Backstrap weaving in Mesoamerica has pre-hispanic origins and is the oldest, most common and highly reguarded art.  Zapotec and Maya goddesses weave.  Weaving is considered a way of communicating with the gods.

Yet watching an accomplished backstrap weaver can be as baffling as enlightening.  I have two up-coming events that are designed to enlighten you about backstrap weaving.

Victoria Hernandez, an Amuzgo,weaving brocade on her backstrap loom a San Pablo Cultural Center

1. A lecture/demonstration on Backstrap Weaving by me, Karren K. Brito, on this Friday, January 19, 2018, 5pm at the Oaxacan Lending Library.  This lecture will be in English.


Arturo Hernandez of Mitla weaving on a backstrap loom.

2. A one day tour, A TASTE OF WEAVING, on Friday, 2 Feburary 2018.  Tour leaders:Karren K. Brito and Pablo Gonzalez Marsch (both bilingual).

We will go to Bia Begung weaving and dyeing studio in Mitla. Maestro Arturo Hernandez weaves on a back-strap loom, and has many floor looms for production weaving and an efficient natural dye studio which he will shows us.

Each participant will have their own prepared back-strap looms. Karren and Arturo will be helping teach you how the weaving proceeds.  You need to open the sheds in the right sequences and pass the shuttle. 

We will take a break from weaving and Pablo will take you on a tour of the Mitla ruins with their designs inspired by weaving and have lunch at a local restaurant. Then we will return to the weaving studio for more weaving before, returning to Oaxaca.

The limit is 5 people.  The tour costs 1600 Mexican pesos per person and includes:

  • transportation from OLL at 8:30 am and returning to OLL about 6pm, transportation to the ruins and to lunch
  • Bia Begung studio visit
  • Use of the prepared looms and instruction
  • Guided tour of Mitla ruins (pre-hispanic Zapotec)
  • Lunch, with non-alcoholic drinks ( alcoholic drinks cost extra)
  • Bottled water

For further information contact Karren by leaving a comment here.  To sign up contact Pablo at +52 1 (951) 134 7391, by WhatsApp or by calling or an email to


How to grind chocolate

29 October 2017

In Oaxaca chocolate is second only to corn in the traditional cuisine.  A friend told me that the gods gave corn for daily substance and chocolate for fiestas.

Traditionally one can buys cocoa beans in the market and prepares them to your own taste.  (Do you know what cacao beans look like?)  First they are toasted over a wood fire on a round ceramic griddle (comel)  also used to prepare tortillas, the substance of every meal here.

Here, in the center you can see the place to toast beans. The brush like thing, made from local plants, is used to push the beans around on the hot griddle.  How you proceed next depends on what resources you have.

If you are just one woman, you grind your beans on the gridstones, tejates, that you see to the right and left of the griddle in the photo above.  You mix in sugar, cinnamon, almonds according to your recipe and taste.  Different communities add in different things.   The ground chocolate, a moist grainy paste falls into the tray at the bottom.  This paste is then mixed with either hot water or milk  and frothed  to be served as hot chocolate.  Grinding on these stones takes experience and strong arms, it looks simple but requires a technique and experience.

Now if you have a few more resources, like and old bicycle and young men, you can grind your toasted beans like this:


Note it takes two young men to do what one housewife can do:


If you have even more resources such as four strong men you can then use an electric mill to grind your chocolate.

These mills are common here in the city, in some markets and stores selling chocolate, that is the ground moist paste used for making hot chocolate.  In some markets you can take your own toasted beans and ingredients, and have them grind it for you.

A traditional drink to warm up in chilly moments here in Oaxaca is hot chocolate served with a individual bread, pan y chocolate.  The chocolate is served in a bowl, a generous about, with the very important froth on the top.  The bread is dunked in the hot chocolate.

Wishing you “pan y chocolate” for all your chilly moments!


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 ( 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:




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

A lovely, magical evening.


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.


carding down with cotton


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,


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.

img_2166 img_2167 img_2169

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!

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!


















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.




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.


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.

Noche de los Rabanos

6 January 2016

 Lelis came to Oaxaca to spend Christmas with me and on the 23rd we went to the Zocalo in the center of the old part of town for the event called Noche de los Rabanos.  The local radishes come in all sizes from eating size ( they are wonderful here, crisp never hot and pithy) to small people size.  

They are red on the outside and white on the inside with green leaves.  During the day they carve, cut and assemble tableaux  made from radishes and then in the evening the displays are open to the judges and public.   There are different categories, radishes only, radishes plus vegetables, corn husks and straw flowers.  I must admit it is amazing what you can do with only radishes!  You can use them in their natural shape, you can carve them, you can cut them into slabs, cubes or brick shapes and assemble them.   


 This radish only tableaux is the Dance of the Pineapples.  It is a line dance by young women in colorful huipiles from many different pueblos dance with a pineapple on their shoulder or head. 

This just a taste of what they did with radishes.  Next came the corn husks, both natural and colored.

The came the straw flowers and my favorite tableaux, women working on their backstrap looms.


Quite a lot of creativity in the Zocalo on la Noche de Rabanos.
On another note, posting on the blog has been difficult this visit; the wifi comes and goes and uploading pics to the blog is hit and miss and very time consuming. I started this post 24 Dec.  Getting images in the right place beyond my patience, obviously.

On Friday I did a quick walk through of the new exhibit of Rebozos at the museum, El rebozo, don de la Llorona.  I just picked out one to share with you, #41 in the exhibit.



As you can see this rebozo has very dramatic fringes.  This is not uncommon in Mexican weaving.  This rebozo is hung in the exhibit so that you can see both the front and the back of the fringe section.  The fluffy areas are added little tassels as you can see in the row acrossed the top.image.jpeg

The top row of tassels are in the body of the shawl and I could not touch it to see if there was woven cloth under the fluffy part.  So I looked up the description in the gallery notes:image

It says that this rebozo was made in the middle of the 20th century in an area of Purépecha people in the town of Ahuiran, state of Michoacán.

Both the warp and weft are made of industrially spun cotton singles, Z spun and possibly dyed with natural indigo.The warp has stripes of royal blue rayon, 2 ply, z twist.  The cloth is warp faced plain weave.  The warp ends  are flat braided to form the fringe, and the braiding is diagonal and forms holes  in the network.  Tassels made of rayon floss ( floss has no twist) are tied on at the little holes.

The tassels make a multi-colored diamond design.  Then they discuss a bit about if this is the style of the village where it was made or not.  Even though this is a wide cloth, even today these rebozos are made on backstrap looms.   Some of this style rebozos from the 19th century , the tassels added to the fringe form little animals or other figures.

Here is the back of the fringe: