Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler's Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping

Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler's Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping

by Sheri Brautigam


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996447584
Publisher: Thrums Books
Publication date: 10/01/2016
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 574,885
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Sheri Brautigam has worked as a textile designer in San Francisco, as an English Language Fellow for the US Embassy in Mexico, and as a serious collector and purveyor of fine indigenous textiles from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. She sells collector-quality textiles through her online shop, Living Textiles of Mexico, and writes a blog, www.livingtextilesofmexico/wordpress.com

Read an Excerpt

Textile Fiestas of Mexico

A Traveler's Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping

By Sheri Brautigam, Karen Brock

Thrums Books

Copyright © 2016 Sheri Brautigam
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9972168-1-3


Festivals and Fairs

Fiestas y Ferias



Cuetzalan, Puebla


Coffee and Huipil Fair Feria de Cafe y Huipil


Early October

In the truest sense, as a designated "Pueblo Mágico de Mexico," the town of Cuetzalan, State of Puebla, is just that ... a magical town! High in the hills of the state of Puebla and drawing a cloud forest type of moisture from the gulf, it is a lush, humid place, full of beautiful flowers, orchid farms, and bamboo-like vegetation. The winding, narrow stone-covered streets and plastered white buildings with red-tile roofs feel like the romantic old Mexico that we've dreamed about.

The furthest out of the Textile Fiesta sites in this guide, it is worth the effort it takes to get there. This is especially true the very first week of October — when the Feria de Cafe y Huipil is held. This is a fair celebrating the main economy of the area, coffee cultivation, and the local traditional Náhuatl culture with the crowning of the Queen of Huipil.


Queen of the Huipil Competition

One of the most attractive events of this week-long event, the competition, starts early on Saturday morning on a very beautiful flower-decorated stage in the main plaza. Young girls from neighboring districts compete for the title of Reina de Huipil (Queen of the Huipil). Contestants dress in the traditional traje, or clothing, of the region, and must make a short presentation in both Náhuatl, the regional indigenous language, and Spanish, describing aspects of their culture. They are graded by the local alcaldes, (chiefs) for poise, command of the two languages, and content of presentation — and of course the quality of their traje.

Traje Gala (Ceremonial costume)

The featured garment of this Feria is the Cuetzalan huipil. It consists of two pieces of rectangular cloth, sewn together to form a poncho or shawl-like covering. This same garment is known as a quechquemitl in other parts of central Mexico. (See Collectible Textiles, page xx.)

If you attend the Reina de Huipil competition, you will see the full spectrum of this region's traje. The contestants will be wearing a finely embroidered peasant-style blusa (blouse). This is covered by the gauzy Cuetzalan huipil, perhaps embellished with ribbon rosettes called ojos (eyes), which are protection symbols. The arbol de vida (tree-of-life) symbol is embroidered at the corners. There will be a voluminous white cotton falda (skirt) of commercial cloth with an embellished, colorful, and tufted ceñidor (belt), holding it all together. The crowning aspect will be the maxtahuatl (corded wool) headdress of a variety of purples. Perched on top of this elegant, tall confection will be a small huipil. This headdress was worn regularly in the past, but now only for ceremony. You may also see a contestant carrying a huacal (netted baby carrier) on the stage. An older woman may be present on the stage in a dark wool skirt and different head covering, which is an antique style.

The lovely part of this Feria is that most of the local women and girls will be wearing this costume during the entire week of festivities, and you will then have an opportunity to observe the often high quality of their blouses, sashes, and huipils on the plaza, in the main cathedral, on the streets, and in the artisan market. Usually these are much better than what is offered for sale. But you might get lucky and find a really intricate (and more expensive) one for yourself. The quality for tourist goods is usually lower than items made for personal use — and why is this? Because they take twice as long to make and the typical tourist usually won't pay for this higher level of craftsmanship.

Church Decorations

The Queen's competition starts early in the morning, which means that you need to be at the plaza by 8:30 or 9 a.m., even though it might not start until 10 a.m. Standing around the outskirts of the event allows you more opportunity to view the traje of all the families of the participants, and of the locals, too. The dance troupes enter the church after the competition to give short performances and receive blessings before going back out to dance in the plaza. Try to make your way in to see them and get an up-close look at their elaborate costumes. The Cathedral is a relatively quiet and cool place to sit down and rest and view the comings and goings of the dancers and locals. If you sit here long enough you might see them dance inside in the open cleared area in front of the altar.

Depending on the affluence of this year's Feria sponsors, the decorations inside the church can be quite spectacular. Especially interesting are the colorful wax structures, more like altars than candelabras; these are unique to this area and should be viewed and enjoyed in the cathedral. Go to the Tourist Office (next door to the Cathedral entrance) to arrange a visit to the candle workshop of Doña Eugenia Méndez Nava, who most likely was commissioned to make these elaborate wax decorations.

Folkloric Dance Troupes

There seems to be a strong interest in passing on the traditional dances, originating in colonial times, to the younger generation, as most of the troupes are made up of young teenaged males. Checking out the groups you will soon distinguish the dance masters, who often wear older antique masks. You can approach people here for photographs, but the younger people might ask for a donation for refrescos (sodas). Why not? Five or ten pesos will do and everyone is happy. Dancing in hot costumes, often for hours deserves a refresco. Otherwise you can photograph to your heart's content easily during the festivities, but for individuals it's always nice to ask — as long as you don't get in the way of the dancers.

Among the local traditional dances that may be performed: Los Negritos, Santiagos, and Pilatos; also Los Quetzales, whose dancers wear huge circular headdresses called penachos, representing the Quetzal bird's showy plumage. Accompanying the troupes are often their own drummer and fife player, and perhaps a violin and guitar. These are the oldest of musical traditions found in Mexico. The troupes vary from year to year, but the above-mentioned dances will most likely be performed.


The main attraction of this Fiesta is the Voladores, four to six (or as many as eight) men who climb a pole at least 60 feet tall and tie themselves to ropes wound around the pole and attached to a small rotating platform. The leader performs a prayer and plays a haunting tune on reed flute and drum; the voladores then lean off their perch, and give in to the force of the circling platform and off they fly — upside down, slowing as they reach the ground. It takes about 30 to 40 seconds to perform. Sometimes they extend their arms like ecstatic drunken birds, other times another man will climb down one of the ropes as it swings around the pole, doubling the risk and the visual impact. All in all a thrilling visceral and sacred experience for the voladores and spectators alike. There are many voladores groups and performances during the Fiesta, while the other traditional dance troupes perform mainly on Saturday.


The Casa de Cultura, Calle Miguel Alvarado #18, on the main street to the Plaza, is an excellent place to visit. Upstairs there is a small museum with mannequins in costumes and other references to the Nahua culture. They should also have a schedule of events there too, or if not, at the Cuetzalan Tourist Office to the side of the Cathedral. You will want to keep up with other events for the Cafe part of this Feria. They crown their Queen, too — this is the Cuetzalan modern mestizo culture of the area. There are often performances by contemporary musicians and if you're lucky, musicians from the state of Vera Cruz (Jaroche) and the state of San Luis Potosí(Huapango) perform regional traditional Mexican music on the temporary covered stage facing concrete steps for seating, next to the Cathedral and main plaza. Musical events are mostly in the afternoons and evening on Sunday, but check your schedule.


Woven Baby Carriers Mamal

This is the long, thick, white and naturally-dyed strip of fabric that was used to carry a baby or small child. Francisca Rivera Pérez in the artisan booth #22 usually has them available as does Taller Mazatzin, but they have made them into handsome shawls.

Netted Baby Carriers Huacal

You may see the rectangular, soft-cornered and corded, traditional baby carrier made from fibra del arbol (tree fiber), a distinguishing basket from this area. The Virgin Mary in the cathedral dressed in the regional costume will most likely be carrying baby Jesus in one. Look for it!

Blouse Embroidered in Pepenando

You will immediately notice the beautifully embroidered yokes of the peasant blouses of this community. The pepenando (running stitch) creates the exotic patterns as the embroiderer picks up very tiny bits of the cloth as the needle moves across the base fabric. There are many available in the shops, which now are making more modern V- necks and borders with this embroidery technique. You may find a finer one that a woman has made for herself at the Artisans Market in one of the puestos (booths). Keep an eye out. They will be more expensive, but worth it.

Quechquemitls (called Huipils in Cuetzalan)

These little ponchos are the defining garment of Cuetzalan along with the embroidered blouses and you will see them on every traditionally dressed woman. Quechtli = neck + quemitl = that which covers, in Náhuatl. This was the first breast covering garment which was mandated by the Spanish who evangelized this area in the 1700s. Now it is more of an accessory to be worn over an embroidered blouse. Handwoven, usually with mercerized or poly-cotton thread on a backstrap loom, it has the "tree of life" motif embroidered on the corners and is finished off with manufactured lace or short fringe. It can be in colors too — pale turquoise is currently popular. Pedro Martíns' co-op, Taller Mazatzin, makes the finer ones, which are 100% cotton in current fashion colors. This is an easy takeaway item and useful textile that you'll enjoy wearing at home as an accessory. This is a very collectable and stylish and wearable fashionista garment.


There is a permanent Mercado de Artisanía (across from the Casa Cultura) which has several rows of small stores winding up the stairs of a hill to another street. Here most of the well-known artisans will have their wares. Francesca Rivera Pérez (discovered by Chloe Sayer and featured in her book Costumes of Mexico) has a stall in this market and her work is very collectible. Francesca still weaves the traditional items, such as the mamal (child carrier), and the older style cotton quechquemitl. Her location is the booth on the right, #22, just inside the entrance.

If you come any other time of year there is a large public market on Sunday taking over most of the main streets and continuing up the stepped area above the public square. This may go on in a different location during the festival, which takes up the entire area during that time, so ask around.

Taller Mazatzin

Taller Mazatzin founded by Pedro Martín Concepción (see Facebook Page under Pedro Martín). He is a highly regarded young textile artisan in the village of Cuautmazaco — just outside of Cuetzalan on the main road (two-story, rose-colored house on the left). It is worth a visit. Call first and take a taxi. He is conducting courses in the ancient "weaving in the round" technique to bring back the earlier style of quechquemitl. Check the Tourist Office for more info or e-mail mazatzin1@ hotmail.com in Spanish. If you can't make it out there, his mother runs booth #26 in the daily artisan's market with less expensive merchandise.


If you are flying into Mexico City there is a direct bus from the airport to Puebla. Stay the night (or several days) in Puebla, then take a taxi to the Puebla CAPU bus station. From here take a VIA bus (inexpensive) to Cuetzalan. There are actually two schedules. Take the Via Rapido which takes 3 ½ hours and makes two stops. There is another bus that makes more stops along the way and takes an hour longer. Take ginger drops in water and chew candied ginger and/or take a motion sickness pill if you are susceptible, since the last hour of the trip is on a narrow, winding mountain road. Or try to sit up front.


Museo Casa del Huipil

Avenida Zaragoza 33, Cuetzalán

Climbing quite a steep hill from Hotel Posada Cuetzalan on Zaragosa, you will end up at the impressive, very old rock building that houses the museum. Here, Pedro Martín has set up an interesting quechquemitl exhibit (huipil in Cuetzalan!) with good descriptions (in Spanish) and some excellent examples of old, new, and resurrected weaving in the round quechquemitls.

A small amount of nice merchandise from the textile co-op Taller Mazatzin is available for purchase. Enjoy lunch at the highly acclaimed roof-top Cafe Milagrosita, in contemporary rustic open kitchen style. Eat local specialties on handmade ceramic plates and gourds at spool tables. Check out the temazcal (traditional adobe sweat lodge) on the roof, too. You'll have great views when it's not foggy.


La Casa Piedras

Calle Carlos García 11, Cuetzalan

A very popular hotel, one block on a steep downward hill, but very convenient to the main plaza and the event. Rustic interesting rooms in an older stone building. Good restaurant for breakfast. Book early as the Feria gets lots of out-of-town visitors.

Hotel Taselozin

Yoloxochitl, Barrio de Zacatipan, Cuetzalan

A bit out of town, up the hill, but walkable or take a local bus or taxi to this lodge-like cozy traditional hotel, with lovely garden and good restaurant. Run by an indigenous women's co-operative for over 17 years. Staying here supports them directly. Small store with interesting crafts. Out of the crowds of the Feria.

Hotel Posada Cuetzalan

Cuetzalan - Zaragosa #12 - Colonial Centro

Located on the corner in a very lovely building with gardens and swimming pool, this hotel is also a favorite. Restaurant on premises with patio with palm trees for drinks. Convenient and two blocks through the narrow streets to the main street and plaza.



Uruapan, Michoacán


Palm Sunday Artisans Fair Feria de Domingo de Ramos


Holy Week Semana Santa and Palm Sunday

URUAPAN has been a market town since pre-conquest times. Located in a central agricultural valley of Michoacán about 100 km (62 miles) from Morelia, the state capital of Michoacán, it's not far from beautiful Lake Pátzcuaro. Uruapan has hosted an artisan fair during Semana Santa (Holy Week) for well over a 100 years. Initially, it featured the many ceramic artisans from the surrounding area but it was expanded in size in the 1960s to include all the varieties of artesania of the region, becoming the largest artisans fair of its kind in Mexico and perhaps the Americas. With several thousand participating artisans, musicians, contestants, and food vendors, it is definitely an event worth attending.

Historically, the Tarascan people (known commonly as Purépecha) were already trading among themselves, but in the sixteenth century, Vasco de Quiroga, the benevolent bishop from Spain, championing a utopian vision for the indigenous people of the area, supported and amplified their endeavors. Creating a community called hospital-pueblo Santa Fe near Lake Pátzcuaro, which was a center for health, education, and self-government, the indigenous people were taught to make crafts that could be traded with other communities and the rest of colonial Mexico. For this reason, hundreds of years later, artesania is a major part of the traditional culture and economy of Michoacán. You will have the opportunity to buy handmade guitars, hand-painted lacquerware, wood-carved utensils, elegant copper vessels, ceramics of every possible description, and beautiful traditional textiles from the descendants of the beloved Tata Vasco's (Father Vasco's) utopian experiment.


Excerpted from Textile Fiestas of Mexico by Sheri Brautigam, Karen Brock. Copyright © 2016 Sheri Brautigam. Excerpted by permission of Thrums Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Guide to Ethical Shopping,
Oaxaca City,
San Juan Guelavía,
MARKETS Tianguis,
State of Mexico,

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