Traditions of Slow Clothing in Central Mexico

This is a guest post on slow clothing by author and textile collector Sheri Brautigam.

The concept of slow clothing – hand-made artisan clothing – has been a reality for most of the world until very recently. Commercial goods either weren’t available or too expensive for people in developing countries to buy, so making your own garments from cloth you had woven, or even further back, animal skin you had scraped and cured was the norm.

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Natural Dyers Gather around the Dyepot. Photo Credit Sheri Brautigam

Has it become a buzz word now because we have become aware of the realities of sweat shops in Asia, employing mostly women, who work long hours under wretched conditions to be paid very little per piece they construct? All this so we can buy a dress for $19.99? Our American culture has the luxury of asking these questions because we have options. But the real question is: Are we willing to pay a fair wage to someone to construct our clothing and are we willing to wear it day in and day out like most of the world?

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Mazahua women in Naturally Dyed Quechquemitl Capes. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

Either it was pure luck or my destiny to end up in an area of central Mexico with spectacularly dressed Mazahua indigenous women, who appeared at the market and on special religious holiday occasions. After several such encounters I decided to find out who they were and found my way out to their little town. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to experience ‘REAL slow clothing’. Were these brightly dyed handwoven embroidered garments for sale? I was told they were very difficult to make and probably weren’t for sale, but there was a revival project going on to teach some of the techniques necessary to make the elaborate and heavy costume.

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Regina being tied into her skirt. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

This visit turned into a several month documentation of a very old ‘traje’/costume made of hand spun wool, which was then dyed with natural indigo, cochineal, and wild marigolds. The skirt length was easily 3 yards long, woven on a back-strap loom and weighed close to 15 lbs. The top was a small poncho type caplet called a ‘quechquemitl’ – very unique to central Mexico but with antecedents way back to pre-Columbian times. The Mazahua ladies were on the verge of losing the skills necessary to make these ‘trajes’ which are an important part of their cultural identity but worn now mainly for their ceremonies and festivals.

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Spinner using a drop spindle to process wool. Photo Credit Sheri Brautigam

The story goes, that a young Mazahua girl, in order to take her place in the community as a woman/adult, needed to hand-spin the wool for her traditional ‘traje’. This probably took a bit of time as the two pieces weigh close to 15 lbs. She didn’t necessarily need to know how to weave but needed to promise something in return ‘treque’ /exchange- some thing she could do or had, perhaps (chickens?) to trade the woman weaver. Then it needed to be sewn together and embroidered on the edges. Perhaps her grandmother did that for her. After all it was 18 feet and had to be finished at each end. A ‘traje’ went through ‘mucho manos’/many hands and usually took at least a year to make.

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Weaver using a back-strap loom to weave skirt panel. Two panels of this size will be sewn together to create the full skirt. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

Today very few young girls are drawn to learning the skills to make this costume, so they borrow their relatives older pieces for the fiestas. Sadly there is acrylic knock-off material that mimics the fine stripes and colors of the heavier hand woven skirts. It’s now popular and the go-to material if you need a skirt as they are so much lighter to wear and so affordable.

Will REALLY slow clothing survive in this Mexican Mazahua village? There will be a semblance of the highly complex and laborious costume because after all this is how they identify themselves and their community from other Mazahua.

 A years worth of labor passing through many hands to make one spectacular costume!

REALLY slow clothing. Would you be willing to pay to have them made?

Sheri Brautigam is a collector, and documenter of traditional textiles of Mexico. She was training Mexican English teachers when she first started following her textile passion and visiting many famous Fiestas, artisan fairs and markets all over Mexico.

cover-webShe has just published: “Textile Fiestas of Mexico – a travelers guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping” – THRUMS – available on Amazon.

Visit her blog to learn more about slow clothes and Mexican Textiles: 

 http://livingtextilesofmexico.wordpress.com

Etsy Shop for collector textiles:

www.etsy.com/shop/livingtextiles

Profiles: 3 WARP Members Helping Artisans Reach IFAM

by Mary Anne Wise 

Carmen Garcia Maldonado at IFAM in 2015, posing with 2 artisans from Niger.
Carmen Garcia Maldonado, center, poses with artisans from Niger at 2015 IFAM. Photo by Mary Anne Wise.

The occasion of the WARP annual meeting at the International Folk Art Market is an opportunity to examine the organization’s mission in action. This blog introduces you to 3 WARP members who help IFAM artisans access opportunities. If you work with global artisans and have wondered about participating in the IFAM, I encourage you to seek out the 3 members listed here to learn about their path to Santa Fe.

In addition, I’m seeking information about other WARP members who assist global artisans access the extraordinary IFAM opportunities. Please reach out to me, Mary Anne Wise, or the WARP administrator! Let us know about your work: we’re a small group and sharing knowledge and networks can benefit all of us.

Guatemala: https://www.folkartalliance.org/artist/glendy-emiliana-muj-mendoza-de-barreno/

Assisting WARP Members: Jody Slocum & Mary Anne Wise of Cultural Cloth (www.culturalcloth.com)

Participating IFAM Artist: Yessicka Calgua Morales will represent the rug hookers of the Cooperativa de Alfombras de Mujeres Maya en Guatemala. The Cooperativa is returning to the Market for it’s third year.  Rug hooking was introduced to a group of Maya artisans in 2009 by Cultural Cloth partners Jody Slocum and Mary Anne Wise as a way to access income earning opportunities. The women design and hook one of a kind rugs using patterns extracted from their traje (traditional clothing) or Semana Santa alfombras (street rugs created for Holy Week). Recognized for their innovation and artistry, the women’s hooked rugs have enjoyed international acclaim (including being short listed as 1 of 15 finalists in the Aspen Institute’s Alliance for Artisan Enterprise’s 2015 global competition). To learn more about the Maya women’s path to the IFAM, find Mary Anne Wise or Jody Slocum at the WARP meeting or in the rug hookers booth during the market.

Kbira Aglaou of the Association Timnay, Morocco
Kbira Aglaou of the Association Timnay, Morocco

Morocco: https://www.folkartalliance.org/artist/kbira-aglaou/

Assisting WARP Member: Susan Schaefer Davis of Marrakesh Express

Participating IFAM Artist: Kbira Aglaou will represent the Association Timnay of Morocco for their first market experience. The Association’s weavers create rugs that an “essential part of life using designs that are passed down from one generation to the next”. It’s the first market for the Association, but not for WARP member Susan Schaefer Davis who has assisted weavers in two Moroccan villages since 2001, selling their work pro bono through her online site, and organizing  cultural and textile tours to Morocco as well as helping many IFAM artists from Morocco at previous markets.  To learn more about Kbira’s path to the IFAM, find Susan Schaefer Davis at the WARP meeting or in the Association Timnay’s booth during the market.

Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez Eulogia Quispe Huaman
Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez

Peru: https://www.folkartalliance.org/artist/nilda-callanaupa-alvarez-and-lidia-callanaupa-alvarez/

Assisting WARP Member: Marilyn Murphy of Cloth Roads

Participating IFAM Artists:  Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez and Eulogia Quispe Huaman. Nilda is founder and director of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC). Nilda has participated in each Market since 2005. She has been recognized by the Aspen Institute’s Alliance of Artisan Enterprise Hero Award, hosted two international weaving conferences with a third conference scheduled for 2017. Marilyn Murphy of ClothRoads serves on the Board of Andean Textile Arts, a U.S. non profit dedicated to supporting the people and communities of the Andes to preserve their textile traditions. Through her participation with Andean Textile Arts, Marilyn works directly with CTTC including co-curator of the exhibit, Weaving Lives: Transforming Textile Traditions in the Peruvian Highlands at the Avenir Museum of Colorado State University in 2013.

To learn about Nilda’s path to the IFAM, speak with Nilda at her booth at the IFAM, or connect with Marilyn who will present a discussion about her work at the WARP annual meeting.

I look forward to meeting you at our 2016 Annual Meeting in Santa Fe.  You can find me at Cultural Cloth.