Tag Archives: yarn

Visiting the Oaxaca Wool Mill: Lanera de Ocotlan

In 1996 Englishman Graham Johnson came to Ocotlan de Morelos from Mexico City to open a woolen mill.  The mill was designed to streamline the production process for making yarn and weaving cloth from local churro sheep wool* without sacrificing quality.

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Graham was a tinkerer. He loved machinery, especially the old carding and spinning machines that were being replaced by computerization. He bought these up, shipped them to Oaxaca from the United States and the United Kingdom, and refurbished them. Often, he would find or make the parts to keep them going. Many were 30 and 40 years old already.

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Over time the mill diversified and made luxuriously soft merino bed blankets and throws, fancy yak hair mecate horse reins, cinch chord for saddle belts, colorful wool tassels to decorate saddles, horse blankets and rugs for home decor.

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They kept a supply of all types of wool to work with and blend, continuing to experiment to produce soft and durable products. In addition to merino, the mill cleaned and spun cashmere, mohair, Lincoln and other breeds. They still do.

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Then, Graham died suddenly from a heart attack in 2009, and there was a question about who would keep the business going.

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I remember when I first met Graham on one of my early visits to Oaxaca. It was probably 2005 or 2006. The mill was running at full capacity and you could hear the hum of machinery as you walked down the open corridor separating the rooms where the work was done.  It was impressive then what these old machines and talented local employees could do.

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Now, when I revisited with my friend Scott Roth, who has been working with weavers, wool, dyes, and the hand-loomed rug weaving process for over 40 years, I could see the changes. Scott brought with him replacement parts for some of the machines. Machines that were working ten years ago now need repair. Old belts, bearings, wires, cogs and wheels break, wear out.

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For the past two years, Graham’s 37-year old daughter Rebecca has stepped in and is learning the operation. The mill is 25 years old and Rebecca is determined to keep her father’s dream alive.

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At her side are Rosalba (Rosie) Martinez Garcia, who has been there for 18 years and knows just about everything about the mill.  Helping are Angel Laer Ambocio Perez (above) and Alejandro Maldonado Santiago. They know a thing or two, too, although their tenure is much shorter.

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Rebecca loves textiles. She loves yarn. She wants to supply all types of yarns for knitting and weaving and other fiber arts. There are beautiful rugs and blankets stacked on shelves that were made before her father passed that are for sale.

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Spare parts for anything is essential here in Mexico. Equipment can be old. It can still be good, functional, valued. If one has the necessary parts to keep it going. Graham wasn’t the only tinkerer here. People save, cobble together, recycle, repurpose. Things get jimmied together and continue to work. People here learn how to be resourceful with what they have. It’s something I’ve learned being here.

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As Scott and Rebecca worked out numbers to complete their transaction, I wandered the mill, remembering Graham. A cat ran across the corridor to hide. A young tree struggled to grow up from the crack in the concrete. A rusted yarn holder cast shadows on the adobe wall. I loved being there, another part of the textile heaven that is Oaxaca.

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Where to Find It: Lanera de Ocotlan, 119 Benito Juarez, Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, Tel:  951-294-7062. Email: Rebecca Johnson at  becky_madonna@hotmail.com for an appointment to visit. Directions: Continue straight past the Zocalo and the Mercado Morelos two blocks. The wool mill door will be on your left. It is unmarked.

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Footnote: *Local wool is shorn from churro sheep which were brought to Mexico by the Spaniards with the conquest in 1521. The sheep are raised in the high mountains above Ocotlan in San Baltazar Chichicapam. The mountain range separates the Tlacolula and Ocotlan valleys. The altitude there produces a soft, dense fleece. There are still some, like Yolande Perez Vasquez, who use hand carders and the drop spindle to produce the best yarn, but this is a costly, labor-intensive process that yields a premium yarn that is very dye absorbent. Few weavers are able to pay the price.

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Natural Dye Workshop Yields Glorious, Colorfast Textiles

Working with natural dyes like cochineal that yield red, indigo blue, wild marigold (pericone) and fustic to give us yellow, is like being a pastry chef and following a recipe.  It helps to know a little chemistry or have a willingness to learn.

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Indigo dye bath percolating

Eric Chavez Santiago and Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Mexico’s most knowledgeable natural dye experts and our workshop leaders, take us through the steps to use a non-toxic process to mordant wool that we will  use to dye cochineal, fustic and wild marigold.  Wool that we dye with indigo requires no mordant but another set of intricate steps that will guarantee a result of intense blue and its variations. See the green bloom in the photo above. The chemistry here is to allow no oxygen to enter the dye bath. Stirring is a no-no.

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The intense colors we get depend on a number of factors, including the original color of the natural wool, the amount of dye for the recipe, the length of time in the dye bath, the number of dips, how little dye is left in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid (lime juice, for example) or a base (baking soda, alum or ashes).  Eric and Elsa have developed an extraction technique for the cochineal that yields the most intense, concentrated color.  The extract can be saved and refrigerated for later use and then refreshed.

  • 1-Day Workshop: $125 USD
  • 2-Day Workshop: $235 USD
  • 3-Day Workshop: $355 USD

Workshops include all instruction, formulas and dye sampler. The 3-Day Workshop includes making a shibori scarf dyed with indigo.

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In the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets workshop, we go through the basics and then tackle more advanced dyeing techniques using acids, bases, and over-dyeing.  Over-dyeing is when you first dye your fiber with the base color such as red (cochineal) or yellow (fustic or wild marigold).  The red is then dipped in the indigo dye bath to yield various shades of purple depending on the shade of red.

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This is not a complex process, but requires attention and following the recipes.  By the end of the workshop, participants have color samples with specific formulas/recipes for all the shades from yellow to green to pink to red to orange to purple to blue.

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During the workshop, we also experiment with shibori dye techniques using indigo with 100% cotton fabric.  The resulting pattern depends on how we fold, wrap, package, or tie the fabric.  Some use rubber bands, string, marbles, sticks, and other materials to manipulate the design.

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Everything depends on whether the material is a protein (animal) or cellulose (plant) fiber.  Cochineal only works best with protein fibers that are mordanted in advance.  Indigo is not really a dye but a stain and only coats the surface of the fiber (which you can see through a microscope).  Indigo works well with protein AND cellulose fibers.  And, wow, does it attach to everything it touches!

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Our participants come from throughout the world.  They include novices and experienced fiber artists/dyers.  Several had never been to Oaxaca before.  They have included an English professor,  a faculty member in architecture and interior design, mixed media artists, and two professional weavers.  Everyone comes away with a great experience and more information than they ever dreamed possible.

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We can schedule a workshop to suit your travel schedule. Contact us. 

Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom + Cooking Class

Imagine! A 4-day hands-on weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, with the family of master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa. From Wednesday-Saturday.  For beginners and experienced weavers!

  • W-Sa, March 14-17, 2012 OR
  •  July 11-14, 2012

PLUS a traditional Zapotec cooking class with one of Oaxaca’s premiere cooking teachers — fun, flavorful and hands-on!

  • Tuesday, March 12 OR
  •  July 10.

Workshop Option 1:  Arrive March 12 and depart on March 18, 2012

Workshop Option 2:  Arrive July 9 and depart on July 15, 2012

Federico Chavez Sosa at the loom

“The workshop was an incredible program. I have enjoyed the process! Thank you very much for your hospitality and for sharing your talent, knowledge and wonderful teaching.  I would recommend this program to any friend.  This has been an unforgettable week.” –Giovanna Balarezo, New York City

Reyna at the Metate

Workshop tuition is $995 per person, including lodging (double occupancy), most meals, and cooking class.  Workshop is limited to 6 participants.

Includes 22 hours of instruction, 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, AND a traditional Zapotec cooking class with lunch.  Perfect for fiber artists, weavers, knitters, natural dye aficionados, artists, teachers.  A great shared experience for parents and children.  

Cultivating Cochineal — The Red Dye From the Insect

Dancing on the Loom” was a marvelous experience; not only did I learn the essentials of weaving and dyeing, but I have the opportunity to see people engaging in the building of a sustainable production.” — Akilah Zuberi, Philadelphia

Not only will you learn the way Zapotecs have been weaving for over 500 years, and dyeing for millenia, you will be experiencing village life through a very unique and personal perspective.

The Federico Chavez Sosa family has traveled and exhibited throughout the United States, are in the permanent collections of galleries, museums and artists, including the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. They have exhibited and lectured widely, including at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago), the San Jose (CA) Quilt and Textile Museum, the American Tapestry Alliance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Purdue University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Cochineal Colors 

Who Should Attend: Weavers, artists, knitters, textile designers, teachers, university students, anyone interested in weaving and natural dyeing techniques, and sustaining indigenous art forms using traditional methods.

Level of Experience Necessary: These are small group, hands-on workshops that can accommodate varying levels of ability, from beginner to advanced student. Because the size of each group is limited, you will receive individualized instruction and coaching from the master weaving family of Federico Chavez Sosa. More experienced weavers can create more complex projects.

Participants will have a personal loom for the session. The loom will be dressed (warped) and ready for you to begin weaving upon arrival. Materials include your choice of naturally dyed wool yarn from which you will weave a sampler textile that can be used as a wall hanging, pillow cover, or form the body of a purse or shoulder bag. You will select the wool from colors dyed with pomegranates, pecans, mosses, indigo, and cochineal.  Our participants have created amazing textiles that range from 18 inches to 30 inches in length.

What You Will Learn:

  • Traditional Zapotec weaving techniques, patterns and motifs that produce squares, stripes, diagonals, circles and color gradations;
  • Use of the two-harness pedal loom and shuttles;
  • Practice weaving simple or more complex patterns, depending upon your level of experience;
  • The cultural history of rug weaving in Teotitlan, ancient wool preparation techniques, natural dyeing methods, and how to discern synthetic dye use
  • Participate in natural dyeing demonstrations to see how the range and variety of color comes from native plant materials;
  • Complete a finished textile: cut the sample tapestry from the loom, clean the wool tapestry, twist and tie the fringes; and
  • Work under the expert guidance of weavers who have created extraordinary textiles for generations.

Participants with Federico at the tapestry loom

Day 1:  Arrive and settle in to your Bed and Breakfast lodge.

Weaving Workshop: Days 2-5, 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Day 2: Arrive at the Chavez Family Studio for an orientation and demonstration of Zapotec weaving patterns and techniques to create squares, stripes, diagonals and circles. Choose your loom and select the colors for your tapestry. Prepare the bobbins. Begin your project.

Days 3-4-5: Participate in demonstrations and then practice using the two-harness pedal loom using a variety of shuttles to make more complex patterns and greater variety of colors, experiment with using the equipment on your own, learn dyeing techniques using cochineal, indigo, wild marigold (pericone) and moss. Learn how to count threads to create a circle or square within the overall design. Finish off your piece by cutting it off the loom, rolling and tying fringes.

Day 6:  After breakfast, walk around the block to the kitchen of the famed cooking teacher.  You’ll go to the market with her, select the food you will prepare, join her in her kitchen for all the preparations, then enjoy what you have cooked for comida!

Day 7:  Depart for the airport and home after breakfast.

What Is Included:

  • All weaving equipment and supplies to create a finished wool tapestry sampler that is approximately 18” wide by 24” long
  • 22+ hours of supervised instruction in English
  • An educational reference notebook of workshop materials
  • 6 nights lodging (double occupancy) with daily breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle at a lovely and comfortable bed and breakfast within easy walking distance of the weaving studio

Cost for the 6 Night/7-Day Program is $995 USD per person, double occupancy.  Additional nights lodging can be arranged at $55 per night per person in Teotitlan del Valle.  Oaxaca city extension can be arranged at $125 per night (includes breakfast).

How to Register: A $500 USD deposit is required to reserve your space.

Final payment of the balance is due 45 days before the start day of the workshop. If the final balance is not paid by then, we reserve the right to treat the reservation as cancelled and no refunds are offered. Any registrations made within 60 days of the workshop start date must be paid in full at the time of registration.

Mountains and Rains Zapotec Rug Pattern

Cancellations and Refunds

If cancellation is necessary, deposits are refundable, as follows:

Cancellations must be made in writing by email.

Deposits may be refunded:

  • up to 60 days before the workshop start date, 50% of the deposit will be refunded.
  • After that, deposits are not refundable.
  • If cancellation is necessary, you may apply the deposit to a future workshop scheduled in the same calendar year or transfer your registration to another person.
  • We reserve the right to cancel or reschedule workshops, in which case you may choose a 100% refund or to apply the tuition to a future workshop.

We prefer payment with PayPal.  See “Register Today” for form and procedures.

What Is NOT Included:

  • Transportation in/to Mexico, Oaxaca and Teotitlan
  • Local transportation costs (bus, taxi, collectivo)
  • Gratuities and fees
  • Trip insurance, medical expenses, hospitalization, and other fees
  • Lunches and dinners (unless noted in the itinerary), snacks, liquor/alcoholic beverages
  • Optional afternoon side trips and excursions

Upon registration for the workshop, we will provide you with:

  • Transportation options to get from the Oaxaca airport to Teotitlan del Valle and your bed and breakfast
  • A self-guided tour map of Teotitlan del Valle
  • How to get from the airport to the village
  • A seasonal packing list, and travel tips to make your journey easier and fun

Note: Zapotec weavers use the pedal loom, which they stand at to work. People who have difficulty standing for any period of time, or who have back problems are discouraged from attending. Many of Teotitlan’s streets and alleyways are cobblestone and/or dirt, with many uneven surfaces. It is a several block walk between lodging options and the weaving workshop. Please bring appropriate walking shoes.

Documentation

U.S. Citizens traveling to Mexico are required to carry a current passport, valid for at least three months after your re-entry to the U.S. It is your responsibility to obtain proper documentation. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, contact the Mexican embassy, consulate or national airline of Mexico for entry requirements.

Trip Insurance

Please consider purchasing travel insurance. Unforeseen circumstances of getting to Teotitlan del Valle could cost you more than you expected. In the event of an emergency or natural disaster caused beyond our control, trip insurance will cover any unexpected expenses.

Questions? Contact oaxacaculture@me.com