Today was scheduled to be an exploration of the Zapotec weaving style and did not disappoint. I had reserved a day trip to a local weaving family through WSE – Where Sidewalks End – a few months ago. The trip looked interesting and had a few good reviews so I jumped and booked it. What a good decision that turned out to be.
We were met at 9 am by our lovely, informative guide Laura, a trained sociologist whose speciality was educating Mexican law enforcement personnel on dealing with callouts involving domestic abuse. For various reasons she left her profession for tourism and has never looked back. She, her husband and daughter have relocated to Oaxaca from the big city. On the way out of town we discussed climate change, which is having a huge impact on Oaxaca City. Water can be unavailable for several weeks at a time via the taps, and needs to be purchased by the tank load from water vendors. Temperatures are also soaring here – normal temps of 20 C have been replaced in some cases with 30 plus temperatures. Minimum wage here is about $10 MXN a day, rents $3000 MXN a month – you can do the math. Wireless expats are moving to the city in large numbers, causing further increase in rents and a reduction in affordable housing. Sound familiar?
A 45 minute drive out of the city brought us to the home and weaving workshop Josefina and Javier, plus their three generational family own and run. What a wonderful day! We started with a brief tour of the facility
which quickly morphed into a discussion of Mary’s alpacas and my Icelandic sheep complete with photos of fleece and animals. We had a lively conversation sharing stories of Anne’s Icelandic sheep and the beautiful fiber that comes from these animals and Mary’s alpaca. They were fascinated by the big looms we use at home and enjoyed telling stories of our love for all things fiber.
The dyes that Josephina uses to achieve the beautiful colours are all natural. Indigo gives her a wide range of beautiful blues, pomegranate peel gives her a range of yellows and walnut shells and wood bark creates beautiful Browns, black and beiges.
The reds and pinks come from the Cochineal (cochinilla) insect that feeds on cactus and needs crushing to obtain the natural red dye. A local women’s Cooperative has grouped together to experiment with producing the insects locally. The cactus leaves are imported from a nearby region and is host to the insects- they are covered with cocoons that incubate them as they mature and are then harvested, dried and ground into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.
Mixing the colors creates a variety of beautiful shades and combinations. Josephina follows a traditional zapotec method of fermented dying as opposed to a more modern version of using hot water. The clay pots around us had skeins of natural sheep wool soaking in dye for varying lengths of time – general rule of thumb is the longer the richer and more intense the colour. Josefina uses a traditional mordant fixative, a mixture of a local plant leaf and mountain rock dust.
We then moved on to spinning techniques, as well as a discussion of natural dyes and ways to set colour in wool. The studio was amazing, multiple looms, as well as one that is 200 years old and has been in the family for generations.
After some orientation on one of the big looms in the workshop
we were allowed to weave a small item on the 200 year old loom in the studio. One of the highlights of the day.
Our adventures in weaving was followed by an excellent lunch prepared by the family and some retail therapy 🙂 .
We also met extended family members, including a lovely 4 month old baby boy – what a charmer! Muy Bueno!
If you go to Oaxaca I highly recommend WSE! https://www.wheresidewalksend.com/collection/destinations/latin-america/mexico/
Tomorrow we visit the market and cook all afternoon!