Tag Archives: Zapotec weaving

Video: Mexican Rug Designs from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

In the spirit of my own continuing education, I went to the Apple Store last night for a tutorial about how to make an iMovie using my photographs.  My computer is storing over 6,000 photos — many of which are published on this site.  I learned the basics and am now experimenting, so hopefully, over the new few weeks, I’ll be able to translate still photography into a visually appealing presentation for your viewing pleasure.  Hopefully, this works!

The video I created here features many fine examples of the hand-woven, naturally dyed tapestry weave textiles made by The Chavez Santiago Family Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.  Federico Chavez Sosa, the head of the family, is a master weaver, as is his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas.  They and their children, Eric, Janet and Omar Chavez Santiago are also shown in the video interspersed with village scenes.  The music is by Susana Harp.

I hope you enjoy it!

What you’ll see in this video:

  • Zapotec and Mixtec stone carvings at the archeological site of Mitla
  • The Catholic church built with Zapotec temple stones
  • Weavings by the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers
  • Selected Saltillo-style weavings by Tito Mendoza Ruiz and Roman Gutierrez
  • Adaptations of traditional designs for more contemporary styles
  • Teotitlan del Valle Church of the Precious Blood, 16th Century
  • Parade of the Canastas (baskets) in early July

And, if you want to take a weaving class (all levels, from beginners to more experienced are welcome), please let me know. oaxacaculture@me.com

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

Weaving a Curve: A Documentary Short Film

Eric Chavez Sosa and I made this six minute short documentary film during the January 31-February 6 workshop held by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC in Teotitlan del Valle.  It was our first film making collaboration and we were definitely novices!   Here it is:


“Weaving a Curve” featuring master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa.  He talks about the techniques he learned from his father and another village master who taught him to weave in the style of Francisco Toledo.  At the age of 17, Federico was an expert weaver.  To weave a curve and perfect the technique requires discipline and practice.  He remembers taking the yarn out and trying again, and again, and again.  Federico loves to weave, and the process for him is both relaxing and fun.  He also explains how he uses natural dyes to prepare the wool, another sign of a master weaver.  As the camera pans the village and the sacred Zapotec site of mount Picacho, Federico talks about the meaning of weaving for him personally and how satisfying it is when his work is appreciated by collectors.   For Federico, mastery means the blending of traditional and contemporary designs, the true mark of an artist, and the timeless quality of linking past with future.

Eric and I didn’t have time to finish this piece — it is in Spanish without subtitles.  So, please forgive us and enjoy the visuals if you don’t completely understand the language.  Maybe someday soon, we’ll add the subtitles!

I also want to acknowledge the mastery of our workshop instructors, Erica Rothman of Nighlight Productions, Durham, NC, and Mikel Barton, also of Durham.  They were fabuloso!

The process:  for five days were were immersed in a learning laboratory experience in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  We after two days of classroom instruction and watching examples of documentary footage, we took to the cameras to practice interview techniques and shooting b-roll.  We had 60 minutes of tape to use with the goal of producing a 3-5 minute finished video.  Unfortunately for us, we used about 20 minutes to practice shooting b-roll which turned out mostly to be sunrise and clouds.  You can see a snippet in our opening scene.

Glorious Color: Dyeing Workshop — Using Natural Materials

One and Two-Day Workshops in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

If you are a weaver, a knitter, interested in cloth and textiles and you want to explore the world of natural dyes, you are invited to the famous rug-tapestry weaving village just outside of the city of Oaxaca. We offer this hands-on workshop for one or several people working with the master weaving family of Federico Chavez Sosa, his son Eric and daughter Janet. All instruction is in English.

Day 1: Explore the World of Cochineal

You will learn traditional Zapotec dyeing methods to prepare three shades of cochineal color – red, orange and maroon, learning the chemistry of color and the use of mordants. The Chavez family will explain the history of cochineal, and how it is cultivated and processed. You will see experiments with the “bug in the rug” and then practice using the color yourself to prepare glorious colors with hand spun wool from the Mixtec highlands of Oaxaca.

On the first day you will prepare three skeins of wool (200 grams each), wash it, assemble the cochineal and mordants, grind the cochineal on the traditional mortar, cut and squeeze limes that are used to adjust the color. During this time, you will come to understand the differences between natural and synthetic dyes and the mordant (fixing) process, dye with a neutral Ph to produce a maroon color, dye with an acid Ph to yield an orange, and dye with an alkaline Ph to achieve a purple or pink color depending upon the natural color of the wool selected.

This is a six-hour workshop. The cost is $160 per person including instruction and all materials.

Day 2: Explore the World of Indigo

You will learn the history of the indigo plan and how it is used to dye wool with traditional Zapotec recipes. As with the cochineal workshop, you will prepare the wool and the dye stuffs. We will use the Muicle plant that grows in the dry valley of Oaxaca, prepare the solution and dip the skeins until we reach the desired level of color intensity using the oxidizing method. You will also learn the theurea dioxide process, a different dyeing method.

This is a four-hour workshop. The cost is $130 including instruction and all materials.

You can enroll in a one or two-day workshop. Workshops are custom scheduled according to your availability and travel plans. Each participant will prepare and take home three skeins each of cochineal dyed wool and indigo dyed wool.

We also offer weaving workshops! and can refer you to great lodging in the village.

To Register: Contact normahawthorne@mac.com or (919) 274-6194.