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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Textile buying in Oaxaca

Now that I'm home with all my textiles, I thought I'd share my tips on shopping for them in Oaxaca and some of the surrounding villages – particularly for those of you visiting for a limited time and wanting to make the most of it. I make no claims to being an expert and I'm sure there are many shops I will have missed. The following is only based on my experience and preferences. All addresses are listed at the end of the post.

For the absolute best quality weaving, and some truly beautiful pieces you should visit Los Baúles de Juana Cata – owned by local textile legend Remigio Mestas Revilla. Remigio has been an advocate for the local weaving industry for over thirty years and the store is a selection of pieces from the weavers he supports. Most of the textiles are very traditional in shape – scarves, wraps, huipils and belts – but you will find a number in more contemporary colours. I'd say almost all use natural dyes. Be prepared to pay though. I'm by no means travelling on a strict budget, but I baulk at paying the prices here. The small handwoven scarves start at about 1,900 pesos (approx $160 AUD). I've thought about this a bit, as I have indeed paid more for collection pieces in the past, so I wasn't sure why I wasn't prepared to here. I think it's mostly the colour palette. Lots of earthy, muted, dusty tones... Not really my thing.
Next is the Oaxaca Textile Museum gift shop. It's apparently also curated by Remigio Mestas Revilla. It has a smaller, but much more diverse range, still of exceptional quality. Everything from embroidered children's tops, woven scarves, wool embroidered jackets, cushion covers and even skeins of hand-dyed cotton and wool. The stock changes frequently though, so if you see something you love, buy it.

Then there are the artisans collectives. There are a number throughout the central district, but the three I found to have the most diverse and best quality ranges were Aripo, Casa de as Artesanias de Oaxaca and Huizache. The idea is that artisans can sell their products here for a much fairer price, but I can't guarantee that all of the 'houses of artisans' operate this way. Most are arranged by room, so you'll have one for wool-woven rugs, cushion covers, bags etc; a room for cotton-woven tablecloths, napkins, cushion covers, curtains etc; and one with embroidered blouses, huipils (the traditional box-like tops), shirts, dresses.

Along with the textiles there will usually be rooms dedicated to alebrijes (Mexican folk art of brightly painted wooden creatures), tin work (mirrors, decorative pieces, jewellery boxes) and the black pottery Oaxaca is famous for. These stores are definitely aimed at a tourist market. The quality is good and the prices are reasonable.
Left to right: Aripo, Casa de as Artesanias de Oaxaca and Huizache
Next is the textile market – or more correctly – Mercado de Artesanias. It open every day, although mid-afternoon is the best time to go, but Sunday is the day with the least number of stalls open. I'm not totally sure where the stock for these markets comes from. There are certainly pieces from all over Mexico, not just Oaxaca – for example there are a number of stalls selling only Otomi embroidered work. There are also pieces that are definitely machine-embroidered rather than hand done and a number of stalls that seem to have pieces that are more mass-produced. Having said that, many of the stall holders say they have made their merchandise themselves (or their families or communities have). I bought most of my gifts in here and I'm very happy with the quality of the pieces. Do note that you will likely get a little harassed in here by the stall holders and a number are happy to bargain, though not all.
Along with all the traditional textiles, there are several designers with stores in Oaxaca, who are taking the traditional techniques and updating them either with more modern colours, interesting styles, or more wearable shapes. My favourite of these was Sylvia Suarez, who happened to be related to my embroidery tutor. She had some great pieces and her stock changed quite frequently while I was in town. Another couple worth visiting are Juan Manuel Bautista and miku meko.
Silvia Suarez
If you're interested in the very lavish embroidery of the traditional Oaxacan fiesta costumes, then the Etnico stores are worth a visit. There are at least three in central Oaxaca. They do the huipils, skirts, table runners and cushions, all with the floral embroidery in a variety of colours.

Last, but not least, getting out into the villages. This is really where you can get into the makers own stores (homes) and ensure the money is getting directly to the craftspeople. One word on this however, as you drive into Teotitlan del Valle (or especially if you go there on a tour) there are a couple of large rug houses on the way in. Many of these hire out piecework to locals who are not paid nearly as much as if you buy from them directly. If in doubt, get advice from the textile museum before you go. Another alternative is to do an En Via tour. Contact them before signing up so you can organise to go on a day they are visiting a weaving family. Teotitlan del Valle is the village known for its treadle-loom woven rugs.

If you're interested in pieces woven on the backstrap loom, you'll find many huipils in the stores that are done with a single colour warp and weft, then using different coloured threads as supplementary wefts to make patterns. The Navarro Gomez family, based in Santo Tomas Jalieza use a different technique where a number of coloured warp threads are used with a contrasting weft to make the patterns. See here for more detail. You can visit the family and if you're lucky enough you'll get a weaving demonstration along with being able to buy products from a fairly extensive selection. Santo Tomas is on the way to Ocotlan – see details in the next paragraph – you'd then catch a moto-taxi (tuk tuk) to the house.
From left to right: Embroidered blouse from San Antonino Castillo Velasco; huipil woven on a backstrap loom with supplementary weft; cochineal-dyed wool-woven rug from Teotitlan del Valle.
San Antonino Castillo Velasco is the village famous for its embroidered blouses – the ones you'd think of as the typical Mexican blouses. You can get to the town by bus that leaves from the Automorsa station on Bustemante. You want the Ocotlan bus, and when you get there, you can either catch a moto-taxi or walk (roughly 2kms), which I did both times I visited. The main market day here is Sunday (according to a local and despite what other websites say) and there are usually a small number of stalls selling the embroidered blouses. There are also two main stores for purchasing these – both named Artesanias Viki. They are owned by the grandmother and the aunt of Miriam my embroidery tutor (she was embroidery royalty I suspect!). Again, the prices here are not cheap, but the quality is exceptional and it's worth noting that it can often take months to complete a single detailed blouse. The traditional blouse is white with the brightly coloured stitching, although some women specialise in the single-colour stitching. The white on white dresses are known as Oaxacan wedding dresses (unsurprisingly).

And what about buying in a general market in Oaxaca or from someone selling on the street? Yes, you're likely to pay a lot less (I'm talking stupidly cheap), but there's no way of vouching for the quality, especially with the embroidery threads. Some of the threads we've been working with here aren't the best quality and the colours really do run when put in warm water. Not great when you've purchased a bright, beautifully stitched white blouse that ends up a dyed mess. This might not always be the case though and the stall holder just may not have access to another venue to sell their wares. If you have a discerning eye and see a piece you like, then I'd probably risk it.
And, above all, have fun! There are so many amazing textiles to see everywhere you look, along with expert makers who take real pride in what they do and the tradition they're continuing.

Aripo – Garcia Vigil 809
Artesanias "Viki" – Libertad No. 1, San Antonino Castillo Velasco and the main shopfront is on Av Castillo Velasco on the right hand side, second block in, if you're walking from the main road into Ocotlan (Puerto Angel)
Casa de as Artesanias de Oaxaca – Matamoros 105
Etnico – M. Alcala 206-H. They also have a website
Juan Manuel Bautista – SHOWROOM Alcalá Nº 505. BOUTIQUE Alcalá Nº 201 Int. 103. Also on Facebook
Los Baúles de Juana Cata – This shop is in a small courtyard centre – Oaxaca Casa Vieja – on Calle M. Alcalá, right in the centre of town.
miku meko – Allende 207 and also on Facebook
Museo Textil de Oaxaca – Exconvento de San Pablo Hidalgo 917 esquina con Fiallo.
Navarro Gomez family – Benito Juárez No. 42, Santo Tomas Jalieza
Sylvia Suarez – A Gurrión 110, Centro, www.silviasuarez.com
Huizache – Corner of 101 Murguia and M Alcalá, also on Facebook


  1. Thank you for posting this information! It's much appreciated.

  2. Thank you for your time explaining the details.
    The photos are great! I feel as if I was walking in front of the shops.

  3. thank you so much for this post! i'm in oaxaca in search of a huipil backpack and the information you've posted is so helpful! it makes me want to visit all the villages but alas i only have one more day here.

    1. You're very welcome. I know what it's like when you only have a limited time in a location, so I'm glad it was helpful.

  4. Hi Tara, this is great I want to go to Oaxaca probably around December . I am a fashion designer and will love to use the embroideries and techniques in some of my designs. How much time do you think I need to be there and
    explore and meet with people that can help me with this.

  5. Wow! This is such a thorough and thoughtful offering! Amazing.