cochineal bugs, discovering mexico, fine tapestries, Marigold petals, natural dyes, Oaxaca, rugs, tapetes, Teotitlán del Valle, wall hangings, Zapotec weavings
Hi guys, hope you all enjoyed reading my earlier posts on the beautiful Mexican state of Oaxaca. For first-time visitors, here are the links:
The Beautiful Colonial City of Oaxaca
The Archaeological Zone of Mitla in Oaxaca
The Archaeological Zone of Monte Albán in Oaxaca
Today’s post is about the beautiful fine tapestries and wall hangings from the most famous weaving town in Oaxaca – Teotitlán del Valle. Hope you’ll enjoy reading this post too 🙂
A thirty-minute drive from Oaxaca city, Teotitlán del Valle (teoh-teet-lahn dehl vah-yeh) was the capital of the Zapotec culture during the 11th and 12th centuries. The Zapotec community here is world-famous for its colourful weavings (called laadi in the local Zapotec language).
Weaving in Teotitlán dates back to 500 BC. The earliest weavings were done on back strap looms using cotton and ixtle. Today, the weaving is done on peddle looms and the fabric of choice is wool. This change took place in 1535 with the arrival of Dominican bishop Juan López de Zárate. He introduced wool and the first loom, shipped from Spain across the Atlantic. The use of natural dyes and weaving predate the conquest, but it was the European invasion which jump-started a cottage industry producing serapes and tapetes or rugs. Slowly the town grew, and began specializing in rugs which were initially sold within the state and to a certain extent, in different parts of the country. Now, exports from this town reach foreign shores too.
For centuries the families of the Zapotec weavers of Teotitlán have handed down the weaving tradition to their children with the art of weaving in many families going back six and seven generations.
The town has more than 100 workshops showcasing a large selection of handmade products, including tapetes, serapes, jackets, ponchos and dresses. Almost all the guided tours make a halt at the town’s weaving workshops giving visitors an opportunity to see a brief demonstration of the weaving techniques and at the same time, purchase some of the famous products.
A typical scene inside a workshop…
Brightly coloured tapetes (rugs) – some with traditional Zapotec glyphs, others imitating twentieth-century designs. Most of them feature representations of Zapotec diamonds, rainfall, maize and mountains.
Colourful serapes, handbags, cushion covers and wall hangings…
A beautifully woven portrait of Freida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican painter…
A weaver busy at his loom, diligently weaving a massive 2 x 3 metre rug with traditional designs…
Raw wool is spun on the wheel to get woollen yarn…
A brief explanation on how the spun yarn is dyed with natural dyes…
Baskets with the raw ingredients… marigold petals, añil (indigo plant), seed pods, cochineal bugs…
Century-old recipes are still used in the production of the natural dyes which are obtained from marigold petals, añil, pomegranate zest, cochineal bug, seed pods, moss and pecan. The cochineal beetle, which lives on the Nopal cactus, secretes a substance which, when dried, gives an inimitable blood-red colour. The rich variety of cochineal dye was once so highly valued that it was known as ‘red gold’ and the export of the furry white insects was strictly forbidden. Today, both cochineal and indigo remain the two most expensive, and most desirable, of the natural dyes. Marigold petals, indigo and the cochineal bugs give the respective colours of yellow, blue and red. The dyes are obtained after cooking together the natural substances, leaves and other secret ingredients. The pH balance of the dyes is measured so as to remember the formulas for the future. With just a few drops of liquid, 10-12 different shades are obtained in matter of a few seconds. The weaver has to be a chemist, herbalist, and artist all in one, to make the lovely, world-class creations.
Domestic and international trends in terms of colour tones and combinations change frequently, so weavers have to bear in mind all these things to adapt themselves well to the changes.
There are now only a few weavers in Teotitlán who work with natural dyes made from flowers and herbs. Working with natural dyes is a very labour intensive process. Sourcing most of the expensive natural substances adds to the expenditure, although some weavers grow them on their land. This is why so many weavers use artificial dyes.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. You can read more about Oaxaca, my travel experiences there and at many other beautiful destinations in Mexico in my ebook Discovering Mexico
Click here to read the book synopsis and sample chapters and to know how you can buy a copy of my ebook.
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If you’re interested in knowing all about Mexico, do check my three e-books Discovering Mexico, Mexico: The Country, Its History & The Maya World and A Guide To Mexican Cuisine which are available for sale on this blog.
Before you leave, enjoy this beautiful piece of music by André Rieu : Shostakovich Second Waltz
Thanks for stopping by, I hope to see you again 🙂
Rosie Amber said:
So interesting seeing the traditional ways being used to make such lovely rugs, thanks for the post.
Hi Rosie 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words.
Do keep visiting…cheers 🙂
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Hi, Thank you so much so sharing my blog. Cheers 🙂
alice shrader said:
I have been to your place in Oaxaca….Or Puebla…can’t remember. Todo que hacen es absolutamente hermoso. Me gustaria regresar pero mi esposo tiene miedo de las dificultades que ocurren hoy en dia en el pais. Mi corazon esta en Mexico…
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Hola Alice, gracias por visitar mi blog 🙂 No te preocupes, puedes viajar por Mexico en paz. Muchas turistas lo hacen, es seguro. Un abrazo 🙂
Ashley Renae Sarratt said:
Hi, I have an original, encased rug from the weavers of teotitlan and am unsure how much it is worth or what to do with it. Any suggestions?
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Hi Ashley, Thank you for visiting my blog. Wish I could help you with your request but I have no idea. All the best! Cheers 🙂
Hi! Excellent info and pics! Can you share contacts of weavers who still use natural dyes?
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Hi Serghio 🙂 Thanks so much. I wish I could help you with your request but I have no contacts in that region. There’s a twitter account @TeotitlanDValle Perhaps they can help you. All the best 🙂 Cheers
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