Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Los Colores!

A cape with two tasseled ties
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas was the textile work ... on bags, jackets, dresses, table cloths and more ... incredible workmanship and, oh, the colors! I knew I was going to wind up buying something but I knew absolutely nothing about the work.

Once again, the Universe seems to be playing games. The woman I'm renting from told me she had just finished a book (as the photographer) and there was a copy on the table that I could look at. She also gave me the name of a couple of friends that I should contact. I saw the book but didn't pay attention to it until this morning when I was going to contact one of the friends who was the author of the book.

By now, you probably know what's coming ... the book is about the textiles of the region and how they vary from one village to the next and how they've changed over time. I decided to take the book to coffee with me and quickly became enthralled by the stories and the beautiful work. It wasn't until the last village discussed in the book ... Zinacantán ... that I had that OMG! reaction.

The story of how the Zinacantec came to this work was almost as engaging as the work itself.  Their costumes were relatively unadorned prior to 1975. After being introduced to embroidery by a school teacher, they made amazing progress and by the 1990's, their costumes filled with dazzling flowers reflecting the flowers grown in their region.

Part of their custom is for everyone to wear new clothes for each of the two fiestas per year. That was rapidly becoming a lot of handwork for the women. Here's the part I really enjoy as it is a pure innovation story ... the solution came when some women accompanied their husbands on flower-selling trips to Merida, the capitol of the Yucatan. There they discovered sewing machines and quickly adopted the new technology while keeping their own unique sense of style.
What we see in Zinacantán, where the embroidered flowers are so large, the colors so distinctive, and the ever-changing styles repeated en masse, is an intense discussion of color, form, and tradition that is happening everywhere in Highland Chiapas. Each community is creating its own new style with more than a passing glance at their neighbors but with complete disregard for what non-Maya may think is fashionable.  -- A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas by Walter F. Morris Jr. Photos by Alfredo Martinez and Janet Schwartz
 I immediately went to the mercado and started asking vendors if they had work from Zinacantán. This was a challenge for all of us since, for a lot of the vendors, Spanish is also their second language as they speak an indigenous language. Finally however, I was pointed to a tiny woman in a closet-sized stall. I recognized the work I was looking for and touched a wrap that called to me. The woman took it off the hangar and started putting it around my shoulders ... another challenge since she could barely reach that high. I looked at a few more and then bought the one you see above.

Here are some pics from today. I'm sure there will be more about textiles and the stories of the area as the days go on.
Another fiesta and
a view of more textiles.
Bags and more bags.
I want this tablecloth ...
wait a minute ...
I don't have a table!

Maybe these are some of the flowers
that inspire the textiles.  The red one
is probably 9-10" tall!


  1. May I just say, I'm jealous (and loving these posts, since I get to travel with you vicariously).

  2. Maureen ... how I love having you along ... and having such fun things to write about. I thought about you today when I was looking at all these textiles.

    By the way, in case you or anyone else wants to know, I tried the beautiful orange mushrooms and have decided to call them flowers since I'd rather look at them than eat them!

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Viv! I'm so grateful for this opportunity to travel and learn and meet such interesting people. hugs.

  4. Now I don't know if my comment got through... so... I"m reposting this time.

    I'm with Maureen - jealous and also in awe. such a delight to be along on your enchanting travels -- even if only here in cyberland!

    1. Hi Louise ... so fun to be connected even though we're even further away from each other! One day all of us will get together. Many hugs!

  5. So, how much for one of those pretty bags, and what is the handling fee? :-)