Rebozo Weaving Technology in Mexico: How to Make an Ikat Shawl

On our textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) we met ikat rebozo weavers, called reboceros, who use up to 6,400 cotton warp threads on a back strap loom.

Evaristo Borboa, grand master of Mexican folk art, weaves on a back strap loom

About 3,000 to 5,000 cotton warp threads are used on the fixed frame pedal floor loom.

Rebozo weaver Gabriel Perez at his floor loom

The technology is simple. The fabric created is complex.

The floor loom is faster.  Weavers can produce a rebozo in about a week using this loom. It takes three months or more to make a rebozo on the back strap loom.

Weaver Jesus Zarate defies imagination with his ikat butterfly design

Because fewer warp threads are used on the floor loom, the cotton threads can be thicker and the finished cloth might be coarser.

A weaver’s took kit

As you might imagine, the cost for a rebozo made on a back strap loom is much more than one woven on a pedal loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate! What do rebozos cost? From 400 to 16,000 pesos.

Bits and pieces of supplies that might be needed for dyeing

Would you work six months to earn $800 USD?

The pattern can be more blurred and not as detailed as those created on the back strap loom. Except for the rebozos woven by Jesus Zarate!

Fermin Escobar marks stiff bundles of thread with ink to make a pattern

There are fourteen different steps required to make an ikat rebozo. The most difficult and time-consuming part is the preparation of the threads before they are dressed on the loom.

Threads are soaked in starch to dry and stiffen before marking.

Ikat pattern markers are coated with ink, rolled along stiffened cords.

The weavers we met all repeated that the actual weaving is the simplest part of the process.

Weavers throw hardwood bobbins between the warp sheds to make the weft

Dipping the yarn into the starch to stiffen it

A better view of the pattern marked on the stiff cotton cords

Separating the cords so they dry evenly

Each mark must be hand tied to create the dye resist

Once the cords are marked in ink with the pattern, each mark is hand tied. The cloth will then be dipped in the dye bath. It is then washed and dried. The knots are cut and the pattern emerges on the warp thread, ready to be threaded on the loom.

Mexicans innovate and cobble together materials to keep things running

For rebozos with multiple colors, they can be hand-dipped in the dye pot or the part that is already colored will be tied off so it does not absorb the new color.

Over 4,000 warp threads pass through the hettles of these looms

The loom might be considered low technology, but it is a complex system for making cloth. Today, industrial cloth is made totally by machine. We are interested in the hand-made process.

Bobbin making system — a bicycle wheel

Making ikat for a rebozo on the pedal loom

One of Evaristo’s beautiful blue ikat shawls in blue, finely detailed

The enpuntadora hand ties each knot to create fringe, the finishing touch

Knotting the rebozo can take equally as long as weaving it — three months or more, depending on intricacy. We know one enpuntadora who takes a year to tie a complex fringe.

The fringe must equal or exceed the beauty of the shawl

8 Responses to Rebozo Weaving Technology in Mexico: How to Make an Ikat Shawl

  1. Great photo essay of the ikat weaving process–thanks so much, Norma. As a former weaver, I remember how much more complex and “interesting” the setup process for a project is than the actual, throwing-the-shuttle part. In your photos, I love especially to look at the hands of the weavers–those oft-dyed, nimble fingers that guide the weft among the warp threads or tie the intricate knots of the fringe. Hard working hands with infinite depths of knowledge and skill.

    • Hi, Winn. Looking forward to seeing you in Oaxaca. Yes, the magic hands of Mexican artisans are beautiful, symbols of an incredible work ethic, much disparaged these days. it is beautiful to watch them work. Thanks for this lovely comment.

  2. Beautiful Norma, If you don’t understand the process you can’t fully appreciate the work that goes in to Ikat. I will make that trip with you one day. Wish I was going to Chiapas this time but alas too much weaving to do at home but my friend Bev Flynn is going. Take good care of her. Jennie

  3. Amazing! The shawls are truly works of art. I had no idea of all the intricate steps taken before the rebozo can be woven. Each seems to be a labor of love because the time each takes to complete isn’t being compensated for.
    This was fascinating. Thank you for sharing the story and your wonderful photos.

  4. Another lovely post about the trip. Thanks Norma. This makes it easy to share details of the processes with friends and spread the word about this little visited area and the magnificent rebozo weavers and empuntadoras who live here!
    Sandi

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