It’s not easy to describe how Jesus Zarate from Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico, prepares the cotton weft threads to weave an ikat rebozo or shawl filled with 125 multi-colored butterflies.
This rebozo is made on a traditional back strap loom. Jesus ties one end around his waist and the other to a fixed pole or wall. He stands while weaving. The loom is wide and heavy, which is why men do this type of work. It is usually constructed of oak or another hardwood, built to last a lifetime.
It takes Jesus two or three months to weave this textile, working about six hours a day. That’s before he prepares the weft threads, first tying the knots where the design will be, marking the pattern on the threads that are held together with a cornstarch glue, then dipping the tied area into dye, then untying and washing the threads before he puts them on the loom. It can take a week to warp the loom before the weaving begins.
Jesus works with his son Hugo by his side. They both weave more traditional patterns on the fixed-frame pedal loom, also called the counterbalance or flying shuttle loom brought to Mexico during the Industrial Revolution.
Many of these looms are more than 100 years old. They are in need of continuous repair and their age is a testimony to their durability as a tool for textile creation.
Mexico Textile + Folk Art Study Tour: Rebozos and More
September 8-16, 2016 includes Rebozo Fair — Feria del Rebozo
The first time I visited the home studio of Jesus Zarate was in September 2015. I went along with a group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico — people who love Mexican folk art. Three women bought the finest rebozos from Jesus. He cried. He hadn’t sold a fine rebozo in two years.
I decided to change the LADAP itinerary to go deeper and focus primarily on rebozo weaving with a side trip to Taxco. I’m now offering a September 2016 and February 2017 tour. It is a perfect experience for weavers and textile lovers alike. We also include an in-depth discussion about and demonstrations of the natural dye process.
Jesus recently lost two sons and is in mourning. He tells me he never smiles. It is difficult for him. His son, Hugo, is his remaining heir to the tradition of ikat weaving in Tenancingo de Degollado.
Jesus has only two pedal looms, not a sign of prosperity in a weaving culture. He is one of a handful who still know how to work the back strap loom. These pedal looms cram into a small workshop at the front of the humble house where he lives with his son. He is no longer married. Often, as we know, the tragedies of life take its toll on relationships.
Very few international visitors come to Tenancingo. It is about two-and-a-half hours from the center of Mexico City. To go independently requires a combination of bus and taxi travel with transfers at the Mexico City west bus station and again in Toluca.
I recently took a group of 10 women to meet many famous rebozo weavers of Tenancingo, including Jesus Zarate. We traveled together from Mexico City and spent a week going deep into the textile culture of the region to see and understand the process. You can read the rave reviews on TripAdvisor.
Please come with me on the next Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Rebozos of Tenancingo, set for September 2016 to coincide with the annual Feria del Rebozo or rebozo fair. Registrations are now open!
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