To live and dye in Oaxaca

To live and dye in Oaxaca

Jess Schreibstein, aka @thekitchenwitch, took a trip recently that I wanted desperately to see and hear more about, so while I’m (knock wood) on the road today, she’s here to tell us all about it. Thanks so much, Jess!

To live and dye in Oaxaca

The sun rises early in mid-May in Oaxaca. Around five in the morning, daylight crests the blue Sierra Juárez mountains and roosters begin crowing. I get up slowly, throw on a cotton dress and scarf, and join my host, Josefina, in the kitchen where she prepares coffee, eggs with avocado, sliced papaya with lime. It’s nine o’clock by the time I make my way down the cobblestone main road to the home of Federico Chavez Sosa, a third-generation master weaver who teaches me to weave rugs in the traditional Zapotec style in the small village of Teotitlán del Valle.

I had wanted to visit Oaxaca, and Teotitlán in particular, for years. It’s a fiber Mecca, with cascades of naturally-dyed skeins of churro wool baking in the sun, intricately patterned geometric rugs hanging from every shop doorway, and embroidery of fantastical animals adorning huipiles. But it wasn’t until last fall, when one of my closest friends, a Mexican, called me up to say that she was getting married in Oaxaca and that I was in the wedding so I better be there, that I finally bit the bullet and bought my plane ticket.

I arrived in Oaxaca City, a stunning old colonial town where all of the buildings are painted in pinks, tangerine orange, rust and aqua. The streets are a churning river of markets, hawkers, vendors selling icy sweet nieve and fresh tortillas with quesillo and roasted grasshoppers, teenagers texting, women in floral dresses with long black plaits down their backs. Teotitlán is a thirty minute drive east of the city and is everything the city is not – quiet but for the church bells and farm animals, brown adobe and brick walled houses overgrown with cacti, men and women greeting you with a Buenos días or Buenas tardes on the main road.

For four days, I visited Federico’s sunlit home and worked on my tapete, or rug. The middle of the bottom floor is an open courtyard reserved for carding, spinning, and dyeing yarn, a common feature in most homes in Teotitlán. For yarn, I was free to choose my colors from the dozens of skeins hanging from hooks on the wall in brilliant reds (cochineal), indigo blue (from the fermenting indigo vats), lemon and mustard yellow (marigold flowers), and sage green (Spanish moss). Each one was dyed by Federico and his family, who are all talented weavers and dyers in their own right. I was given my own treadle loom, a beast of a structure brought over by the Spanish in the early 1500s that for many replaced the simple but limited backstrap tension loom used by the Zapotec Indian people in Oaxaca. I stood bent over my work all day, shifting my feet on pedals to change the warp and throw the shuttle through the threads. It felt like skiing.

On the last day, Federico taught me how to “make the colors,” or dye yarn with plant and animal dyes. Out from the closets came bags filled with dried marigold, which he had gathered in the nearby mountains and smelled like anise. He showed me mango skins that his son had added to the bubbling indigo dye vats for acidity. And then, he revealed a glass jar filled with what looked like small, silver beads. It was cochinilla, the cochineal insect, carefully cultivated on cactus pads and dried, to be later ground into a fine powder that produces the richest natural red and purple dyes the world has ever known. He ground a small amount in a coffee grinder and added it to a big, boiling pot of wool. An hour later, we pulled the skein out of the dye vat, the color of royalty. The color of bougainvillea. The color of Oaxaca.

To live and dye in Oaxaca

I arranged my workshop with Federico through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, an incredible resource for those interested in intensive weaving and dyeing workshops and cooking classes in Oaxaca. Norma Hawthorne connects interested travelers to local teachers and arranges lodging during your stay. More information is available at
—Jess Schreibstein


You may remember Jess from Our Tools, Ourselves. To keep up with all of her adventures, follow her blog Witchin’ in the Kitchen or @thekitchenwitch on Instagram.


All photos © Jess Schreibstein

Fun with cardboard and indigo

Fun with cardboard and indigo

I’ve got a significant life event on the horizon that I’m not quite ready to talk about in the Internet yet (don’t worry; it’s positive), but let’s just say for now that I have a lot on my plate — even by my standards. Meanwhile, there’s a newish place, nearish to me, called Handcraft Studio School that I’ve been wanting to check out, so I signed up for a weaving-slash-indigo-dyeing workshop this past Sunday morning, and it was a lovely little respite. Weaver Meghan Bogden Shimek (aka @nativetextile) had pre-warped some simple cardboard looms and loaded up the tables with all kinds of yarn odds and ends — some undyed and some indigo-dyed — and we each just picked up our tapestry needle and went at it. Co-instructor Kathryn Davey (love those dolls) had prepared some buckets of indigo, and when we were done weaving, we popped them off the looms and into the blue soup they went. Done and dyed.

Ever since my little foray* with my home-grown frame loom a couple of summers ago, and my acquisition of this little gem, I’ve been wanting to learn proper skills and apply myself to weaving in some considered and useful fashion, but I just loved how low all the barriers were with this workshop. There wasn’t even time for me to fret about my composition — I had to just dive in and weave and let it become whatever it became. I think I might need to take that as a larger lesson …

Fun with cardboard and indigo

*Did I really never post a picture of the pink and orange weavie I made for Leigh?


Elsewhere: Yarny links for your clicking pleasure

It’s been a while, I know, but here are some things I’ve been loving lately:

• Felicia on the most important lesson there is: learning to read your knitting. That is truly the point where everything changes, so if you don’t know how to read your work, go read every word. (See also her amazing quilt roundup, swoon)

• The incredible Nido has branched out; how amazing are these Telar textiles? (Did I learn to weave yet? I really am getting that Cricket Loom soon.)

Better living through yak down

Tara Hurst in a sweater her grandmother knitted in Emma’s Lovely Lady series. (I love Tara’s blog.)

• Coveting this simple tee

Amazeballs (thanks, G)

• Next year I’m going to the Scandinavian festival with Lori

• And in case anyone hasn’t seen it, this is your brain on knitting


Our Tools, Ourselves: Noelle Sharp (Aporta Textiles)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Behind the scenes with Noelle Sharp of Aporta Textiles

One of the most covetable things I’ve seen in ages is a rocking chair in progress. It’s by weaver, knitter and Aporta Textiles owner Noelle Sharp, and it’s specifically designed for knitters, with lower arms and … well, just look at it. I’ve been following Noelle on Instagram for a bit, in love with her freshly tied warps and striking accessory designs and photos of Iceland, etc. But that chair really got me wanting to see more of what her world looks like. And so here she is — thanks, Noelle!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I am a knitter and a weaver. My mother taught me how to knit when I was six, and I learned how to weave at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Fiber Materials Department, although my training there was mostly conceptual weaving.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

When I knit, I prefer to use bamboo or wooden needles. I like the weight of them as well as the easiness of the stitches sliding from one needle to another.

I have a variety of different weaving tools that I use depending on what projects I am working on. For larger scarves I like to use a shuttle that is large  and can hold more yarn so when I am finishing the scarves I don’t have as many ends to sew down.

Behind the scenes with Noelle Sharp of Aporta Textiles

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

My collection of knitting needles is out of control, so I use a large folding needle case for my circular and short straight needles. My long needles I keep in a large porcelain vase. My weaving supplies are divided up by their function — all of my bobbins are together in a bag and my shuttles in a large white ceramic pot my potter friend made for me.

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

With my woven goods, once they are finished they hang on wooden hangers on one of my rolling racks. My knit products are usually in abundance so I have large plastic bins for each product: beanies, scarves and so on. The yarn can get out of control, though right now I have three huge plastic storage tubs full of yarn for production that need to be knit and shipped. I like the bins to be clear so it serves as a reminder that I need to get some knitting done (ha ha). I have been looking for some nice USA handmade wicker storage baskets for my studio but have not come across any I like.

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I just bought a beautiful Swedish swift that is made out of wood. It’s stunning. I like to keep it out all the time — it functions as a nice piece of decoration.

Behind the scenes with Noelle Sharp of Aporta Textiles

Do you lend your tools?

I will lend knitting tools but weaving tools usually stay in the studio. Most weavers I know have their own tools, although I have two bobbin winders and am always offering it for people to use since they are expensive to buy.

What is your favorite place to knit or weave?

Depends on my mood! I love to knit and watch movies at night. If I’m in the mountains or by nature, then outside or by the window. Whenever I am home my mom and I sit and knit — I always look forward to that.

Behind the scenes with Noelle Sharp of Aporta Textiles

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I am constantly knitting. Spring is when I design new additions to the collection, summer is crazy preparing for the fall/winter, and when winter rolls around I continue to knit to fill wholesale reorders and to prepare for markets. I go through fazes of wanting to only knit and wanting to only weave. But I have to force myself to take breaks especially with knitting. I have started to develop some issues with my left wrist where I won’t be able to use that hand at all if I knit too much. I have a knitting intern now so that has helped, strengthening my wrist muscles with weights helps too.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I have a little bit of an OCD problem (ha ha) — it’s manageable. But as I mentioned above, I love having the clear bins to see all the materials that need to be knit or woven into product. It gets me motivated, kind of a game to see how much I can get though in a day. Right now I am obsessed with Icelandic Lopi yarn — I have a ton that I bought when I was living there and want to make a thousand sweaters. Long term projects!

What are you working on right now?

With Aporta, I am spending time doing more digital textile designs which will allow me to have lower priced products in my collection (since my handwoven scarves are on the high-priced side). I am excited to have some screenprinted silk scarves, which should be ready at the end of spring. I am collaborating with a fellow woodworker/artist, Patrick McGuan — we are designing home goods. So far we have a rocking chair for knitters made out of wood ash, an Icelandic sheep pelt and a handwoven Shaker seat. Soon I will be collaborating  with a local Chicago boutique to weave custom wall hangings which will be a nice break from wearables. I also have a limited-edition series of necklaces that are now available online. So far the response as been great.

Personally, I am looking forward to some warm weather, although I love the winter. I really miss Iceland and am currently researching the possibility of moving there for a little bit. I’m itching to travel again and am planning my next big trip which will be taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Mongolia, so there are a lot of good things to look forward to!

Behind the scenes with Noelle Sharp of Aporta Textiles

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jade and Aurelie (Wool and the Gang)


Photos © Noelle Sharp

Weave In, anyone?

Weave-It Weave In vintage pattern booklet

You know that surprise package I got from Meg last week? Turns out there’s more to the story. I was so stunned at the sight of the sweater spilling out of the little padded envelope that I failed to notice there was something else in there. Meg’s coworker Marissa — my new favorite person! — ran across this groovy, vintage Weave-It pattern booklet somewhere, and thought of me! As you can see, it’s called Weave-It Weave In, which I can only guess is the weaving equivalent of a “love in.” And it’s undated, but clearly circa 1968. It looks like Marissa may have paid even less for it than the original $1.25 cover price, but this thing is priceless. With bonus crochet recipes sprinkled throughout! Such an amazing gift.

What Marissa couldn’t have known is that not only have I been longing to spend some time with my long-neglected Weave-It, but I had just returned from the trade show with a Zoom Loom in my bag — the new toy from the Schacht loom company. The product and package have, uh, a different design sensibility than the original Weave-It, but as the very nice woman in the booth explained to me before giving me my own Zoom Loom, they’ve made several meaningful functional changes to the frame, which seem really smart. So I’m eager to set the two looms up in a little head-to-head competition.

How long do you think it would take to weave enough squares for my very own Hostess Robe?


Happy 4th of July to all who are celebrating today!

Projects for a holiday weekend, revisited

Crochet, macrame and weaving project ideas for the long weekend

What with the Memorial Day weekend (the illusion of free time!) and my having been working on too many long-term knitting projects lately, I’ve been having that urge. The one that sends me searching for enticing, small-scale projects I could hope to start and finish in the space of the weekend. Oddly, I keep coming back to the list I made last Memorial Day. I’d be happy to whip up another crocheted bowl, tap into my childhood macramé memories, or spend some time reacquainting myself with my crude little frame loom. Of course, if the goal is to finish something, I could spend the weekend with my Textured Shawl and maybe, just maybe

(I did finish The Sweater last weekend, for anyone wondering. But it had been 95% finished for so long it almost doesn’t count as a new FO. Pics and details next week.)

Have a great weekend everyone, holiday or otherwise. Love to hear about your plans —


Quick shop note: Pom Pom Quarterly is sold out already! But never fear, there are more on the way. I’ll announce it when it’s back in stock, but if you want to reserve one, leave a comment to that effect below (or email if you prefer) and I’ll contact you directly when I’ve got the new batch in hand.

Elsewhere: Yarn news, Q&A’s, inspiration and more

yarn news, Q&A's, inspiration and more

Yarn news:
— Quince and Co. has released their first alpaca blend yarn, a worsted-weight beauty called Owl. I tend to love alpaca in the skein and not so much in the finished product, but have high hopes for this one. In addition to being blended with wool, it’s woolen-spun, so hopefully not so dense and oppressive feeling as I find typical alpacas to be. And I love even more that it’s overdyed, so the natural tone and heathering of the wool come through the color. Can’t wait to get my hands on some of this. There’s also a new pattern to go with: the Sherwood Mitts by Pam Allen.
— My local yarn store, A Verb for Keeping Warm, is collaborating with Sally Fox on a California wool. They’ve got the first samples in hand, but I haven’t been in yet to plead for a chance to squeeze it. I’ll post more once it’s actually up for sale. I’m super excited about this.

Some good Q&A’s:
— with knitwear designer-photographer Carrie Bostick Hoge at A Butterfly in My Hair
— with knitwear designer Tara-Lynn Morrison at Beaux Mondes
— with Alpaca rancher Sara Bender at Blue Sky Alpacas blog
— with knitwear designer Helga Isager at the Knitterly blog
— and I love love LOVE this video profile of denim artisan Loren Cronk at Anthology’s blog. Magnificent.

Pretty, inspiring things:
— Heather Taylor on cochineal dyeing at Beatrice Valenzuela’s home
home tour with a weaver at Design Sponge
— Um, Wooly Heads — not sure what to say or think about that one (thanks, Jo!)
— and Karen Barbé’s great embroidery sampler on a simple canvas tote

Speaking of canvas totes, I shipped my first wholesale order this week — a big box of the High-fiber totes went out to In the Loop in Plainville MA (between Boston and Providence). So if you’re in the vicinity, look for it in their new location next week. The popularity of this tote bag continues to thrill me, especially as I’ve been receiving orders for them from around the globe. I love picturing it walking down the streets of Vancouver and Lyon! And also love it when people post pics of theirs to Instagram — that really warms my cockles. So thanks again to everyone who’s been shopping at Fringe Supply Co., and helping to make this blog possible in the process.

What are you working on this weekend?