Tag Archives: dye

Women Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part One

Recently, I spent the day with a University of Michigan, public policy and economic development researcher, who asked me to introduce her to the Zapotec weaving culture of Teotitlan del Valle. Her expertise is India. Now, she is exploring how India and Mexico intersect and diverge in their support of artisans, particularly weavers.

Handwoven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana.

hand-woven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana Gutierrez

During our almost 10-hour day, we visited with five weaving families who work in natural dyes, two of whom are official cooperatives, registered with the government. One of these cooperatives, Vida Nueva (New Life), is solely woman-operated. Our time with spokeswoman Pastora Gutierrez enlightened my knowledge about how women came to become weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Weaving on the fixed-frame pedal loom is mostly men’s work. The looms are big and heavy. It takes upper body strength to operate them. When the Spanish friars introduced this tapestry loom (along with churro sheep) to New Spain with the conquest, they trained men to use it, just as men traditionally worked this loom in Europe to create textiles for warmth.

Oaxaca tapestry looms turned out blankets, ponchos, sarapes and other articles of functional cloth for insulation used by people and horses.

Started in the early 1940’s, during World War II when men were overseas, the United States Bracero program opened the opportunity for Mexican men to work legally as temporary, seasonal agricultural laborers. From 1948 to 1964, more than 200,000 Mexican worked in U.S. agriculture each year.

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Talk to anyone in Teotitlan del Valle and you will meet someone who participated in this program or has a relative who did. I am told the impact on Teotitlan del Valle was huge and saw the exodus of many of its young and middle-age men. They worked in the fields and orchards of America to earn a living to support their families.

Many men didn’t return.

This is when most women learned to weave.

Young women, who always did the cleaning, carding and spinning of sheep wool, learned to dress the loom and weave tapestries. Many began producing sellable textiles by age 11. Mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces and cousins came together to make this a family endeavor until the men returned, much like the sewing bee in small town USA. The making and selling of textiles remained closely within the family group.

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

By the mid-1970’s, Teotitlan del Valle weaving shifted from blankets and clothing to ornamental floor rugs, brought on by the market demand of Santa Fe interior design style. Importers developed relationships with village weavers who became exporters. Many were men who had learned a little English working in the Bracero program and had returned to the family and village infrastructure.

Resources

Book: Zapotec Women by Lynn Stephen, Duke University Press

 

Natural Dyes and Indigo Blue Easter Eggs

I’ve never seen dyed Easter eggs here in Oaxaca, but perhaps someone could correct me if I just haven’t noticed them. Yet, here we are in the world of natural dyes. My personal favorite is indigo blue. So, when this post from Improvised Life came to my inbox this morning, I felt compelled to share it.

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs Made Simple

This segues into the world of natural dyes here in Oaxaca, where a kilogram of indigo from the coast costs over $100 USD. In the spirit of indigo blue, I’d like to share these photos with you of indigo blue dyed textiles taken during recent Natural Dye Textiles and Weaving Study Tour programs.

 

Thanks to Juana Gutierrez, Galeria Fe y Lola, Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, Bii Dauu Cooperative, Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Arturo Hernandez and Porfirio Gutierrez for their talent to keep the world of natural dyes alive here.

Oaxaca Indigo Dye Workshop Delights Penland School of Crafts Visitors

Penland2013_1-45Dyeing with the natural color of indigo was a highlight of the Penland School of Crafts textile workshop tour of Oaxaca in early November.  I brought this wonderful group  of women — all first-time visitors to Oaxaca — for a workshop with Eric Chavez Santiago and his parents at their family home in Teotitlan del Valle.

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Indigo is a plant that grows wild on the southern Pacific coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec.  Before we rolled up our sleeves to immerse our hands and white cloth into the dye pot, Eric explained the process of how indigo is processed here by hand to get the intense color that you see in the photos.

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After Eric demonstrates how to twist, tie, bundle, fold, clip, band, and otherwise manipulate a white piece of cotton to get a pattern, each person takes their cloth and starts their own project.  Some choose marbles that are held by rubber bands.  Others fold the cloth like a sandwich of triangles. Some combine the two.

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It’s a surprise when we unroll them from the styrofoam tube.  Every resulting piece is unique and beautiful.  Perfect for a scarf or wall-hanging.

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I cannot say enough about Eric and his family, what an education and experience. I feel like I have new friends in Mexico. The personal contact and sharing make this such a rich and deep experience, not just learning a skill but really feeling the history of the culture and being charged by the experience. – Barbara Benisch

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During the workshop, Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellanas give us a break and show us the process for tapestry weaving with a thorough demonstration.  The family only uses natural dyes to produce the rugs they weave.

We have two spaces left for a 3-day natural dye workshop in January, several spaces open for a 4-day tapestry weaving workshop that immediately follows.

We develop customized programs like the one for Penland for arts organizations.  Contact us to learn more. 

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