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Teotitlan del Valle- 9 Generations of Tradition

Written on: Monday April 28th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

We decided to get a little closer to nature and leave Oaxaca city for a two-day excursion into the highlands of the Sierra Madre. On our way there we passed through the famous weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle and decided to stop in for a weaving demonstration. The weaving tradition goes back to pre-Hispanic times when the Zapotec people of the valley paid tribute to the Aztecs with their famous quality cloth. Father and Sons Rugs, where we stopped, has been weaving and for 9 generations. The 93 year old grandmother, who spoke only the Zapotec language, has been carding and spinning wool since she was 9 years old and was happy to demonstrate her skill. The wool used is from another town in the valley, famous for their tradition of raising high quality sheep for wool. Brown and white wool is available. After the wool has been washed using a natural yucca root shampoo and dried, she used two wire brushes and stroked the pieces of wool to align the fibres. Next, she took the carded wool to the hand-powered spinning wheel where the fibres are twisted together to form yarn. The range of shades that could be produced without using any dyes was amazing, done simply by combining the brown and white at different ratios. Next the granddaughter demonstrated how different wool colors are obtained using only 100% natural plant, mineral and insect sources. Turmeric is used for shades of yellow. Cochineal, a parasitic beetle-like insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus, is grey in color but produces a brilliant red when crushed. Very rare in nature, the color blue is extracted by making a tea from the leaves of the sub-tropical indigo bush. Walnut husks make tans and browns and alfalfa gives green. Many other berries, twigs, flowers, bark, seeds and shells are also used. When asked what color we thought the pomegranate seed would produced, we were all very wrong when the seed was crushed with a small amount of natural lime producing a brilliant green. When we asked them how they set the dye, the granddaughter looked and smiled, ?It is a secret?.

It was fascinating. When synthetic dyes were introduced in the 1920?s natural methods were almost lost. However, more and more weavers are now returning to natural dyeing methods. Even thought the natural method is significantly more laborious to collect, produce and process, the higher quality, longer lasting color and more subtle tones that no chemical dye can reproduce make the return to tradition well worthwhile.

Next, at the back of the room, the father demonstrated how he worked the two pedal loom to weave the colored yarn into beautiful wool rugs called ?tapetes?. Designs range from images of Zapotec mythology, Mitla-style geometric patterns to reproductions of famous paintings from Picasso to Diego Rivera.

We splurged and bought beautiful wall rug as a souvenir of this lovely family and their beautiful tradition.


From Thea Avis on May 14th, 2008

Be careful with taking pictures of Rob's back side, it often looks like he's peeing. Can't wait to see the rug you bought.

From Michelle on May 15th, 2008

That's because he is often peeing....