Oaxacan Diary: Day Ten – Part Three.

Our Hierve el Agua hike is over and our mezcal supplies stashed – so now we’re headed for Teotitlán del Valle, a small village and municipality located in the Tlacolula District in the east of the Valles Centrales Region, 31 km from the city of Oaxaca in the foothills of the Sierra Juárez mountains.

Teotitlán del Valle is renown for its weaving. Founded by the Zapotecs more than 8,000 years ago it has always been a center for arts and crafts. Today, it’s population is less than 5,000, but 150 of its families own looms and hundreds of others are involved in producing the textiles the town is famous for. Producing textiles in this town is a family business – Grandmothers may do the carding and spinning of the wool, while mothers prepare the dyestuffs and children gather the plants and tie off the fringes on the finished woven piece. But it is the males, from adolescents to grandfathers, who do the weaving on the vertical, foot-operated looms that date back to the 16th century. Though many of the women are also weavers, they almost invariably work on conventional backstrap looms whose design is far older, some 2,500 years older.

On this occasion, we called into the Casa Cruz Gallery. Here, master dyer and rug weaver Fidel Cruz Lazo and his wife Maria Luisa Mendoza de Cruz work together to dye yarn (with locally grown indigo, known as the añil bush and other natural materials) and weave at their home and workshop on Avenida Juarez 190, Teotitlan del Valle. We were greeted by their son, Luis de Cruz, who speaks impeccable English and who got stuck in straight away with introducing us to the range of natural materials they use for dyeing. 5423FB15-DAA9-4121-89D7-A63E4A3151C5The stone metates lined up against the wall are used to grind the plants used to make the dyes……C12B9319-4A4F-4660-A2ED-30B1591412A8………that range from (see below), marigold flowers (that they make 10 yellows from), dried pomegranate skins (that are initially fermented for 2-3 weeks to get a dark orange, the dried skins create greens and the red seeds in combination with volcanic stone make blue), and the Marush plant (a Zapotec word for the flower that he says his father rescued from extinction)…….F91F91AD-380D-4E83-8B9E-F48980F0BFECE407F16D-EE2A-4082-B132-304921376877……..to (see below), pecan nuts and shells (from which 36 different hues of beige to dark brown can be obtained), Xuishache (from the mountains – pods used to make black) and lichen used as a mordant to fix the colours. A2FDF0B5-B381-4B8B-B981-533ED802ADC4A range of other pods and seeds are also used, including the achiote seed (achiote is derived from the indigenous Nahuatl language) – see far right below………2166A2B2-275B-4FC0-A73F-52C176A0F28F…….dried indigo – whose leaves are gathered from a variety of plant species where only the leaves are used. These are cut and soaked and allowed to ferment for up to six months when they are then strained and the paste allowed to dry in the sun when it can then be ground on a metate……0CD2EC74-C2E8-48CA-A779-064DDD52E873………and finally, the infamous cochineal – a most intriguing ingredient with a fascinating history. (‘A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire‘ by Amy Butler).AD0643DE-67B8-490A-8E31-640042016ECFCochineal is a scale insect from which the natural dye, carmine, is derived. A parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America as well as Mexico, it lives on the pads of the prickly pear cacti – it is harvested by brushing the critters off, letting them dry, and then grinding them on a metate. 8B2A955E-4D07-4B1B-968C-381930EF6529Once ground, the ground cochineal can be mixed with different ingredients to render different colours – (top right – from left to right – pumice, volcanic alum baking soda). The sensitivity of cochineal is demonstrated by our crushing one in our hands and noting the difference in the colours due to the difference in each of our Ph!!300067B9-79FE-41F9-82DB-1A23AA1D8859The weaving begins with the raw wool which is washed, combed and carded. The hanks of yarn are dyed, a painstaking and time-consuming task. All these natural materials produce a huge range of colours and tones. 820B0282-4E21-4F91-B58F-CF7587D6E486
97555F02-38BE-4B26-8EBB-6E42E04517ADLuis then demonstrated weaving on the peddle loom which was introduced to Mexico in 1535 with the arrival of the Dominican bishop Juan López de Zárate. He introduced wool and the first loom, shipped from Spain across the Atlantic. 0C7B628B-5E41-4AC3-9B86-8728223219D4A394BC40-02D2-4484-9F45-DC118DD58B96We ended up in the showroom and Brunyfire’s wallet suddenly became a lot lighter…….F1E24EAD-ED18-402E-B496-8B869A5CF4F9

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