Monday morning at 4:30am, I boarded my first flight on my journey to Oaxaca. After connecting in Miami and landing in Mexico City I had 2 hours before my next flight. I aimlessly made my way through customs and immigration and got lost a few times while trying to find my gate. Thankfully, I found Gate 3 and waited for boarding. To my surprise, I had a seat with the extra leg room that I am usually envious of, and on to top of that the seat next to me was empty. In a quick 40 minutes, we landed in Oaxaca.
My next task was getting a taxi to the pickup spot for my residency- the Oaxacan Coffee Company in downtown Oaxaca City. A collectivo dropped me off at the café, and I went inside to enjoy a nutella croissant and an extremely strong cup of coffee. A few hours later, myself and the other artists were picked up and taken to the residency home in San Pablo de Etla outside the city.
The home holds 4 artists at a time, and I am lucky to have 3 lovely ladies to spend the month with. The residency building has breathtaking views of the mountains on one side and the city on the other. By the end of Monday, I was utterly exhausted and retired to my bed and mosquito net for a long night’s sleep. Night has a distinct soundtrack here. Sleep is accompanied noise of dogs, donkeys, roosters without effective internal clocks, and the neighbor’s music. But sometimes, it’s just joined with the sound of rain on the windows and roof- which is a much better sound.
Verb (used with object)
1. to form by interlacing threads, yarns, strands, or strips of some material 2. to form by combining various elements or details into a connected whole
On Tuesday, I had my first lesson with my instructor. Her name is Norma, and she has been weaving almost twice as long as I have been alive. She doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish, but words aren’t required often for this exchange of information.
I do have another artist in the workshop with me, who speaks beautiful Spanish and is happy to help me when necessary. In our first session, we strung counted our first set of warp threads and placed them onto the backstrap loom. This type of weaving requires your entire body. The loom is attached to a wall or post, and there is a strap that is placed around your back to create the tension of the warp.
Before you begin, you have to separate each thread on the wooden rods so that is all evenly spread apart. Norma then had me make what is basically a heddle bar, using only string. We use a wooden machete separate the warp threads and wooden sticks and rods for thread bobbins and width regulation. This process is much slower than the weaving I am used to. The fibers are much more fine, and my back gets tired from holding the loom. We told Norma that she must be very strong from doing this. It feels like a workout. Although the process is slow, it is paying off immediately. The small amount that I wove Tuesday made me so proud.
Wednesday started off with learning how to add designs into your warp. This involves a lot of counting and intricate finger movement. Norma asked me if I was a weaver while I was working, and I was able to show her my thesis piece. She seemed impressed, which made me feel quite humbled. I told her I wanted to learn this new technique and that I was excited because of how mobile it was. She told me I could go to the beach and tie it on a palm tree and weave all day. (great idea Norma)
She taught me how to add columns with string and then we started a corn husk design before class was over.
Learning this technique makes me so impressed with the women that can do this all day and at a rate much quicker than mine. Each string is cared for, counted and moved- and each row is pushed down with the machete. Norma keeps telling me ‘fuerte’ ‘fuerte’- I don’t seem to be using enough force.
Like I said earlier, this is going to make me strong.