Weaving & Dyeing in Teotitlan del Valle

Weaving is a centuries old endeavor.  Originally Zapotec women were the first weavers, making cotton clothes and blankets to offer as tribute to the Aztecs, and then later to the Spanish colonizers. The Dominican Bishop Lopez de Zarate is said to have introduced the fixed-frame pedal loom, the spinning wheel, churro sheep, carding paddles scissors and steel needles.  This enabled Zapotec weavers to create a new product — the wool sarape (blanket).  He also taught weaving to men who had the strength to work with the heavier material and larger looms.

In the beginning of the Spanish conquest, weavers produced blankets, srapes and ponchos for their own use and for trade with other indigenous groups or the Spanish.  As the market shifted to tourism, the function of these wool blankets and their style also changes.  Textiles now served as art and home decor rather than clothing.

During the 1970’s, demand for handwoven Zapotec weavings increased and U.S. importers asked Teotitlan weavers to increase their production for export, primarily to the U.S. southwest (New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas).  Synthetic (aniline) dyes were already common (introduced in the early 1900’s), making this an easy request because the dyeing process is so much simpler.

By then, local wool production couldn’t sustain demand and many weavers went to the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, where higher elevations made sheep growing more productive, to buy handspun rug wool.  In 1983,  a factory opened in Teotitlan del Valle to mechanically spin raw wool into yarn.  At the same time, factory representatives from other Mexican states arrived to sell cheaper machine spun wool yarned mixed with acrylic (sill a common practice).

The handspun wool became an expensive and inconvenient material to work with.  However, weavers to wanted to retain higher quality continued the tradition of using only hand spun yarn, still employed today by the best artisans of Teotitlan del Valle.

During the 1990’s, weavers began to combine imported New Zealand and Peruvian mohair with churro wool.  This combination produces a soft hand and a very strong fabric.  Looms have also been modified to create larger, higher quality and more unique pieces.

23 Responses to Weaving & Dyeing in Teotitlan del Valle

  1. Hi,
    Love the site, thanks!

    My wife and I just bought a large and very intricate tapete from Teotitlan del Valle. We were part of a tour that brought us there so we bargained hard and finally got away with paying 4,000 pesos. They originally wanted 9,000. Is there a way to tell by careful examination whether our piece was made from hand-woven wool and dyed using natural materials?


    Dan and Lion

    • Not likely it’s natural dyes. That’s what most tourists do, get on a tour bus, go to one weaving house where the guide gets 40-50% for taking them there, and love the exercise of a hard bargain, thinking they got a deal. When the price starts out inflated in an economy where you already get a 50% discount because of the exchange rate, you still end up paying more than something is worth. This may not be what you want to hear. But in the end, it you like it and feel you got something special for not much, then it doesn’t matter, does it?

  2. Hi!

    I’m very interested in the weavig and natural dyeing workshop!
    I’ll be travelling in Mexico and Oaxaca in November-December 2016…will there be any workshop those months?
    Thanks, Jess

  3. Norma,
    I really enjoy your posts and hope to meet you on my next try to Oaxaca. I wrote to you last year but could not fit in a workshop traveling with my family. I will be returning to Oaxaca in November to attend the International Shibori Symposium cohosted by the Textile Museum. I hope that we can meet then. I am hoping that I will be able to extend my trip and travel or study in a village. I think you will be interested in the Symposium and the exhibits that will be up while it is in session. Have a safe trip to the USand a safe return to Oaxaca so you can share mor with all of us.
    Patricia Dresler

    • Hi Patricia, unfortunately I won’t be here in November. The dates for the shibori festival coincide with the unveiling of our mom’s tombstone in California. And from there I’m going to India for a month. Sorry to miss it and meeting you!

  4. Hi Norma,

    My mother and I will be traveling to Oaxaca in August. We are interested in attending one of your workshops. I would also love to speak to you about a project of mine called Cosa Buena. I wasn’t able to find your email, but would love to get in touch with you. I’m so glad that I found your page!

  5. HI there, I will be visiting in July, could you please send me a private message? Thanks, VICKI

  6. Hi Norma,

    I am traveling to Oaxaca at the beginning of March (March 1-5) 2016, and would love to attend a workshop at Teotitlan del Valle while I’m there. I do natural dyes at home, and would jump at the chance at watching a master dying/weaving in action. How do I go about signing up for a class?

    Thank you!


  7. Hi Norma, I am travelling to Oaxaca from Australia in early April, I am very interested in learning as much as possible about textile weaving, dying and basket making in the region. I am mostly interested in seeing their work and interested in trade, export and ongoing work for my business in Australia Would love yo know of any particular projects that may exist or any direction and advise. Thanks in advance, Phoebe.

  8. I will be in Oaxaca Dec 20 -31, 2015 and would like to attend a natural dye workshop or just work with the dyers for a few days if no workshop is available. Please let me know of any possibilities.

  9. Genevieve bourke Landry

    I am interested in attending the natural dye workshop and also the weaving one. Are there workshops in March?
    I am a pattern maker/ designer and have Been inclined to learn to weave and natural dye techniques.
    I am in Oaxaca city from February 19th to April 19th.

    Thank you for your time

  10. I am a fiber artist and art educator in Chicago applying for a grant to study and travel this summer. I would really like to go to Mexico and learn about the culture and take some hands on workshops that relate to anything textile/fiber related. I have obsessively been searching the internet and everything I have found has lead to a dead end. I am hoping that you will have something or a lead for me. I can only travel in late June and through July.
    Thank you,

    • Jeanette. We can arrange a workshop for you! Please tell me your preferred travel dates. We can offer a weaving and natural dyeing workshop with Federico Chavez Sosa. 4-5 days or longer depending on your preference. Give me an indication of how long you would like to be in a workshop and we will schedule something for you.

  11. I saw the mid June weaver’s workshop and wonder if there are others scheduled for later in the year or early next year. This looks like just what I’m looking for.

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