule tree which is the biggest tree in the world and we all believed it. Then we continued north up through Oaxaca heading northwest turning southwest at Nochixtlan. We were on an old north to south route across Mexico up to Alaska and down to Patigonia. We stopped at two huge old churches built In the 1500’s by the Spanish. They both are being restored to a point. You can see areas that are gold and very decorative and much area that is just bare walls. Originally the walls were solidly decorated with paint and paintings. One is at the town of Yanhuitlan; the other at Teposcolula. And both are directly related to the history of silk in the region. The Spanish brought over sericulture (producing silk). Mulberry trees had to be cultivated and raising the silk worms is a time consuming process. There was a huge boom and then bust when much silk was produced in Mexico and then when disease and competition from Asia destroyed the industry. These two churches were built by the Spanish during the boom years. One could only imagine how much money silk was bringing in at the time. High quality silk that was reeled from the cocoons was processed by the indigenous people while only the Spaniards were allowed to weave it. The indigenous people in the area wore silk sashes, however.
>> EMAIL VIEWERS: To see all of the photos in this post – click post title << Today we drove two hours on very winding mountain roads to a village in the Eastern Sierra Madre to the Zapotec village of San Pedro Cajonos where they raise silk worms, spin silk thread, dye it and weave it on backstrap looms. We walked down steps on the side of the mountain and came into this room where generations of people were weaving and spinning silk. The pictures of the village don’t quite convey how steep the mountain side is. The girl in the yellow shirt is 10 years old. She was one of the featured children in an exhibit the Oaxaca Textile museum put on two years ago when she was eight. Kids, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were all part of the production. What used to be only women’s work is done by everyone now that it brings in money.
The silk worms are raised and the cocoons made and then they are collected after the adult moths emerge from the cocoons. That means there is a significant hole in each cocoon so the thread cannot be unwound in a long thread. Instead the cocoons are boiled then spun. The picture shows masses of cocoons dried after boiling. Then the spinner takes a cocoon and separates it from the mass and teases it or pulls it apart until it is a mass of silk fiber. Then the spinner spins it using a spindle that is supported in a small bowl. The grandfather and grandmother sat and spun the whole time we were there. The pictures show how both of them went about the teasing and pulling apart and lining up the fibers before twisting them with the spindle making a thread. After the scarves were off the looms the fringe was knotted in what we call macrame. We went outside to the dye area where some of the woven scarves were dyed with natural dyes. They used two types of cocoons. The yellow was a wild silk and the white made by commercially raised silk worms provided my the Mexican government. You can see there are some tiny hatched eggs on the yellow cocoon. >> Click first photo to view full sized photos <<
>> EMAIL VIEWERS: To see all of the photos in this post – click post title << We drove from Mitla in the morning in time to eat breakfast at the local market. This was the nicest market I’ve ever seen because it was not crowded or dirty. Every morning for a few hours the town people go to the market and socialize and fill their baskets. We ate tamales made by the woman in the picture. She served them on pieces of paper towel and they were delicious. I had an orange juice drink from a plastic bag knotted at the top with a straw coming out the top. A dyer had a booth with his samples and jars of dye stuff. All the women carried nice baskets and I hunted for a booth to find a small one I think I can fit in my carry on luggage. The seller crossed herself and kissed my money. I was told that it was because it was her first sale of the day.
Then we went to a weaving workshop in a large home. They do commissions from artists as well as their own designs for tapestry- woven rugs. The looms were huge as you can see. The wife is the dyer and we went up to the roof where the dye pots were cooking and skeins of yarns were drying. They used chemical dyes and do a big wholesale business in the US.
Then we went to see a husband and wife who do natural dyes on the wool yarn they use for their woven rugs. Dyeing with plants had not been done in Teotitlan for some years so they had to teach themselves. They now are world class dyers but he brags he never tries to match colors. I bought a runner that is like a sampler of many many natural dye colors. I hope I can get it home and I hope it will fir in my hallway! They dyed with cochineal today, not measuring a thing. The pictures show the before and after dyeing of the yarn.
Cochineal is like a scale or bug that grows on cactus. The dye is made from the dry bugs ground very fine. I smashed one on my hand and spit on it and got some red color. I had never seen the bugs growing on cactus leaves before. The dye had a huge impact on the economy in history. Maybe it was valued as much or more than the gold the Spaniards shipped back to Spain. I’m not entirely sure about the historical facts here.
The wife of the dyer had a wonderful expressive face. She was disagreeing mildly with her husband when I caught her lovely scowl. I loved her laughing face, too. They were young when they got married and couldn’t afford commercial dyes so began using local plants. It was a rags to riches story. Now they are quoted in books.
Our leader said there are 5000 people in the small town involved with weaving in some way. Our last stop was to the home of a candle maker who also had a big loom going. All around the loom were cactus leaves ready to be infused with cochineal bugs which will grow and multiply on them.
A young girl poured the melted wax on the candles to build up layers and layers. These long candles were made this way instead of dipping. The main candle maker is the older woman. Her specialty was fancy candles for festivals. >> Click first photo to view full sized photos <<
We spent almost two hours at this archaeological site this morning. It is a huge area with much of the Zapotec palaces well preserved. Our guide explained the fascinating history of the area before and after the arrival of the Spaniards. (It was interesting to hear how different restorations experts gave their own ideas of how to do the preservation.) The first picture is our first view of the site. We never went inside! What we were interested in was the pre-Spanish Zapotec palace ruins.
The Spanish took stones from the Zapotec buildings to build their church. When they ran out of that stone they got other from other quarries. All the stone walls were beautiful I thought. Interestingly enough in Zapotec times the stone walls would have been painted bright colors. However the preservation people preferred the natural color look. Archeologists found the local quarries where stones had come from in their research. The Zapotec patterns interested us greatly. We were told they were derived from textile patterns. It sure looked like it. There were huge buildings with stone walls which had been parts of the palace grounds and later where the priest did rituals, etc.
I played hokey in the afternoon and got caught up on my blog posts while sitting on my balcony. After a little nap I went down to the garden for a coffee and to relax with my knitting. Another lovely day. I had my first mole negro tonight. It was OK.
We drove 5 hours on winding mountain roads backtracking our path from Oaxaca to stop at a town called Mitla. There was time to squeeze in a visit to very different backstrap weavers, Antonino Sosa and his brother who weave shawls called rebozos. These men gave up weaving on conventional floor and pedal looms to weave only on blackstrap looms. Usually only the women weave on backstrap looms. I think the men said they were faster because they stood to weave whereas the woman sit on the ground. Because their arms are longer, they could weave wider cloth. What was terribly interesting was the pattern they wove. Usually that type of pattern cloth us woven on floor looms. They figured out how to do it on blackstrap looms. They said they felt closer to their cloth with the more simple looms. I saw two old floor looms junked in far off corners of their large work space/courtyard.
Usually there are just two sheds or openings for the weft thread to pass through, but they rigged up three to achieve the pattern. Two shed were made with thread loops on sticks and the third shed was on a flat stick which we call a sword. Our guide translated sword as machete!
At the warping board when measuring out the threads for the loom they crossed the threads between pegs like I’ve never ever heard of before. That astonished me greatly. There were four pegs making two unusual crosses. It was these special crosses that kept the threads in the order needed to weave the pattern. Isn’t it fun to learn something new!!
We were shown every step of the way and every one of our questions (I had many) were answered. I always wondered how they got the threads from the warping board to be spread out and on tension. It was a piece if cake. He did tie all the crosses, then lifted the threads up off the pegs then put dowels in the loops at each end. Then he tied one dowel to a post and the other dowel to his belt (the backstrap)!
The next steps were putting sticks in where the crosses were and then trying the string loops according to what threads were on the tops of the various sticks. So simple when you see it done.
During weaving he leaned forward to release the tension on the threads so there was a big opening to pass the shuttle through. Then he straightened up to put tension on the threads while beating in the thread from the shuttle. That’s how backstrap looms work…leaning forward and back to create and loosen the tension.
Sunday was another chuck full day..New in the morning and old in the evening, both stunning. We drove out from Tehauntepec to Juchitan, about ten miles northeast. It is a town and on the map that had a big market in the square and lots of people were out because it was Sunday. We visited a contemporary embroidery artist. The pictures show how unique and gorgeous her work is. Back home in Tehauntepec we visited a man whose family has been here for generations. He inherited the family’s huge home. He showed us his amazing collection of embroidered skirts and huipils. One after another along with commentary. The blank area on the chest was very large on the old pieces so there was space to show off gold jewelry. Today there is always a blank, un embroidered area as a token space but small. Mr. Jose Manuel Villallobos showed a few of the white pieces with the ruffle that goes around the face and fake arms which dangle in front and in back of the body. These intrigued me at the textile museum on the first day. You’ll see photos of them being modeled. They are worn surrounding the face going into church and over the head and over the shoulders and back when leaving the church (as I understood it). His house was lovely and very spacious. One area had two old, old floor looms all with features that old European looms had like I wrote about in my books. And like my own looms have that Jim Ahrens built. We had dinner there. I feel full to the brim spiritually, mentally, and full of a wonderful dinner in a Mexican setting. I forgot to tell about the beginning of the day when we visited Zenida Ortega Martinez before leaving our town of Tehauntepec. She showed embroideries that her mother made and ones she made herself besides her large collection. She also showed how she could balance a glass on her head. She did this with a full glass again at dinner. Tomorrow is another day of hours on windy mountain road to Mitla. We retrace our way back toward Oaxaca about 3/4 of the distance. Mitla is at a junction of a small road heading northeast.
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Saturday we went to see two embroiderers in the village of San Blas. You would never have known such lovely work was behind the unmarked door to our first stopping place. Lucia LopezSarabia worked on a treadle sewing machine working on the wrong side of the cloth. It was velvet backed with polka dotted cotton fabric. The style for the village women was to have the hole for the neck be as small as possible and also the armholes I don’t know how they could stand those heavy tight garments. The second embroider worked all by hand. There is a photo of a finished piece which is one half of a skirt. The last stop was to see weavers. We walked up a sandy path and found a delightfully shady area and a woman at her loom. Notice the strap around her hips. That is what makes it a blackstrap loom. She picks up threads with a stick to make the patterns. Yesterday the weaver used a needle for that. Another weaver sat under the tree and unrolled her loom to show what she had woven. There were things from the local weavers to buy. The main weaver’s house has a thatched roof. We saw several in the area. The warping board seemed primitive but would do the job to measure out the threads for the looms. – Click 1st photo to see album.
We packed up the bus, went to the Textil de Oaxaca then drove all day to the Isthmus, stopping to see a famous weaver in the mountain village of San Bartolommeo named Nicolasa Pascual.
The textile museum was fabulous with gorgeous old pieces and cultures represented. First, the important triangular piece we all know as a quechquemitl worn over the shoulders. The warp was turned into weft for the narrow band within the red. The warp was red as well as white. I stood on my head but could not figure it out…back strap loom, of course. It was interesting to know that garments were mostly white with small bits of red until synthetic dyes came. No cochineal has been used for red. If ever it becomes used, it would be a new thing. The ruffle piece was ceromonial like Frieda Calo wore with ruffles surrounding the face. Another piece was woven with checks to copy a floor loom woven skirt.
The visit to NicolacPasceal came after 1/2 hour driving on a dirt road under construction. It was deep in the mountains. She weaves very fine and only does work commissioned. Notice her using a needle to pick up threads for the small patterns and fine threads. The loom was set up when we arrived, then taken down in a pile. Then tensioned up again to weave. The skein of fiber is from a bromiliad plat…string and fine. She plans to use it for both warp and weft.
A full and thrilling day at both places. >> click any photo to enlarge <<
We wandered around Oaxaca City today before the tour begins. The Day of the Dead displays were still around and quite wonderful. One display was in a large shop: The Regional Assoc. Of Craftswomen of Oaxaca which is a wonderful women’s’ collective. Another shop is a well known shop with high quality textiles/fabrics. There were many shawls and things to wear that were well designed. The photo is of the shop: Arte Textil Indigena. We looked inside a big church which was guilded all over with gold: Temple Santos Domingo. We relaxed on the central square where there is a market everyday. I was surprised to see several shoe shine stands. They just seem out of place, somehow. Tomorrow we see the textile museum here then a 5-hour drive to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. *** A note to the 287 subscribers to my blog: Please click the title of each post when you get the post as an email – often photo galleries are not visible in the emails. To subscribe just fill in your email address in the right sidebar on myhomepage. ***