A Wooly Mexican Rainbow

natural dyes indigo cochineal marigold wool

antigua guatemala color

chichicastenango guatemala cemetery colors


For three weeks mom and I worked our way from Guatemala City to Mexico City by bus on a textile-focused exploration/my second buying trip. Success! We had an amazing time and mom was truly stunned by both countries. Going through photos out here in sleepy Pavones, Costa Rica I’m finally able to recount the trip.

Of all the markets we visited the Sunday market in Chamula left the strongest impression. We were dropped off in the Chiapas mountain town at one end of the long main road and ambled past vendors selling everything from grilled elotes to sheep wool skirts dyed in river mud. I opted for the sheep wool tunic which I learned later is strictly for the caballeros. Pictures were hard to take here because they are basically not allowed—the locals find it incredibly annoying and who can blame them? I kept my camera tucked away but snuck one shot on my way to buy an empanada.


chamula chiapas mexico sheepswool


The religious ceremony happening outside the church, and later the ten minutes I spent inside the church, were perhaps the moments I remember most about Chamula and possibly the whole trip. The ceremony outside the church was this amazing mix of Catholic and indigenous rituals. Men carried large wooden boxes holding saints above their shoulders while others held up clay goblet-like things filled with burning incense. The steady drum beat maintained the background while groups of men flocked off to the side and poured shots of homemade liquor from beer bottles corked with corn husks. I had a feeling watching this that being a man in Chamula was probably more fun. I suppose that’s hardly a revelation. Inside the church it was all drippy candle wax, pungently fresh pine needles scattering the floor, adorned saints along every wall and lots and lots of beautful prayer in tzotzil, the Mayan indigenous language of the region. We took it in for a few of minutes and mom told me about some of the saints. Then we left.


natural dyes indigo cochineal marigold

chiapas san cristobal mexico flavors


While in Oaxaca we had the pleasure of many things but two stand out: the mole and the natural dyeing class we took taught by Elsa Sanchez Diaz and organized by Norma Schafer of the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog. Just meeting both of these women really made my trip. Elsa was the coolest teacher, so down to earth, smart and totally calm and in control. Even when we went off on tangents talking, things were getting done; wool was changing color from fustic yellow to a deep forest green. The two days we spent on Elsa’s gorgeous balcony overlooking Oaxaca mixing dyes were so peaceful and inspiring. We crushed tiny dried silver cochineal insects to a fine blood-colored powder. We threw a bouquet of dried marigolds into a pot on the stove and basically ignored it until it turned our yarn a sweet pale yellow. Fustic, pomegranates, marigolds, indigo, pecans and cochineal made up our yarn rainbow.


oaxaca mexico natural dye class norma share

natural dyes oaxaca cochineal


We met Norma a few days later on a rainy afternoon in Teotitlán del Valle. By the time we made it to the small town some 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca something happened that I didn’t think was possible. We were shopped out and heading to a town of wool rug weavers selling out of their studios. Fortunately Norma met us for a long lunch and then invited us over to her magical—that is the only way to describe it—home up the hill outside Teotitlán. There I got to indulge in one of my favorite activities since childhood. I got to peak inside her home where she showed me gorgeous textiles collected over years of travel. I’ve always had a fascination with looking into other people’s spaces and Norma’s is warm and full of gorgeous Mexican art. We sat at her dining table and drank tea, switched to mezcal and talked about life. It was the perfect afternoon in Teotitlán. I’ll be back for the rugs another time.


san cristobal chiapas mexico green

natural dyes cochineal indigo

oaxaca mexico culture dance


My impressions from our trip are unending and writing down a few brings back even more. But there’s another that sums up Mexico for me. It happened on our last night in Oaxaca towards the end of our trip. It was late and we were hungry and probably grumpy. It was raining too. We stumbled into a restaurant on a street of fancy restaurants but this one was old, simple and totally empty. We sat alone in the dining room and I ordered my last mole. Seconds later we heard giggles and saw the fluttering of brightly colored skirts on the most beautiful young ladies. A dance troop was having their hair and makeup done in the room adjacent to us. They were taking turns getting flowers spun into their braids and putting on the final pieces of jewelry. They immediately cheered us up because their smiles were intoxicating and they were just so in-the-moment.


oaxaca mexico dance street celebration


We felt better and we left, walking two blocks towards the cathedral. Then we heard it. This haunting, vaguely creepy and totally enchanting music from around the corner. There, in the middle of the street, was the farewell to a wedding party headed off to their reception. The wedding party left but this absolute show continued full force to entertain its audience. A comical bride and groom on stilts swayed to the music while women with baskets of fruit on their head spun to the sounds of horns, drums, fireworks and tambourines. We stood and watched in the rain and it was so overwhelmingly perfect.


natural dyes oaxaca marigold

2 Responses to A Wooly Mexican Rainbow

  1. Uncle Mike Dahlberg Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    So well written and a joy to read.


  1. Travel for Texture and Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop | Oaxaca Cultural Navigator : Norma Schafer - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

    […] a textile designer from Washington, D.C. and writes the blog Travel for Texture.  Here is her post A Wooly Mexican Rainbow about the workshop experience, as well as her travels through Guatemala and southern […]

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