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).
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 loomwhich 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’.
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.
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.
“Mazahua Week’ at the Museo Textile Oaxaca was very dynamic time for Regina Torres, revitalization project coordinator for the Santa Rosa de Lima, Edo.Mexico. Besides a full schedule of presentations, demonstrations and teaching a small workshop at the museum, she also visited the Bii Dauu weaving co-op in Teotitlan del Valle, several times. While sharing natural dye recipes and weaving methods she also brought her spectacular wool skirt enredo and quechquemitl (cape like top). The skirt alone weighs 7 lbs. and is 16 feet long. These garments are made with hand-spun wool yarn, naturally dyed with indigo, cochineal, and wild marigold, woven on a telar de cinta (back-strap loom)and finished with fine wool embroidery, taking almost a year to produce.
Several young Bii Dauu Co-op member tried on the costume apparently enjoy its warm thermal quality. Santa Rosa de Lima lies at 9000 feet above sea-level so it’s climate is very different than warm Oaxaca. Regina’s visited the Bii Dauu Co-op’s huerta (country plot) where they are growing the dye plants and mordents crucial for the natural dye processes they use on wools yarns for their beautiful carpets.