How much does a rug cost in Teotitlan? There is no standard answer because cost depends on many variables: quality of wool used, size, whether it was dyed with chemical or natural dyes, the complexity of the design, and who made it. Is it being sold directly by the person who made it or is it sold in one of the “retail” houses that sub-contracts with other weavers in the village and markets under the master’s name? When I first visited Teotitlan del Valle, my quest was to find the “best weaver in town.” As a weaver, textile artist and collector, I knew it was important to do my homework, visit a lot of weavers houses, look at the galleries of the famous people whose names are in every guidebook, and then get off the beaten path. I wanted to find the highest quality weavers but also buy from a family that had not yet made an international name for themselves, support them directly and pay a fair price. In this quest, I learned a lot. For example, many weavers buy commercial wool that is mixed with nylon, which is cheaper and not as sturdy in the long run. Because I am an artist, it is important to me to support people who work with natural dyes because I love the subtle aesthetics of the natural colors. I also wanted to uphold and sustain the early traditions of the Zapotecs (chemical dyes were a 19th Century introduction), and minimize the health impact of working with chemical dyes. I learned that it takes considerably more time to prepare the wool for weaving when working with natural dyes, perhaps as much as 3-4 times longer, because the process has many steps. It is not cost effective for a weaver who has only modest talents to work in natural dyes because the price of the product will have to be higher. Only the most talented weavers, those who can achieve complex patterns using curves and circles, will command higher prices. So, if you are looking for a real bargain, are you willing to compromise quality for price? For example, a rug that is approximately 2-5/8 wide x 5 feet long, woven by a master weaver using the finest quality wool in the traditional caracol Pre-Columbian snail design using natural dyes, will cost around $600-700. This is an intricate design requiring many curves and takes a couple of weeks to execute. A modified version of this, the Greca pattern, will cost about $450-500, for a similar size. Less complex patterns, such as Mountains and Rains or the Zapotec Star, require less skill and can be made faster, and will cost less. A small 2 x 3 foot rug could go for as little as $80-125, especially if it is made with chemical dyes. I have seen poor quality work in the village, rugs prepared with single edge cotton chord (not the finer quality double edge to ensure a rug lies flat), a less dense weave, single ply wool, and “muddy” chemical dyes sell for as little as $50. Federico Chavez recently completed two very large, 10 x 12 foot, custom ordered rugs, which were $3-5,000 each. Not many weavers will have looms that can create a textile that large. The Chavez Santiago family house is committed to only working in natural dyes, so by virtue of this choice, rugs from them will be higher priced. But, they will last a lifetime…or several lifetimes! My recommendation is to read all you can about rug weaving in Teotitlan and make a list of the weavers who you would like to visit. They will be happy to give you a demonstration of their weaving and dyeing techniques, explain the process, and show you their work. Do not feel obligated to buy until you are comfortable, know the weaver, and are satisfied that you have explored all the possibilities. Weavers are artists. Many of their designs are unique to their own families. You will notice that there are subtle variations in patterns and designs among families throughout the village. Some families, like the Chavez Santiago family, are innovating with new mixes of colors and patterns. Mexico is a place where visitors are used to bargaining in the marketplace. I do not know of any weaver who wouldn’t be a little flexible in their pricing, but usually it is no more than 10%. But, consider that a 3 x 5 foot rug will take 30-40 hours of labor, and because Teotitlan weavers stand at their looms and are not able to work more than 6-8 hours a day, think about what constitutes fair compensation before you ask for a discount.
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