Tag Archives: handwoven wool rugs

My Soapbox: Beware of the Quality of Wool

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

Archeological Museum at Monte Alban Exhibits Teotitlan Textiles

The Teotitlan del Valle community museum held a competition recently and invited talented young weavers who showed promise to submit their work to a jury of village leaders who are master weavers.  Many applied and only a few were selected to exhibit their work at the famed archeological site of Monte Alban where the museum there is featuring them in a special gallery.

Here are a few of my favorites, with the names and addresses where you can contact the artists directly to go and see their work.  Congratulate them, support them, and mention that you heard about them from this blog.

All these pieces were created using the natural color of sheep wool handspun from Chichicapam or handspun wool that is dyed with natural materials: cochineal, indigo, pericone, pecan leaves and shells, moss, pomegrantes, etc.  If you go and visit, encourage their use of natural dyes by purchasing only those rugs where the wool is dyed with “tintas naturales.”  The village leaders are encouraging young people to retain their cultural and weaving heritage, and also to promote the use of natural dyes in the weaving process.  This is important because chemical dyes cause lung health problems that often leads to cancer.

These are some of the young stars…

Antonio Ruiz Gonzalez, Av. Juarez #107, Teotitlan del Valle, rg_antonio@yahoo.com.mx, (951) 16 661 61

Zeferino Clemente Mendoza Bautista, Fiallo #34, Teotitlan del Valle, exlibrisanahuac@hotmail.com, (951) 52 441 41

Taurino Santiago Ruiz, Av. 2 de Abril #23, Teotitlan del Valle, (951) 52 442 32

Manuel Luis Sosa, Av. Hidalgo #80, Teotitlan del Valle, (951) 21 659 10

Rug Exhibition & Sale in Oaxaca, July 27, 1 – 10 p.m.

An exhibition and sale of handwoven, naturally dyed 100% wool rugs made by Frederico Chavez Sosa from Teotitlan del Valle will be held in Oaxaca on Monday, July 27, 2009, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Cuarto Privada de la Noria #208, Col. Centro.  There will be many sizes and designs available at a range of affordable prices.  If you are in Oaxaca for Guelaguetza, please stop by!

We are also showing the premiere of the film, “Weaving a Curve” movie which explains the process of creating highest quality rugs using natural dyes, and the weaver’s motivations as seen through the eyes of Federico Chavez Sosa.

If you have questions or need directions, call Eric Chavez Santiago:  951 209 17 31.  If you are calling from a land line in Oaxaca:  044 951 209 17 31

or you can send me an email:  normahawthorne@mac.com

Mexican Rugs: Another Pattern Language

There are about 40 rugs piled up in various corners of my house — in the entryway, the living room, my office, and a few packed away in the attic waiting for Eric’s return in October. We’ve decided to take photos of them and display them on the website: www.oaxacaculture.com

When you get there, just click on “Rug Gallery” to take you to the page. These will be offered for sale, too, and I’ve also included several beautiful decorator pillows in the offering. Keep checking back, because I’ll be adding more to the gallery this week and next. And, let me know if you have any questions.

All, except a few pieces, are dyed with natural materials or are handwoven using the undyed natural color of the sheep wool.

The traditional patterns express Zapotec mythology, iconography and interpretations of animals, insects, and other elements of the natural and mystical world. If you look closely, you will see a butterfly, lightening, mountains, rain, birds, stars, the eye of God, a cactus flower, the sun and moon, the caracol snail symbolizing communication, numerology, and more. Some of the designs are innovative and much more contemporary, and take elements of traditional designs as their foundation. The Chavez family are artists and every great artist continues to explore and develop their art form.

Do you think green builders and interior designers would be interested in knowing about these rugs for their clients, since all the materials used in their creation are natural?