OAXACA: Craft paradise

Oaxaca was one of TheEye‘s favourite cities when she travelled around Mexico many years ago. She still remembers buying gardenias from a child for a few pence in the central square every day and putting them in her hotel bedroom. Oh, that wonderful perfume. Alas, Oaxaca has now become a much larger city with suburbs that seem to straddle for miles, gardenia sellers are few and far between and they certainly no longer cost a few pence. That’s progress for you!

People still congregate in the central square strolling around or sitting in one of the many cafes drinking coffee or enjoying ice cream.

Frida’s here, Frida’s there, Frida’s EVERYWHERE.

Craft and souvenir stalls surround the square, selling all the ‘usual’ merchandise: bags, scarves, wooden objects and ‘Frida’ memorabilia.

Selling blue tortillas in the market square – part of the hand-crafted food movement??

There are plenty of food stands emanating delicious aromas of grilled chicken and vegetables. TheEye had to make do with a cup of coffee – unfair – but who wants to risk Mexican tummy?

Oaxaca is famous for its crafts, that is what TheEye had come to see and there was no stopping her. First off the mark was an early visit to a women’s weaving co-operative. Not wanting to waste precious time, it was a quick look round, a polite thank you and on to the next stop.

Nice work but not in the special category.

An embroidery co-operative was next on the list and well worth driving round and round in circles until we found the right door in a nondescript warehouse. The hand-made embroidery is done by local women on a piece-meal basis, they collect the work and take it home, in order to combine bringing up a family with earning a living. The brains behind it is a woman who also runs a homeopathic clinic on the premises. A seated crowd of patient patients waiting to be seen as TheEye was admiring shawls and dresses. The women who do the embroidery and make the garments are paid according to the time spent and the number of pieces they make.

Oh, my goodness, it was absolutely gorgeous. TheEye is a sucker for hand embroidery and was somewhat overwhelmed by the amount she saw and far too parsimonious in her purchases. Now kicking herself for not buying more.

Just looking at it makes her happy.

All hand-stitched

Next stop, a dyeing and weaving studio in Teotitlan del Valle, a small town specialising in weaving studios and workshops where only natural organic vegetable colours are used and we were shown how different colours and shades are made using fruits and herbs in order to get subtlety or intensity of colour. It was a fascinating process. The yarns produced were woven and made into scarves, shawls and cushion covers.

Colours are made mixing different fruits to get the correct balance and shades

Black pottery is unique to San Bartolo Coyotepec, a small town about 20 km from Oaxaca. The pots are fired with a piece of clear quartz and then baked for only 8 rather than the usual 13 or 14 hours. We visited Dr Magdalena Pedro Martinez who, together with her husband and daughter, make unique pieces using this technique. Dr Martinez is also a practising doctor. The figures which are the subject of her workwear traditional Mexican costumes and headdresses and her intention is to protect these traditions from disappearing. Her work is in private collections and museums in both Mexico and the U.S. TheEye is in the process of attempting to commission something but there was poor communication (between their English and TheEye‘s non-existent Spanish) and the purchase seems unlikely to happen. TheEye loves her uniquely Mexican aesthetic.

Traditional clothes and headwear

Dr Magdalena Pedro Martinez, carrying on the traditions

Then it was time to hit Oaxaca’s famous Sunday market in Tlacolula, which is a serious day for food shopping. And oh, the colours of the traditional garments the women were wearing which look the same, but there are apparently subtle differences depending on the villages the women come from.

Clearly turkey is a firm favourite and no doubt once the poor creatures are slaughtered they will be smothered in a mole sauce and enjoyed by many families for the Sunday feast.

He prefers a nice plump capon…

…and they prefer turkey

Awaiting his fate, and not just for Christmas

Love the traditional dress

Phoning for a recipe

Couldn’t resist this picture of rainbow coloured bras: One cup fits all!


One of the highlights of our days in Oaxaca was the most delicious breakfast we have ever had at the Cafe Casa Oaxaca, in an outlying residential corner of the city near to the Jardin Etnobotánico, which was sadly closed due to warnings about the virus (probably the first time we became aware of it in Mexico) and the imposing Santa Domingo Church and former monastery. The homemade tostados filled with cheese and beans were sublime and a variety of spicy seasonings. Still dreaming of them. It always irritates TheEye when everything from bread and beer to toothpaste is referred to as crafted, but this delicious food really is.

Preparing tostados

OMG. I want one NOW.

Well, sadly, that was the end to our few days in Oaxaca with another long (8 and a half hour) drive back to Mexico City for an extended 10 days (we thought). By then, Los Angeles was in total lockdown and not possible to go there as there was little hope of a plane to London. But fate wasn’t letting us get away with things so easily and after only one night, Mexico City was fast closing down in the hope of stalling the virus early when other countries had left things too late. With its vast population, the epidemic would spread at alarming speed. By the morning of our first day back in the city, we found all museums had closed, as well as shops and restaurants and our large hotel only had 12 guests.

Time to bolt. Leaving was the only option and, fortunately, we were able to get seats on a direct flight to London along with our friends from San Miguel.

What a fantastic vibrant country Mexico is and the perfect place to have visited before being locked down for a long time. How lucky we were to have so many precious memories to carry us through these bleak times ahead.

TheEye is taking a short break before inviting you to join her on trips and adventures from years gone by.

More happy memories to look forward to.

Au revoir, TheEye.


Apologies to Tom Lighton for the incorrect spelling of his name on San Miguel captions. These have now been edited accordingly.


  1. Thank you Jan as always for taking me on a stunning journey to places I might never reach. . I can picture you with your eagle eye in the wonderful weaving workshops, I can’t wait for post lockdown when I can see some of your purchases.Such stunning photos, so uplifting .

  2. As always totally brilliant images. Bravissima Jan.

  3. This was so inspiring, Janice, I haven’t been to Mexico since the 80s and now can’t wait to go back. Can’t wait either to read about your visit to India. I went to Rajasthan in November, and look at my thousands of photos to relive the craft and the colour, as you say, a tonic for now. Great stuff. Will re-read!

    • Janice Blackburn April 19, 2020 at 6:32 am

      Thanks Jill. We loved our trip and it will be top of my list to re-visit if hopefully that time comes again.
      The predictions for a proper return ‘normal life’ seem quite bleak, but here’s hoping. Are you in the country?
      I will start to prepare for re doing my past posts which will take me a few days. They go back to 2014. Lovely, happy memories.
      Take care.

  4. Jan, I love that you are so attracted to bright colors. You are the art queen bee.

    • Janice Blackburn April 17, 2020 at 6:15 am

      Bright colours make me happy and I need to be happy with all the misery around us.
      that’s why I love Mexico and India. x

  5. Wow, it all looks amazing. Such wonderful exotic colours.
    Wonderful photography, it comes alive as you watch it

  6. I wish I could follow into your every footstep! How interesting it must have been to visit all the craft workshops. Quite keen on colourful embroidery too. I hope one day soon a magazine will come knocking to offer you a regular column, your travel summaries are so enjoyable that everyone should read them!

    • Janice Blackburn April 15, 2020 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks for your lovely comments Carola and I hope you are getting through your research on beautiful Lake Como. We are all longing to be back in the water.

  7. Yet more exuberant colour with each Mexico post as your trip unfolds. So many fascinating crafts; it’s always so interesting to see how crafts are specific to their particular cultures.

  8. Tom & I will be doing every single stop from your journey. It was wonderful reading about all those sites with wonderful people & crafts.
    Wish you had included restaurants…..

    • Janice Blackburn April 15, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      I didn’t include restaurants apart from the fantastic Casa Oaxaca for breakfast because they were mainly not great.
      The best in Mexico City is Contramar a wonderful fish restaurant only open for lunch. Good if you are a fan of mole but we weren’t.
      thank you for reading and commenting.

  9. Jennie Foley Morris April 15, 2020 at 6:37 am

    Really appreciate seeing this as I have just been to Oaxaca for the first time but the trip curtailed in order to get home to avoid/ meet the virus. Loved the old city, not nearly enough shopping but would have liked to do further more specific textile & pottery visits. Thank you for showing us.

    • Both the pottery (black pottery in particular) and the embroidery co-operative were fantastic and the ceramic studio near Puebla was really exceptional. We also had to bolt from our return stay in Mexico City which was a real shame. We loved Oaxaca and if you are lucky enough to return you must have breakfast at the Cafe Casa Oaxaca near the botanical gardens. Thanks for your comment and look out for ‘theeye’s’ travel blogs which will probably start end of next week.

  10. Victoria Blackburn April 14, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    All looked so wonderful – what amazing colours everywhere and could kill a tostado right now!!!!!!

  11. Will miss your delightful travelogues .. hope it wont be for too long, for all our sakes..

    • Janice Blackburn April 14, 2020 at 9:10 pm

      Thank you Yvonne. It won’t be long. Taking a few days ‘sabbatical’. ho ho. Will call you.x

      • The first day I met you many years ago I remember you wearing very colourful dress, and through the years you have developed the most amazing talent researching countries and tribes and bringing the best of their art and craft tradition to us. It is up lifting.
        Emma Shulman

        • Janice Blackburn April 23, 2020 at 6:17 am

          What a lovely compliment Emma and it was wonderful to re-connect after so long and hear all your news.
          Please keep in touch and follow ‘theyeye’s’ travels starting soon. x

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