Oaxaca Weaving: The Flying Shuttle Loom

The flying shuttle loom is a European innovation brought to Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Industrial Revolution. It joins the back-strap loom and the fixed frame two-harness pedal loom as one of the major three weaving technologies still widely used in Oaxaca today.

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The advantage of the flying shuttle loom is that it can create wider, lighter weight fabrics from cotton, perfect for long and wide tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, curtains, and shawls. Made-by-hand, it is semi-automated, but requires the design skill and judgment of the weaver.

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There are two neighborhoods that use the flying shuttle loom : Santo Tomas Xochimilco and San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Today, we focus on Xochimilco. Most textiles made with a flying shuttle loom use commercial cotton thread colored with chemical dyes, although sometimes you can find pieces made with natural dyes.

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Once, the neighborhood of Xochimilco was humming with the sound of the flying shuttle. The loom has a distinct, rhythmic sound, a beat, beat, as the weaver moves the handle back and forth, which operates the opening of the warp threads and the direction of the shuttle.  It is fast, and the weaver sways with the beat.

Today, I could find only a few weavers in Xochimilco still using this loom.

Trailing along with Susan, Carol and Norma Dos on a mid-week excursion there in search of textiles, we come across two workshops on either end of Calle Dr. G. Bolaños Cacho between the Iglesia Santo Tomas Xochimilco. One is at the corner of Avenida Venus and the other is at the corner of Macedonio Alcala. To find them, just listen for the looms. On the day we visit, the jacaranda trees are in full purple regalia!

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In my opinion, the finest quality is produced by Casa Jimenez Taller Textil. They have several locations.  The easiest to find is at the El Pochote organic market every Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., located in the patio of the 16th Century Santo Tomas Xochimilco Church.

The looms are located way up the hill at Calle 1 de Mayo #105 in Colonia Aurora.

But they have a small gallery closer to Conzatti Park in the Jardin Carbajal, a square near the corner of Calle Xolotl and Calle Macedonio Alcala. It’s just a few doors down from El Quinque, which I’m told, has the best hamburgers in town!

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See the turquoise tablecloth that she is holding in the photo above. That’s the one I got my son for a gift. The fringes are hand-tied, just like a rebozo. The weave is tight and even. The cost: well-under $40 USD.

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6 Responses to Oaxaca Weaving: The Flying Shuttle Loom

  1. Thanks Norma – for your documentation. I shared it on my FB – Living Textiles of Mexico. People ask me the best places to buy tablecloths – and here they are!

  2. How nice to be reminded of the El Pochote market that I visited Saturday mornings while staying at a friend’s apartment in Xochimilco. Walking up the hill of Bolaños Cacho was worth it to breakfast in the churchyard at one of the food stands in the market. Although not large, many people seemed to make that market a part of their weekend agenda. The clacking of looms along the way, visible through open doorways, made it seem like another era. Thanks for the tip about the Casa Jimenez Taller. Jim

    • Jim, I come from Teotitlan to enjoy breakfast at this El Pichote organic market. We have a Teo contingent that loves it. And the crafts are almost as amazing as the food. So glad it tickled your memory of living right there. How lucky to be so close to the looms and delicious food. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a nice article. My month in Oaxaca in 2012 was spent in the Xochimilco neighborhood in an apartment owned by the Leyvas family. I believe that is a picture of Chefe Leyvas, the patriarch, (shirtless? of course and proud of it)
    I sublet the apartment from a Canadian woman who lived there in the winter. Many Leyvas family members lived on Bolanos Gacho (near Macedonio Alcala).
    The first morning I woke up to the sound of a horse drawn carriage. How quaint I thought. Then I figured out that was the sound of the loom in the Leyvas taller (workshop) across the street. Not a bad way to wake up every weekday morning. Their radio was always on too. I bought a table cloth, napkins and curtain material in their taller. Beautiful work. Wonderful neighborhood. I wish I had known about Casa Jimenez so I could have visited there too.

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