I just returned from an amazing Arts and Crafts tour of Oaxaca, Mexico! 
Several months ago I signed up for my first Ace Travel Camp and let me tell you, I hope its not my last! I've never been a huge fan of group activities or group trips (unless its a group of my bestest of friends). But, when traveling to a new territory to learn arts and crafts and source for my shop, I opened my mind a bit and hopped on this opportunity. The itinerary looked amazing; weaving, printmaking, textiles, mezcal, markets, and so much more!

This was my first trip to Mexico and of course I fit RIGHT in. 
Day One: we hit the ground running to our Back Strap Weaving workshop with a native named Norma. Norma was a very patient lady.
Back strap weaving is literally weaving with a loom strapped to your back and then tied off to something stable that doesn't move, in my case, I was tied off to a column to the cultural center we were at.

Brandy backstrap weaving

Getting the tapestry started was pretty tricky. But, if you have ever worked on a loom, you know that if you don't do the steps right, the weave wont "take" and it will fall out. After a LOT of trial and error, I finally caught on and got the hang of it. 

Colorful yarns for weaving

Of course I was loving ALL the colorful yarns! I didn't really have a color story, or a color pattern, or a plan for my project as it was the first time I have ever attempted this type of craft. I just randomly chose colors as one ran out, I guessed on what would look good next. Below is my finished project!

My finished tapestry

The blue pieces in the center are embellishments that were a little tricky for me to grasp the concept of... I love how the ones on the left are symmetrical and then they kind of fall off and look like a kindergartener took ahold fo the project. I would definitely attempt this again and have higher hopes for myself now that I have the basics under my belt. 

Entrance to the alibrijes workshop

Mural at alibrejes workshop

Day Two: Started with a tour of the art studio workshop of Jacobo & Maria Angeles. Here we learned about alebrijes which are Mexican folk art statues made from copal and hand painted with mostly natural dyes and some synthetic pigments. 

Natural dyes pigments and materials

The alebrijes and the process were great to learn about. But, lets talk about this studi/workshop/showroom! It was so cool! Most of it was open and exposed to the elements, lots of trees, plants, an outdoor kitchen where meals are prepared for staff, several work areas, and a couple of show rooms with completed work. At least that is all we saw, the whole complex was quite large. Very inspirational. I wish we could open up our workspace and shop to have more natural air flow. I presume it works in Mexico because this particular area does't have the seasons we have in Arkansas. 
Found this weather info on www.oaxacaeatsfoodtours.com : " At 5100 feet above sea level and surrounded by multiple mountain valleys, Oaxaca’s consistently mild, breezy, and sunny climate is due in large part to its prime location in the “high desert” of the beautiful Sierra Madre Mountains."

Large scale alebrijes

Any who, the alibrejes were 
beautiful and I made it home with a rabbit to add to my collection of rabbit figurines. Rabbits have been my spirit animal since I was a child. Spoiler alert, more bunnies below.

Miriam, her mom, and brandy

From here we stopped by a dress shop owned and run by Miriam and her family. Of course I was overwhelmed by the shelves and racks upon shelves and racks of dresses and tops that had been handmade and hand embroidered by Miriams family/artisans. I got serious and dove in and came out with a brand new top and a new dress. 

After a stop for lunch we visited the craft village of San Bartolo to see the black clay pottery. 
Like any handicraft, there are a lot of places to choose from when purchasing. This small town was full of black clay shops. We stopped at workshop of Dona Rosa which seemed to be one of the first artisans to make black clay pottery. She was definitely the first artisan to figure out how to make the black clay pottery shiny. I haven't researched this further from what I learned on the trip and I look forward to learning more about the black clay workshops.

The beginning of my project. The Bunny sketched out.

Day Three: This might have been my favorite day! We visited the workshop of Taller La Chicharra to learn print making. We started with a demo and some instruction then got straight to work. First we had to come up with something to carve. I decided to draw a bunny on my board. I was torn between a sun, a moon, or an eye... but I am on a HUGE folk art kick so I thought I might be best at executing the rabbit. We drew our subject straight on the MDF board that we carved. Carving was somewhat easy, but also easy to mess up if you used too much pressure. I was very comfortable with my large drawing with not much  detail! One of the guys that works at the workshop was sitting next to me and he had the most detailed board with all these tiny lines -- it was quite impressive! I have a whole new appreciation for this art. Not only do you have to be able to draw and carve your design, you have to have skills and patience when printing. We were limited to one color when printing, which was totally fine! To print multiple colors you have to let the base colors dry and we didn't have time as it takes a day to fully dry. I am very pleased with the outcome of my project! 

The owner of the shop said if you want to really learn and practice, to give yourself a week and immerse yourself in the craft. The studio does offer week long workshops if any one is interested!

The printing process

The finished project.

Day Four: Was a day for us to explore on our own. I spent the day with my friend Michelle and my new friend Lydia. We started at the Botanical Garden with a tour in Spanish. I dont speak much Spanish by my amigas do so we opted for that tour since it was the easiest to get in as they are limiting the number of folks due to Covid restrictions still. 

Brandy in front of tall cacti

Statue and pond at botanical garden

After our tour we shopped and shopped and shopped. There are no shortages of markets in Oaxaca City. There is the Benito Juarez Market, the 20 de Noviembre Market, the Artesenal Market, all the street vendors on every plaza around the city! So many little gems everywhere you look! Then there are the shops; tons of cute little shops from tiendas to boutiques to vintage shops. It was literally overwhelming to know when to buy what to get the best pricing. I was able to bring back a bunch of garlands, pom poms, tassels, ceramic skull boxes, and a few other goodies that will be out on for sale in the shop this week!

Umbrellas hanging in Oaxaca

We headed back to our hotel at 2 p.m. for an embroidery workshop by our new friend Miriam. She brought all the supplies and taught us hot to embroider a napkin. To speed things up for myself, I let Miriam sketch the flower patter on my napkin for me. I knew if it was up to me, I would overthink it and take way too long to figure out what flowers to draw. She she graciously drew the flowers for me then taught me the stitches. I found this to be easier than I expected! I can't wait to jump back on my project in my down time. Small embroidery projects are nice because you can bag your project up and it can travel with you easily! 

Brandy embroidering

Day Five: This is our last full day of exploring Oaxaca! We started the day visiting the Cruz family weaving workshop in the Teotitlan del Valle.
The Teotitlan de Valle is world renowned for its colorful hand woven rugs and naturally dyed textiles. As we drove in to the village, there were SO many rug shops and weaving workshops. 

Casa Cruz is run by the Cruz family, it is a 2nd generation weaving workshop started by Fidel and Maria Luisa and their sons. It is only 2nd generation because Fidel stated the business and was not supported by his family. Having not much money for dyes and supplies he turned to the land and learned how to dye using natural materials. 

Tarragon yarns being dyed

Indigo yarnd being dyed

The Loom

We got a lesson and demonstration on natural dying and what natural materials, bugs, etc make what colors when processed for dying. 
I loved everything about this stop. Ive dabbled in dying with natural materials and found it a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to learn. 
I did not come away with a rug, BUT, I did buy 5 skeins of Maria Luisas beautiful wool yarns! I think I am going to make some epic pom poms and tassels. Or I might just hang them on the wall in my office for inspiration. Either way, they are gorgeous and the perfect souvenir of this beautiful workshop. 

Flowers made by Dona Viviana for larger pilar candles

Finished Dona Viviana candle

Next stop for the day was to visit the workshop of Dona Viviana Alavez who is a 74 year old candle make from the  Teotitlán del Valle. Dona Viviana learned the art from her Grandmother. The candles were originally made for the church but are now also made for other special occasions and to fill their small gift shop. Once again, inspired by how the craft was passed down from generation to generation and how most of her craft is done outdoors, on a dirt floor, in the elements.

Market flags
We made a quick stop for lunch then on to our last market of the trip. The Tlacolula Sunday market was full of vendors. Everything from live chickens, veggies, and fresh tortillas to clothing essentials to all sorts of handicrafts. I found lots of pom poms, pouches, and a rug dealer that I hope to work with in the new year to bring back some fabulous rugs for the shop. 

I wasn't feeling too good on this day and didn't realize how poorly I actually felt, so I didn't do as much buying on this trip as I hoped for... Due to getting sick, I will have to discuss the food on another day. I am feeling better but whatever bug got me, is making me not want to think about all the food I ate last week. But, I have to get over it because I practically live on beans and corn tortillas in my real life. 

This trip was fantastic and I can't possibly recommend an ACE Travel Camp more. This is not a sponsored post : ) I just highly recommend the organized trip if you want to dive in to a culture in a far away land. 

We have all the goodies I purchased on this trip out for sale in the shop. They wont make it to the online store but, we are happy to send pictures and ship items if you are interested. Check our our instagram for more details later today.

Have you been to Oaxaca? I'd love to hear your stories. 
November 18, 2022 — Brandy McNair

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