Last Saturday, 70 WARP conference-goers divided up and piled into four red vans to go on an all-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I organized.
We left our Oaxaca hotel at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7:00 p.m. (and in a rain storm). It takes much longer to move 70 people than it does to lead a small group of three!
Of course, I couldn’t be on all four vans at once, so I had great help from dye master Elsa Sanchez Diaz, applied linguist Janet Chavez Santiago, and blogger Shannnon Pixley Sheppard who staffed the other three.
Thanks to them and a schedule that brought us all together for lunch and an end-of-the-day reunion, the day went off without a hiccup.
We hopscotched all over Teotitlan del Valle and made a detour to Lachigolo to visit weavers I know who work in naturally-dyed wool and cotton.
We got demonstrations of the natural dye process, tapestry loom weaving techniques using the fixed frame, two-harness pedal loom used to make rugs.
We saw the flying shuttle, four-harness loom that can make yards of cotton cloth with more intricate patterning depending on the sequencing of the foot pedals. The cloth woven for clothing and home goods.
Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet each family, understand how they work in collaboration and in family units, and see how they are inspired to make very distinctive products from each other.
Every family has their own dye recipes and design adaptations. Some are doing very pioneering work, combining wool and agave plant fiber.
Some are doing very fine wall tapestries with 17 warp threads per inch. It is wonderful to see the range and variety of creativity and inspiration.
Alfredo Hernandez weaves the natural manta with the finest cotton threads. Then embroiderer Anacleta Juarez creates the most detailed, intricate finely stitched work I’ve ever seen.
On day one, cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace talked about the importance of collaboration to further innovation that will sustain tradition.
We gathered at the end of the day at the home workshop and studio of Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for traditional hot chocolate, bread, mezcal and a demonstration. Big thanks, Porfirio, for your hospitality to welcome 70 people!
The family is working in wool dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. They are innovating with rug designs that resemble a petate that incorporates plant fibers like jute and ixtle.
Almost every weaver here knows how to prepare a demonstration using natural dyes. Many have the materials on hand to show visitors. Yet, it takes half the time to prepare wool using aniline dyes as it does to prepare natural dyes. The dye materials are 10 times more expensive.
Some say that about 10 to 15 Teotitlan del Valle families may actually use natural dyes in their work. (I don’t know the exact number.) If this is important to you, you may want to join one of our one-day study tours to take you to them. The price will be higher for these beauties, but there is a distinctive difference in color palette and quality.
One more post about the WARP Conference in Oaxaca, 2017, and the walking tour of the historic center that Janet and I led last Sunday. We explored the nooks and crannies, found paper earring for Louise, good strong coffee for Diane. In two outstanding galleries, we had talks from owners and managers about quality differences in materials, dyes, and hand-looming.
Thanks to WARP for coming to Oaxaca, and thanks to you for reading.