The rebozo is to Mexico what the sari is to India — integral to cultural identity. Worn by women, the rebozo or shawl has its Mexican origins in the Spanish conquest. Many historians and cultural anthropologists believe the rebozo was adapted from the Philippines, which adapted it from China’s silk shawls.
Last year, after our rebozo textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, I wrote at length about the history of the rebozo.
We just finished an intensive nine-day study tour through the rebozo capital of Mexico, Tenancingo de Degollado. Here, beautiful ikat cotton shawls and scarves are woven on pedal and back strap looms.
We also took a day trip to visit Violante Ulrich at the Spratling Ranch in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero. I’ll write more about that later.
Meanwhile, our group of fourteen enjoyed meeting the rebozo weavers, visiting the Sunday rebozo market, watching women hand-knot the fringe of the rebozo into a web of lace.
The fringe, called the punta, is equally as important as the woven cloth. Fine, tightly knotted, long puntas of eight inches or more can make an average rebozo into something magnificent!
We visited eight different rebozo weavers during our time in Tenancingo de Degollado. Each has a different weaving style. Only two we visited are working on back strap looms, a dying art form.
The back strap loom is able to hold over 6,000 warp threads, so the ikat design on the fabric is much more detailed and the material is denser because it uses a finer cotton thread. It can take three months or more to weave a rebozo using this method.
An ikat rebozo woven on the pedal loom is much less expensive and can be completed after about a week on the loom.
That does not take into account the preparation time, which includes counting the threads to form cords, washing them in a paste to harden the cords, marking the cords with a design, then tying the cords, dying them, and then threading the loom. All tallied, it’s a 14-step process.
We found some great spots for lunch, like Don Chano’s and El Meson, and some nights we were so tired from visiting rebozo weavers that we opted for pizza and a mezcal or soft drink on the terrace.
At the end of the trip we were going to offer up confessions of how many each of us bought. We never got around to it, but I heard that one of us went home with eleven rebozos.
Ikat rebozo weaving in Mexico is a dying art. In the 1960’s there were over 250 rebozo weavers in Tenancingo. Now there are fewer than thirty. With the strength of the U.S. dollar in Mexico now, it was easy to justify an extra purchase to give one of these beautiful textiles as a gift.
Most importantly, each of us felt we were supporting artisans whose hand-work is special and valuable. Without tourism, we risk losing Mexican artisans to an industrial economy where the labor of creating beauty, one article at a time, will fade into non-existence.
Thanks to everyone who participated this year. It’s likely I won’t be offering this study tour again until 2019 or later. Stay tuned for new 2018 textile study tours with destinations to Oaxaca and Michoacan and/or Chiapas.