(written by Angelina Rennell)
What were you recently doing in Mexico?
After countless travels to Mexico, and especially Oaxaca in the last 10 years, I grew increasingly interested in issues surrounding artisanal textile production. As part of my long research I was working this summer in a community in the mountains in Oaxaca with 2 silk producing cooperatives (Bienhi and Wen Do Sed Productores de Seda). The project is in collaboration with the Goethe Institute Mexico. and 3 fellow contributors, Dulce Martinez, Heike Selmer and Ana Paula Fuentes. We have been focusing on issues of sustainability, textile innovation and different models of collaboration.
What was the most unexpected part of your experience this summer?
I was absolutely humbled by the effort, and labour that goes into the production of hand spun silk garments. Obviously I knew my share beforehand, and as a craftsperson have a good understanding of the intensity of manual production, but what I saw these cooperatives doing blew my mind. Being concerned about slow fashion or slow production, I was amazed by the endless amounts work. From harvesting tons of the mulberry tree leaves needed to feed the silk worms for weeks, to the labour intensive hand spinning of the cocoons, to the picking of the flower pericon to dye yellow, to the fermentation of añil for blue, to the precision needed to set up a backstop loom, and finally the endurance it takes to make one single handwoven piece.
What are you taking home with you?
I can’t even begin to start naming all the things I've learned in the course of these months. From deepening my knowledge in natural dyes, to learning to weave on a backstrap and pedal loom, my understanding of the challenges and preciousness of artisanal textile production grew immensely; so immaterially it's too much to name.
But material things I'm taking home is easy. I bought 3 handwoven palm leaf baskets. I got some cochineal and añil to continue experimenting with in my workshop in New York City. I bought one giant bottle of home made mescal from the family we were working with and I bought one amazingly embroidered huipil that was made in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Did you fall in love with a color, or shape, etc. this summer, something new that you found in Mexico that you can’t stop thinking about?
I love Mexico, and I love the light and the colors there a lot, from the facades of the houses, to the traditional dress, to every day items, ropes, bags, buckets etc. I can never get enough.
This time it was interesting because I had never been there during a rainy season. The light changes a lot; it was beautiful to see Oaxaca in that way. The colors seemed less bright and much softer.
What’s something about your travels that you were totally off base about, that you thought was one way but it wasn’t?
It was much colder than I thought!
What was your morning dress routine while away?
It has been very very practical. In the mountains I was wearing a lot of darker colors since we were working so much with plant dyes. I usually do that so I don’t have to worry about stains. I was also wearing lots of long sleeves as sun and mosquito protection. In Mexico City and Oaxaca City I tend to wear my usual things. I have some particular dresses and skirts I love to take when i’m traveling; they are easy, light weight and very versatile.
Is there something you take on the plane for comfort, either physical or mental?
I always try to be relaxed on days of departure. I don’t want to feel stressed going on a plane. The only thing I always make sure is to have many blankets and sweaters with me. I hate being cold!
Best Mexican fruit?
Black zapote with mandarin juice, it’s heavenly.