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Last week was a rough week, I haven’t felt so betrayed since JFK was assassinated.  I may not live long enough to see to have a president of the quality and values of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Having her as president at the end of my life would have been recompense for the long battle our lives, hers and mine, have been,  just to be recognized for the professional contributions we have made to society.

I have been looking forward to participating in a Waje (https://www.facebook.com/waje.com.mx/) event since I learned about them and on Saturday, 12 November I got to spend and evening orchestrated by them.  In anticipation, I thought the experience, on a Saturday evening– the evenings here in Oaxaca are very beautiful, and my favorite– I tried to calm my mind and open it all sensory experiences, new and old. I tried to be in the moment and mindful.

From the time I contacted them, I was treated with dignity and respect.  The invitations had been planned to give a spare contemporary style.  The event was called Cenizas Vivas.  We were transported to an outlying village and into a outdoor space under a huge  flor de cacao, or cacahuaxochitl tree (Quararibea funebris) .  The path to the table was lit with luminarias and the table was elegantly set, under hanging candlelights.

Each course had a story.  Respect for tradition, variation, and innovation was evident. The start was chocolate, mezcal and cream, all very Oaxaqueño.  The next 3 tiny plates were eaten in pre-columbian style, with our fingers. Chia seeds, squash blossoms and huitlacoche all made an appearance.  img_3515The meal continued with interesting ingredients and thoughtful preparation, and impeccable presentation, many edible flowers included. A breathtaking palate cleanser. We had wines or local beers.  Seasonal ingredients.  Ambiance was Day of the Dead with marigolds everywhere.

Each ingredient was sourced from a local grower or producer. We were told the stories of many of the courses. There are people out there who still care about what they are doing and producing, making sure that the spinach leaves  they provide are at the peak of their flavor or providing cilantro with flowers.  These marvelous young men are doing their research into special growers and suppliers, innovating new preparations and combinations. These events support not only the these inspirational endeavors but  a whole chain of growers and suppliers what work with care and heart  to produce the best they know how–not what corporate food companies want– to be uniform, last forever in the stores and make the most profit– taste and nutrition lost.  The pace of the meal was just right, in both amount and timing.

I hear the same themes about the food that I hear about the textiles here:

Tradition

Variation

Innovation

That is how to preserve the cultural heritage that is unique to Oaxaca.

A lovely, magical evening.

 

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I had a very special, quiet, enlightening Day of the Dead here in Oaxaca thanks to the Zapotec weaver, Arturo Hernández, who invited me to San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

The Zapotec peoples are a pre-hispanic group that built Monte Alban that have kept their language and beliefs.  Their idea of death is quiet different from ours; what I understand is that they believe one has two lives and they are not that different.  One has a life here then one dies and has a life on the other side, doing the same kind of things – eating, playing baseball and missing loved ones.  On this one day a year the departed come back to visit, to the joy of those left behind.

We arrived before noon and proceeded to the cemetery that was a hive of activity.  People going in were carrying flowers, huge bundles of marigolds, cockscombs and many other flowers and fruits.

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The flowers are to lead the loved ones back to this world; the follow the scent and the glow of the marigolds.  Once back to the grave site they are treated to their favorite fruits which have been lovingly cut up ready to eat.

 

fullsizeoutput_60bThen the visitors, the dead ones, are lead back to their homes; they follow the incense, copal, or a path of marigold petals.  Most people leaving the cemetery were carrying smoking incense burners, either in their hands or in buckets to protect them.

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The cemetery was a caldron of scents- flowers, fruits, marigold and copal incense.  But as noon approached the cemetery emptied, by noon the departed ones were back in their homes.  Their living loved ones were so happy they set off fireworks.  The empty cemetery was awash in flowers.

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In the homes altars had been constructed for the departed.

We left and returned to Sr. Arturo’s home and were feed festive food; mezcal, beer, turkey in mole and freshly made tortillas.fullsizeoutput_60cSr. Arturo did not have an altar in his home, his mother who died 3 years ago would return to her house where his sister currently lives.  There was an altar in his sister’s home and he would visit it later in the afternoon taking an offering.  Typical offerings are favorite foods of the departed, chocolate.

We set out to see an altar and learn a bit of the oral tradition of the Zapotec culture of Mitla.  We went to the home of a local historian/cultural guardian and were issued into a room with this huge altar that takes up the entire width of the room.

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The garlands are made of a small fresh fruit that is abundant now. There are bananas, apples, oranges and other local fruits and corn stalks in the corners.  Marigolds and a special bread, highly decorated, that they only make in Mitla.  Everything has been selected with care and respect for the local tradition.  On the left is a mat made of palm leaf for the beloved ladies to sit on and a bench on the left for the returning gentlemen, just like the places provided at parties.  The arrangement on the floor has a special spicy scented wild flower, collected from the mountains, called flower of the dead.

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In the middle are some wild orchids also.  The fruits are: jicama, chayote, sugar cane, and a squash.  The large gourd to the right has peanuts that have been toasted with spices.  In front is a traditional incense burner ( you can see very similar ones at the Monte Alban ruins) with copal and a votive candle.  I wonder if the candles came with the catholic church.

We sat quietly , were served mezcal, then beer and pieces of the Bread for the Dead.

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The decoration on the bread is elaborate, made with an icing like substance that is not very sweet.  As we sat around we were told tales from the oral tradition in the local Zapotec culture.

One was a sweet and romantic tale of Manuel and Manuela who had been together all their childhood and adult life.  The one of them passed over into the other realm and left the other behind.  The living one was sad and wanted to be with their beloved.   The happy ending was when the departed returned and they left together for the realm of the dead.

This is the raconteur and guardian of the Mitla Zapotec traditions.

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The following morning the dead ones are offered traveling food, to last then until they return in a year and they all return to the cemetery and their realm by noon the next day.  The village was very quiet while the dead ones were visiting in their homes.

 

These rituals are unique to Mitla, here in the city of Oaxaca the altars were full of papel picado , sugar skulls and catrinas.  The city was in party mode. Halloween has mixed into the festivities.  Here are some altars from the city:

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Feathered Thread

22 October 2016

fullsizeoutput_5d5There are many ways to weave with feathers and but study of this 300 year old textile fragment, tlámachtentli de Madeline,  at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca(MTO) revealed that it was woven with a thread spun with down feathers.  Sorry about the quality of the picture, it is from a slide.  The white feathered yarn jumps out at you but there is also red, yellow and blue feathered areas.

Research at the MTO suggests that this is bottom of a panel from a huipil backstrap woven on a striped warp  They found only 6 pieces, all old, all made in Mexico that were woven with this this feathered thread and no one now was doing it. About 10 years ago MTO initiated a project to recover  how to make and weave with this kind of yarn.  The results are now in a current exhibition at the MTO,  Hilar el Viento: Los Tejidos  Mexicanos de Pluma ( To Spin the Wind: Mexican Feathered Cloths).

Current artists have developed 3 kinds of feathered yarn.  All use down feathers from geese or ducks because down feathers are the only feathers pliable enough to twist into a yarn.  Groupo Khadi cards the down into the cotton and then spins it on a driven spindle wheel.

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carding down with cotton

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spinning the down cotton yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another artist , Román Gutiérrez,  adds the feathers when plying.  He starts with two strands of cotton thread, singles, and as he plies them he catches the down between the two strands.  Lots of twists is added to secure the down.  This yarn is fluffier than the carded yarn.  All done on a medium sized great wheel with two chairs working as a lazy kate.

I did a pre-conference workshop, on dyeing and spinning with down feathers, with Román in Teotilan del Valle and here is my piece of purple feather yarn,

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that I did on my drop spindle because I had it with me and access to one wheel was limited.

Others ply this feathered yarn together to get a thicker fluffy yarn, 4-ply cabled yarn, that I saw couched down on the surface of textiles.

Here are a couple of piece from the MTO exhibit just to give you and idea of the impact of feathered yarn.

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Portion of a textile woven by Noé Pinzón with down feathers. Noé was my teacher in backstrap weaving in the spring.

I have returned to Oaxaca just in time for TEXTIM, a conference on Mesoamerican Textiles.  A friend had signed me up for a workshop and conference and we stopped by the museum, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, today to check out the details.  The workshops are all on using feathers.  There was an exhibit  with feathers that we got to look at briefly.  My workshop starts on Wednsday and the conference goes through Sunday.  More to come….

 

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started in the mid-90’s, finished today

This is my first ever backstrap weaving.  I took a backstrap weaving workshop with Ed Franquemont in the middle 90’s and this is the first warp.  It is Andean Style weaving, complimentary warp.  He gave us the prepared warps with heddles and shed loop made and the first bit woven in the design.

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first bit

 

I now know that first bit  contains all the info required to weave the design, but I sure didn’t get that at the time.  Besides I had all I could do to get the sheds open and not drop all the little swords.  I did manage to weave about half of the warp but I did not focus on this design.

 

 

novice's work

novice’s work

I just couldn’t figure out how it worked, it wasn’t like any other design system I knew in weaving.  We did another warp in the workshop with a different design, not the X&O of this one.

 

 

 

 

 

The warps got put away because my business was growing,  so no time to indulge in weaving until I retired.  Currently I have been working with  some Antioch College students, last fall we were spinning together.  They came over to see what I brought back from Oaxaca last month and expressed an interest in backstrap weaving.

 

 

 

 

 

They started with narrow warps, made with crochet cotton.  The first warps were colored combs: learning to warp, make string heddles, and weave on the backstrap loom.  They are working on their second warp,  weaving a Latin American Paired Float pick up design.

 

When they were here the last time one on them asked me how close to the end could you weave. I thought I knew the answer but as I was looking at old samples I found this half woven warp and thought it would work to test how close to the end one can weave.  So out came this old warp; with heddles and shed loop intact, ready to weave.  I tied it up and started with the pattern.

 

current weaving

current weaving

 

 

 

 

The design was effortless, the width steady and much narrower. Hard to believe same warp, same weaver… looks so different.

 

So what had happened in the years since I started this warp?

 

In 2011 I took another workshop in backstrap weaving, this time with Abby Franquemont and have been doing some backstrap weaving since then interspersed with spinning and other fiber arts.    I have made several bands with this design.

 

crochet cotton with beads, hand spun, hand dyed wool and linen

crochet cotton with beads, hand spun, hand dyed wool and linen

One thing I did learn from is that the perle cotton yarn used for the first warp is too soft and it fuzzes.  The fuzz makes lumps on the heddles that makes opening the shed more difficult.  It also eats away at the warps and you can see that a yellow warp broke close to the end, and then a red one broke.  Time to finish.

 

 

Learning backstrap weaving at an advanced age has not been easy.    Starting with Andean style weaving was daunting; much practice on narrow bands just to learn the vocabulary, difficulty finding suitable high twist yarns  lead me off in to the world of spinning.  The second workshop I took was shortly after major back surgery. Weaving in isolation; no one else in this village of 4000 is interested in backstrap weaving.  I had managed to work up to about 4″ wide warp-faced weaving when I went to Oaxaca.

In Oaxaca I learned to weave balanced weave on the backstrap loom.  Even at 8-10″ wide it was so so easy after doing the warp-faced  weaving.  Of course there were some new challenges.  But I have been doing a fair amount to backstrap weaving recently.

 

So the difference between the beginning and end of this warp is experience.  When I started I had never seen in person any Andean weaving— if you have never seen it how do you know what it is supposed to look or feel like. I have now seen some, and made some. Yet it is hard to explain what it is that experience changes.

Why is it so easy to focus and do all the weaving in the design now?

Oh, and you can weave up to about an inch from the end with out too much trouble.   It takes a little more effort to weave to the very end.

new and the old

new and the old

 

 

 

I’m at an age when I can walk less than I could 20 years ago, I have fewer teeth, I hear less, having something I can do better  than  I did  20 or even 5 years ago is uplifting.

 

I have been looking for a hand woven huipil to buy since I’ve arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez in December 2014.  I finally found one! 

black cotton three panel huipil with coyuche and purpura pansa brocade

  
 
I found it at the Festval of Artisans that the state organized just above the Santo Domingo Church for Holy Week. 

I do have my criteria:

  • Back strap woven
  • Good craftsmanship 
  • Three panels
  • A colorway that I would wear
  • A size that I feel comfortable in. 

The size has been the stumbling block. Most are made for Señoritas, I need twice as wide to feel comfortable.  I did a turn of the whole festival and came back to an Amuzgo booth. She had many beautiful, well woven huipiles. Mostly on a natural or off- white ground, which looks lovely with their black hair but I don’t much like with my all white hair, too monochromatic.   She did have a pale pink one that looked a little greyed and a Mexican Rose one with black brocade. I love Mexican Rose but the craftsmanship  of this one wasn’t top quality, particularly in the construction. She had an elegant black on black  huipil, sized for a small señorita. 😟

She hung up a very beautiful  huipil in a cinnamon brown with natural colored brocade.   It was very fine brocade and the colors were spectacular, the brocade almost looked golden. Very elegant and special. When she got it down so I could see it closer I recognized the color as that from nanche, a tree that has an edible fruit and the bark can be used for dyeing. Unfortunately the nanche color had already stained parts of the natural colored threads that were used for brocade and construction. Yes, it was natural dye but it was not well dyed. 

Reluctantly I left that booth and went to a booth that had some lovely small utility cloths with brocade style I associate with San Juan Colorado, but wasn’t from San Juan. There were several styles of brocade in the booth, which I think was a coop. Some pieces had women’s names on them, which I thought was the maker’s name. She began showing me huipiles too and some were lovely but small. She finally showed me a “large” three panel black huipil with brocade in coyuche, that is always hand spun, and purpura pansa, the seashell violet. Excellent workmanship.  Price I could afford. Perfect except it was too small. She thought it was big enough, but I insisted that it was only as wide as the top I had on and the top had slits from the waist down. The black huipil was ankle length and I had to convince her that it was going to catch on my hips so I wouldn’t wear it.  As I was ready to walk away she said she had a very large one.  I said let me see it, she had to root around a bit to find it and when I saw it it was perfect. Big enough, well made, black ground with Leno and coyuche and purpura pansa brocade.  It is now mine!

 

detail with purpura pansa dyed yarn used for brocade and construction


The ground cloth is 16/2 black cotton in plain weave and leno. The cloth is light weight and drapes well. Not hot because of the open work, leno. Each panel has a few warps of purpura at each side selvage. The panels are joined by hand with a faggoting stitch in the same purpura.  The neck edge is carefully made and decorated with the same purpura dyed yarn. 

The purpura dyed yarn is commercially spun yarn that is taken to the seaside. The wet yarn is held in the hand and the sea snails are pried from the rocks and their excretions rubbed on the yarn. The snails are returned to their rock. The secretions slowly change color, in the sun and air , until the yarn is a pale red- violet color. 
The coyuche is a brown cotton that grows here. It is short staple and thus hand spun.  Both colors are from prehispanic times. 

The brocade technique is discontinuous inlay. This inlay is done with the weft turns on the top making tiny scalloped edges around each motif. 

  • detail of the brocade with coyuche and purpura

 
This brocade style has a neat backside that is only slightly different from the front. 

 

here is the fourth selvage carachteristic of back strap weaving and the neat backside of the brocade


 Blessing on the weaver that made my cherished huipil!

I decided to work with a black warp which made my teacher roll her eyes.   So hard to see. So I decided to make a sample first to see if I could see the black warp to make the brocade. 

I started with the Zapotec delicate inlay that I studied last year.  

last years first attempt

  
So I made a black warp, same size yarn, 16/2, same number of threads,  same width. I tried four colors of inlay- white, pale pink, light grey and Mexican Rose

my favorite.  
The grey and pale pink are hard to tell apart. The Mexican Rose and white show a little better.  I went from 2 strand to 3 for the brocade weft.   Last year I used a thinner ground weft, 16/1, behind the brocade to  make it more visible, but this year I didn’t have any thinner yarn in black,unfortunately. 

Technically this is discontinuous inlay. I don’t think this is working. 

The traditional stripe pattern in the Rose is lovely. 

Then I decided to try a different technique that  has the supplemental weft on top of the ground cloth then it goes back into the shed. The design should be much bolder. It is a continuous supplemary weft that is either on top of the shed or in it.  It is called tejido Huave or Huave weave where Huave is the name of the ethnic group that uses this structure extensively.  

photo by Karen Elwell

 

I was working with this structure last summer and one of the trickey parts is the contrast between the ground and brocade weft.   I want the inlay part to almost disappear. Best try the Mexican Rose to see how it works. 


 The color works well but I was just making up designs and changing the scale. 

Then I took a class at Museo Textil de Oaxaca with Noe Pinzon Paradox , backstrap weaving  Huave style.   

Noe with his loom warped with 60/2 cotton. This is the wrong side that you see.


Noe is a gifted weaver, he has been weaving for 18 years, since he was 4.Obviously part of a weaving family.

He is also an excellent and patient teacher.  

one orange and three blue designs done in class

So using what I learned in class I returned to my black warp.  Repeating the best of the 3 blue designs done in class in grey:

 
 The doubled grey brocading warp, same as I used in class, is too bulky for this warp and looks irregular. So I reduced the brocading weft to a single strand of embroidery floss ( all six threads, just like it comes in the package). 

a smaller Huave design

 

Then I tried  an acrylic yarn that was lying around.   

 The new design is hard to see. 

the edges are getting better

 
Best design in my favorite color. This bolder brocade works much better on this black warp.  

The black and white haunts  me.  May have to do some classic black and white. 

The Huave style brocade produces much heavier and stiffer cloth than the Zapotec inlay. That is because Huave uses all six strands of the embroidery floss and it goes from selvage to selvage.  Zapotec inlay only uses 3 strands and only where there is a design. 

If I want the Zapotec inlay to show more, and I work without a finer ground thread, I may have to space out the warps more. 

Much learned and ready for the next warp. 

 

Rebozo weaver

16 March 2016

Yesterday the Museo Textil de Oaxaca had a midday celebration to honor a 90 year old rebozo weaver from near Mexico City, Evaristo Borboa.  

  

Señor Evaristo was weaving in the interior courtyard of the museum, a beautiful space with natural light and many pillars. 

He weaves jaspe or ikat rebozos in cotton. 

  He weaves standing. As you can see the warp is wider than he is, 28-30″ would be my guess.   It must take a lot of upper body strength to open the sheds and standing allows him more leverage.  

These rebozos are large, 28-30″ wide by  90+ ” long by our standards but because they are light and drapey they are just the right size to wrap yourself  up. 

The resist dyed design is in the warp and to show it off the cloth is warp- faced.  The warp threads are ultra- fine mercerized cotton; the final cloth feels and drapes like silk. I can’t even guess at how many threads there are in this warp. Each one has been dyed and placed in order to create the design. 
  
Here you can see both the woven cloth and the unwoven warp.   If you have trouble finding the fell line look for the bottom edge of the sword or machete. Farther from the fell line the pattern on the warp is less visible, all you see are tiny spots.  This is just plain weave folks, but there is nothing plain about this. 

  
 If you are observant you can see that his loom is set up to weave four selvages. The final rebozos all have long elonorate fringes. 

  
My conclusion is that the fringe is added after weaving. This maybe the reason that other ikat rebozos have incongruent colors in the fringe. 

Here is a video of Señor Evaristo weaving.   Interesting to me is how he uses his sword to open the heddled shed.   I first noticed the hump in the warp threads when he took out the sword to open the heddled shed, then I watched it form. 

Señor Evaristo has been weaving for 83 years. That is longer than most of us have been talking, weaving must be as second nature for him as talking is for us. 

Agave or Maguey

31 January 2016

 

The agaves or magueyes are plants of the Americas, adapted to dry conditions and very useful to humans.  The Museo Textile de Oaxaca says that near here, Oaxaca City, they found remains of  10 000 year old net made from agave fibers. Today agaves may have a presence in your life as agave nectar, tequila or mezcal.image

The Museo has mounted an small but stunning exhibit of object made from fibers from the different agaves: ixtle, sisal, pita, cabuya.  There is one woven piece of cloth, delicate and sheer, but mostly bags, nets, with a slingshot and sandals thrown in. Most items are natural color but the variety of construction techniques is surprising; braiding and variations, needle looping, knotted netting.

This bag is some technique that looks a lot like knitting but I’m pretty sure it is a kind of looping. The bag is very nice  but the strap is what caught my attention!

 

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Here is a cylindrical bag with draw strings at both ends. it does have words worked into one end and is of fairly recent construction.image

 

 

 

But here is a detail of the texture on the bag:image

Here is a stunning bag, made in 2008, looks like it would stand up on its own.  It has a lining the same as the outside.  Made of ixtle or pita, the fiber of Chevaliera Magdalena, by a master craftsman, Tito Suárez.

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It looks like a twill with diagonal ridges in each section but it is not woven.

 

 

 

 

So here is a detail:image

Looks like some fancy braiding to me.  By braiding I mean there is only one set of working threads that are at one time warp then weft.  Also called finger weaving or technically active-passive oblique intertwining.  There are many moving ends to keep in order.

 

Outside the museum it the patio the museum was sponsoring an Expoventa of some top craftspeople and I found a strap made of ixtle just right for a backstrap for my loom.

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It appears to be the same technique as the bag above , made of ixtle by Rebeca Jiménez  of Santa Catarina Yahuio, Oaxaca.

Oh well.

29 January 2016

Today I went to the little market near here,IV Centenario, just past La Basilica de la Soledad.  Soledad is the virgin of Oaxaca.  As I have explained before, if you walk in Oaxaca you either go uphill or downhill.

My lovely apartment is a second floor walk up.

Armed with my shopping list and the Frida bag I start out down the steps, down the hill, around the corner, up the hill to Plaza de la Danza and a view of Soledad.

  
All one church, obviously built at different times and styles.

Continue walking past the police station to arrive at the market at la hora de siesta de los perros.

  

The market itself is on a hill, steps to go in, steps down to the first level, steps down to the next level….

I bought wonderful Oaxacan cream, a small bread for breakfast, some chicken breast, tomatoes, an avocado ready to eat today, eggplant, radishes, poblanos, jicama, tangerines, a pear, platanos, green beans, spaghetti,and half a case of eggs, carefully packaged for carrying. Oh, yes and vinegar.  So now the Frida bags weighs considerable more than it did empty.

Going back home starts with a climb up about 4 flights of stairs to get out of the market with the bag.  Then up the hill, down the hill  around the corner and up the hill and finally up the stairs to the apartment, all with the heavy bag.

When I get home catch my breathe, unpack the bag. Check email and decide to look at the health data: 3691 steps, 2.67 km and no flights of stairs climbed.  Oh, well.