First, let me say that my primary goal is to educate the consumer and to support weavers who invest in making the highest quality woven materials. I applaud those who use 100% wool that is handspun, who choose the lengthier more time consuming method of using natural dyes to color their wool, and who refuse to pay high commissions to tour guides. It takes courage to take an ethical stand for quality.
Weavers have learned to cut corners and reduce the cost of raw materials in order to continue making the slim profits they need and deserve after paying hefty commissions (up to 50%) to the tour guides who bring them to Teotitlan from their hotels in Oaxaca City. How do the people make enough money? Volume sales from large tour groups is one way. The other is to use less expensive synthetic, chemical dyes that cut the time in half, and the third way is to buy machine spun wool from commercial manufacturers. Machine spun wool is thinner, prone to fiber breakdown over time, and less resilient to wear. Because it has been processed, it contains less lanolin and will dry out.
The wool that comes from the Ocotlan mountain village of Chichicapam is handspun, thick, full of lanolin, resilient and strong. Spinning wool by hand is an artform that is expensive because it is time-consuming and fewer women are willing or able to sit and spin for hours. The irregularities of the thickness is what gives a high quality woven rug its texture and strength.
Master weavers in the village who recognize that their reputation for repeat business depends on making a fine woven rug will invest in using double strands of yarn to make a thicker quality product. Of course, they will be using double the amount of yarn that is used in a typical rug which will cost them more. They will often also incorporate mohair with the churro wool from Chichicapam that also adds strength and value. Rugs made in this manner will last several lifetimes.
Today, Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez, a master weaver and noted oil painter, told me that he has used a washing machine and dryer when he lived in Oregon to clean his rugs that were made with pure wool and naturally dyed. They didn’t shrink or discolor. I would not recommend that, but this is his testimony to the strength and durability of a great rug! He also lamented that many of the older women, including his mother, do not have the stamina to continue to hand spin wool.
Economic forces dictate that if there is not a demand for a product it will die out. If China reproduces Zapotec rugs to bring prices down, and tradtional weavers trim costs to bring the prices down, then we become a culture driven by low cost rather than quality. Please take the time to seek out small production weavers, people who do the work themselves and do not contract with other weavers, who adhere to quality standards and you will be doing your part for textile preservation. You may pay a little more but you will be doing good in the world.
In Teotitlan del Valle, I recommend:
Federico Chavez Sosa, Francisco I Madero #55
Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez, Constituccion #12
Bii Dauu Cooperative, Calle de Iturbide
Arte y Seda, Avenida Benito Juarez #4
and the young weavers I noted in my blog post about the textile exhibition at the archeological museum of Monte Alban.
In Oaxaca, I recommend two shops next door to each other:
Galleria Fe y Lola, Av. Cinco de Mayo #408
El Nahual Gallery, Av. Cinco de Mayo #402