Artes de Mexico: Textiles Mazahua Issue – (behind the scenes)

The latest issue of Artes de Mexico – Textiles Mazahua issue was published in May 2011 and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was on my way back to the states, driving from Oaxaca to Santa Fe, NM and wanted to pass through the State of Mexico and visit my friends the Flores Silvestres Rescate Project. These gracious women had allowed me into their lives to document the processes in fabricating their elaborate costume. If you read back by to my first WordPress posts you’ll learn of my involvement with the Mazahua ladies of Santa Rosa de Lima, Estado de Mexico, how I wandered into their pueblo and ended up photographing and learning the many pasos (steps ) that go into the 8 lb skirt and the brilliant natural dyed quechquemitl (cape).

Now almost two years later my article : “Un traje en peligro de extincion” (a costume on the edge of extinction) has appeared in this beautiful journal covering not only textiles but other little known cultural aspects of the indigenous Mazahua. My excitement stemmed from being able to bring this issue to the home of the project coordinator, Regina Torres. She, in turn, invited many of the Flores members to have a look. We joked around about how famous their village would now be. The Artes de Mexico photographer Pablo Aguinaco had beautifully captured pictures of their Fiesta Patronal in August 2009. Regina had a full page picture in Gabriel Olmos’ article “Flores en el Asfalto – Fiestas mazahuas” (Asphalt Flowers – Mazahua Fiestas) and she was pleased. The women were pleased and I was pleased and we all had several big meals to celebrate. Lovingly, I was gifted with a beautiful cochineal dyed quechquemitl made especially grande for the tall gringa with long arms. (see slide show)

Cultural recognition has come very slowly to most of the Mexico’s indigenous. To actually be featured in the most prestigious Mexican cultural/art journal Artes de Mexico seems like a big deal to me, a visitor from el norte. But perhaps it is just another day-in-life occurrence to the Mazahua ladies, like grinding the blue corn that has been drying in the corner of the living room – or shearing the sheep, but perhaps a bit stranger.

Well I’d like to think I kept my word – that the ‘story’ of the many pasos (steps) that go into the making of their traje will now be known to many people in Mexico and the world. That their hard work and artistry will be acknowledged and that they can now be confident that ‘we’ think they are intelligent and resourceful women. To me there was no question of that.

If you live in Mexico, Artes de Mexico is available at most museum book shops for about $15US.  In the U.S. you can try….. (working on finding a source – sorry!) Written in Spanish with English translations in the back (don’t worry). Known for its fabulous photograph, these journals of Mexican art and culture has been published since 1953 – (some are now out of print). Other Textiles issues include: Textiles de Oaxaca, and Textiles de Chiapas, and others textile related – China Poblana and La Tehuana (women of the Istmo).

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Textile Shopping in San Cristobal – Chiapas (updated May 2013)

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While you will have many opportunities to buy wonderful textiles in San Cristobal take time to thoroughly research things. Take the opportunity to visit Sergio Castros’ Collection of Regional Costumes (previous post) then you’ll have an over-view of the components of the Chiapas ‘traje’ – chales (shawls), enredos (women’ skirts), blusas and huipiles (blouses or huipiles) to name a few important ones.

Shopping at textile co-ops is the best way to support local weavers while assuring them fair prices for their labors instead of prices set  by a retail shop owners. The following are by no means the only ones in town. Zapatista villages also have co-ops on Guadalupe walking street, but not necessarily focused on textiles. You might find good deals there if your timing is right.

Sna Jolobil – Has relocated to the Santo Domingo Convent, recently restored with the addition of the Museo Textile of Mayan Textiles next door. It’s in a wonderful light and airy building at the entrance, not to be missed. It’s the highest quality textile co-0p in San Cristobal – if you want to see the very best. Sna Jolobil which means ‘the weavers house’ and was founded about 30 years ago by Pedro Meza a Tenejapa weaver and ‘Chip’ Morris who wrote “Living Maya” and currently includes 800 weavers from 20 Tzotzil and Tzeital indigenous communities. Without going into too much detail included are photos of some of the most impressive items in the store. Chamula, Tenejapa, Magdalena, are a few of the communities pictured. Expect the high quality and high prices although be assured you will be getting the BEST. If you are good shopper you may be able to find some of these items in different locations somewhat cheaper, although some items you will only see here.

J’pas Joloviletik – Avenida General Utrilla # 43 Easily overlooked as it’s a pretty low-key  enterprise manned by very shy women. This co-op located on the back side of Santo Domingo Church across the street and inside a blue arched colonial building, has been in operation 26 years and has two rooms of nicely woven goods- from  6 communities:  Pantelho, Chamula, Zinacatan, Huixtlan, Aldama and San Andres L. There is a wide range of items from napkins, table runners, and pillow covers to very nice contemporary  blouses, traditional huipiles, woolen items from Chamula all at competitive prices. Remember shopping at co-ops allows more profit to return to the weavers/embroiders for their intensive labor…motivating women to continue weaving and teaching their daughters the skills, helping keep the traditional Mayan textile culture alive.

Jolom Mayaetik – Calzada de la Escuela 25 on the ‘old road’ to Chamula – up about 1.5 blocks on the right– This co-op has been in business since 1996 and includes 250 women weavers from the highlands of Chiapas. The store is a light filled  room with shelves stacked with textiles located  on a small parcel of land  a short ways up the ‘old’ road to Chamula, which includes a school and meeting center. The place was buzzing with activity when we were there – women delivery goods and the shop ladies’ kids playing on the floor. The focus here is more on ‘domestics’ – nice contemporary designs and colors – pillow covers, decoratively woven and embroidered, napkins, table cloths. There are wearables: bags, shawls, blouses and even irresistible baby clothes. High quality goods with a European flair – (French designers were involved a few years back and their influence is in evidence).

San Cristobal is a wonderful shopping experience that doesn’t quit. The market in front of Santo Domingo is chocked full of stuff . It takes awhile to sort through to find the true bargains and unique items, but worth it. Remember here you are expected to bargain but the co-ops prices are fixed.

Grant from LADAP for Mazahua ‘Rescate Traje’ Project

WONDERFUL  NEWS! Los Amigos de Arte  Popular (LADAP) a Mexican folk art collectors group from the US, has just awarded Living Textiles of Mexico a grant for materials for the Flores Silvestre, a Mazahua revitalization group project in Santa Rosa de Lima, Edo. Mexico.

The materials that will be purchased are indigo and cochineal dyes from the State of Oaxaca. This will facilitate the last stage of their revitalization project to produce 30 traditional wool skirt. If you read a few posts ago, the skirts are woven in 16 foot lengths to produce the wool enredos (circular skirts) woven on a back-strap loom which weigh about 7 lbs when completed.

These natural dyes previously came to the project from north of Mexico City at 300 times the cost of the materials here in Oaxaca. The wool for these skirts is harvested from local sheep, cleaned thoroughly and then sent to Toluca where is it carded and made into a loose ‘roving’.

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It is then hand spun with malecates, the most ancient of spindles, dyed with cochineal, indigo and wild marigolds, then hand woven on traditional back-strap looms. The final skirt in stripes of blue, orange, yellow and red (and sometimes green) is embroidered with tiny white patterns on the top and bottom side of the skirt. A magnificent traditional Mazahua skirt worth preserving.

The Color RED…..Cochineal

Beautiful color RED…..COCHINEAL. What is it?

Here is the short story.

A little bug lives on the nopal cactus and has babies that make a fuzzy cover for protection while they grow into mature adults. After they mate, the males fly away and eventually die, the mother is incubated in a little woven tubes. The babies crawl out and spread on the cactus while mothers then die and become the dye (carmenic acid) after they are dry. Many thousand of dry cochineal bugs make up a pound of dye.

The nopal ‘paddles’ are the host for the cochineal bug and are harvested from the parent cactus and set in dirt as pictured at the Rancho Nopal Cochineal, a cultivation farm in Oaxaca. They can also be suspended on a frame as seen at Bii Dauu rug weavers studio in Teotitlan del Valle.

The cycle takes about 3 months from incubation to full maturity, depending on the warmth of the air and season. Dried cochineal bugs are then ground either on a matate or in a coffee grinder. Different mordents, when added to the yarns or the hot dye bath, create different colors. Limon, an acid, creates a orange color and soda, an alkaline, creates a deeper red.

Cochineal can be seen in several indigenous garments below. A wool skirt from the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle and a quechquemitl (cape) and a striped skirt from a Mazahua village – Santa Rosa de Lima, State of Mexico. Cochineal dyed garments stay vivid for a long while, as seem the bright pink Mazahua gaban (poncho) which is over 130 year old.

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Gallery of Mazahua Week Pics

Read about the Inter-Artisan Exchange between Mazahua and Teotitlan del Valle Weavers…..the last post!

Mazahua Week at Museo Textile Oaxaca – Jan 20 – 24th

At last the Mazahua ladies of Santa Rosa de Lima the Edo de Mexico will be visiting Oaxaca. Specifically they will be staying in the Teotitlan del Valle weaving town in the Valley of Oaxaca. At the Museo Textile de Oaxaca they will be visiting and demonstrating some telar de cinta techniques for finish braids from their brilliant quechquemitles and perhaps the weaving of one their heavy woolen skirts. Because their village project of revitalization is about preserving their traditional traje their visit is about cultural information exchange, specifically natural dyes information, with other indigenous artisans. So we hope  their visit to the Oaxaca Textile Museum and Teotitlan will be interesting for  them as it will be for us. Stay tuned for more details about their adventure in Oaxaca!