Friday, January 27, 2012


I've been in Chiapas for almost a week now. Along with seven girlfriends from my Mexican home in Mazatlan, we arrived last Saturday and have been busy, busy, busy from our very first day. We've had a mix of free exploration throughout the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas and guided tours throughout the surrounding area with our wonderful guide, Alex. ( If I could describe my experience so far, I would say I have been a time traveler into the world of Mayan culture and indigenous Mexico. Textiles and traditional dress are everywhere which is quite a  difference from other areas I have traveled in this amazing country.
Each Mayan village has its own distinctive dress. On our first day we traveled with Alex to the village of Tenejapa which was celebrating its annual feast of their patron, San Idelfonso. Men of political and religious status wore ribboned hats and black dresses woven from sheep hair along with various embellishments and accessories that identified their role. We were surprised to find out this dress was their daily attire, not just to be worn on this day of celebration. (These idigenous people do not like their photo taken as they believe it robs their soul so we had to be careful to only capture their dress from the rear.) The women had beautiful ribbons in their hair and wore village blouses and skirts, along with a wide, stiffly woven belt to help give them support in their daily activities of carrying heavy loads of wood, corn, and other items, not to mention children.
While in Tenejapa, we were allowed into their church while they prepared for their procession throughout town that honored San Idelfonso and other regional patrons. We were the only "gringos" there and Alex knew enough of the locals so that we didn't feel unwelcomed at all. It was a social setting with people chatting while they waited for the church officials to prepare the statues of the patron saints to be carried throughout town. Men would come to talk to Alex and the women would gather close by to curiously eavesdrop and watch us. As Alex described the role of the healer to us, the women watched his gestures and nodded, laughed, or whispered among themselves, and as time passed, smiled warmly to us. Once the procession began, the local distilled drink of pox (pronounced poash), carried in bottles by the women, began flowing throughout the crowd, even to us. Men wore a steer-horn vessel and a funnel around their waist that held any pox that they wanted to save until later. We spent about a half hour inside the incense filled church and were happy to follow the procession outdoors, into the fresh air, throughout the town. This was an amazing event that left a strong impression on all of us.
Later that afternoon in San Cristobal, we visited the museum of Dr. Sergio Castro who has devoted his life to serving the indigenous Mayan people in Chiapas. (Of the 5,000,000 people who live in this state, 1.5 are indigenous.) He personally greeted us and led us through his incredible collection of the traditional dress of individual communities, showing us examples of what both men and women still wear to this day. His medical work is renowned and well respected throughout the state and an award winning documentary has been made of the work of this amazing man. (

The following day we traveled to the village of Amantenango where we visited two sisters who create brightly painted pottery.They too wore dress that  is specific to their Mayan village.

Another interesting visit was to Na Bolom (house of the jaguar), the home and center of Frans Blom and Gertrude Duby Blom who devoted their lives and studies to the Chiapas jungle and the Lacondones people who live their. Franz began his connections with this area in the 1920's, while Gertrude came a decade or so later, and they met in the mid 1940's. They too had an amazing collection of artifacts, including many textiles from the area. (
 Cooperatives from surrounding villages are located throughout San Cristobal. On days when we're not touring with Alex, we make our way through town, visiting these shops that feature the textile work of women from individual villages.

As we wander through the streets of San Cristobal, we are starting to connect the local traditional women to their villages by the dress they wear. (Outside of their local villages, few men wear traditional dress.) We have just touched upon a tiny portion of this amazing state and look forward to six more days in Chiapas.

Friday, January 20, 2012


We’ve had lots of fun in my studio this month. I love the camaraderie of my Mazatlan friends who happen to be enamored with the dyeing process as much as I am. We gather together twice a week and dye our little hearts out. AND lots of fabric.

My friends come from Canada or the US and some now live here full time. After I give my little “shpeal” to any newbies, we fill the day with happy chatter, laughter, and ideas. When something is taken out of the dyebath, all attention goes to the sink, which is then followed by oohs and ahhhs. My Toronto friend, Rosemary, is now in her 4th year visiting my studio (she created the beautiful pelican piece last year), and every week returns with the same fabric for overdyes, discharging and making changes…and if it’s not up to her satisfaction, we’ll see the same pieces for more treatments the next time. Linda, newly returned to Mazatlan after a two year break, is creating a piece to partner with the fictional story she is writing about a  young woman in the circus. Finally, after 3 tries, she achieved the perfect RED for the background.
 Sharon, a full time Mazatlecan, brought an enormous bag of lovely whites and is having a great time giving them a facelift. BC (there’s a story with that name!) and Kathy are also producing  some fantastic “revived” outfits, while Rosemary #2 (oh, that was a confusing day!) has sampled the process and is anxious to return! What fun we have and we’re learning so much from each other!

Now I’m taking a two week break for a vacation to Chiapas with friends. Textiles will be a highlight for me, along with the amazing Mexican culture that I love so much! And let’s not forget to mention the camaraderie of being with a great group of women! Life is good!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I received an email from Christine the other day with an interesting pdf file called “Gallon Bucket Dyeing” by Terri Stegmiller. The idea behind it was to dye many fat quarters with different colors in a large bucket. I forwarded it on to a few of my dyeing friends, and when they showed up at my house the next day to play in the studio, they all were keen to try it. So we took the plunge into “gallon bucket dyeing”.

I gathered up 10 white cotton fat quarters and decided to use them dry rather than to pre-wet them as I usually do. In my 1.5 gallon plastic container, I poured one cup of soda ash, set an oddly folded fat quarter in the solution, then topped it off with a three-quarter cup solution of a teaspoon of deep yellow concentrate and soda ash. Next I threw on another piece of cotton and poured a similar quantity solution of a teaspoon of Chinese red and soda ash on top, being careful not to agitate any of this. I continued this layering of cotton and dye solution (adding navy and black to the colors I was using) until I had completed a 10 layer bath of what now looked like very muddy water. I was not very hopeful.

The directions I received over the internet said to let it sit overnight, but patience is not one of my virtues. I wanted to give it just a tiny bit of movement to get the colors to mix, so I set a yogurt tub of water on top of the whole thing to add a bit of weight. I thought three hours was enough processing time so rinsed them then.

The results were amazing. I’d say 7 out of 10 pieces were fabulous blends of the four different colors I used and the others are certainly usable in my projects, or perhaps for overdyes. Isn't it hard to imagine all of the above fabrics coming from one dyebath?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sometimes you just have to let go of things that don't work any more.
I've carried these threads around for over ten years. AND I remember buying many of them at a closeout sale in Fairbanks...probably because they were already past their time. They are shiny threads that look great whenever I use them, but break every three minutes or so during the sewing process. It was a New Year's moment, during another thread-break, that I told myself to let them go.
I put them in the plastic bag that has been their home for many years and was ready to toss them in the trash, when I thought of a friend who is looking to build up her stash. So I offered them to her (with full disclosure, of course!). She was happy to take them, but I'm not sure it was a kind gesture on my part.
Like life patterns that don't serve us well, there comes a time to let these things go. Good-by shiny threads!