The artisan village of Teotitlan del Valle, located thirty kms from the city of Oaxaca, is renowned for their long tradition of handcrafting high quality, woven wool rugs. Drawing on the ancient cultural history of the Central Valley area of Oaxaca, the weavers have traditionally used the geometric motifs that are found as reliefs on the preHispanic ruins at Mitla. Lately they have expanded their repertoire by incorporating circular, organic shapes, so that rugs are now produced that feature designs from nature including birds and butterflies, the tree of life, historic murals, and reproductions of famous art.
From sheep to carpet is a long and labourious process, starting with the sheep! At one time, families were able to produce most of their own wool, nowadays at least half the wool is purchased. Newly shorn wool does not hold much resemblance to the finished product, it goes through a number of steps to become the yarn used in weaving. Using traditional methods, it is cleaned by scrubbing with the roots of the amole plant, a native species of yucca, that produces quantities of cleansing lather. After several rinses, the wool is ready for carding, which further removes bits and pieces and aligns the wool fibres so that they can be spun. After spinning, the wool is ready for dying, using a variety of natural ingredients.
Cochineal is an insect that is found on prickly-pear cactus which, when harvested and dried, produces a grey substance that is ground to create a rich red colour, the basis of many colour combinations. Add a little acid, such as the juice of a lime, and you have a lighter red, add baking soda, which is alkaline, and you have purple, add the blue created from indigo leaves and you have brown. By using the yellow dye from marigold (cempasuchil) flowers, the brown shades created from pecan bark or walnut husks, and black from the acacia (huisache) pods, you develop a palette that compliments any design.
Rug making is a family affair with children starting to learn the business from age seven through the construction of simple, small, geometric patterned samplers. As their competence increases, they are given larger and more difficult projects to complete.
Only the most skilled masters work on the large, complex designs, which require a fierce concentration to maintain the pattern. A 2 m by 2 m carpet will take three months to complete, use kilos of yarn and quantities of expensive natural dyes.
The craftsmanship, quality, and superb use of design and colour make these rugs popular throughout North America, with large markets in New York City. I’ve bought many of these rugs which always seem to find homes as gifts to my family and friends. Fortunately, that makes further trips to Oaxaca “necisito” as the Mexicans say
By Moralea Milne
Originally published on Mexi-Go.ca