I just sent myself to Oaxaca City Mexico to celebrate my 40th birthday! I've always wanted to go to Oaxaca, so when Ace Ritchie Camps announced a textile and food tour over my bday weekend, I was in. Here is my report on one of Mexico's most textile-rich regions - Oaxaca!
Oaxaca is a state in the southwest of Mexico. While there are beaches in Oaxaca state, I was several hours inland, visiting the city and surrounding villages of Oaxaca City. Oaxaca City is in a valley surrounded by mountains and boasts over 130 indigenous groups that live there.
Teotitlán del Valle is a village about 13 miles from Oaxaca city and is one of the first villages founded by the Zapotec people in 1465. They still retain a lot of their language and culture there. This community is famous for their weaving. I was lucky enough to visit Teotitlán del Valle two times during my week in Oaxaca. I went to two different weaving studios and learned about their techniques. Both studios were family owned weaving houses that had been making rugs for generations.
Natural dyes are still used in Teotitlán del Valle to dye the wool used for their rugs. We were able to learn about many of the dye stuffs used including marigold, cochineal, indigo, and pomegranate. Cochineal was the most interesting. I've studied this dye before: it is a bug that is a parasite that lives on the pads of prickly pear cactus and they produce carminic acid. I was amazed at the color shifts that are achieved with cochineal using ph - adding either acid (like lemon juice) or base (like baking soda) changes the dye from vibrant fuchsia to orangey-coral to deep red. Beautiful!
The wool used in Teotitlán del Valle is a coarse wool perfect for making sturdy rugs. The patterns are often traditional patterns of the Zapotec people. The rugs are stunning. They demonstrated weaving on large looms where they often had 20 or more shuttles on any given row - it was incredible! I was lucky enough to come home with two of these beauties.
Another traditional type of weaving that is common in Oaxaca is back-strap weaving. Back strap weaving uses the body of the weaver to tension the warp and can be used to make lengths of narrow fabric such as belts or ribbons.
We took a class in back-strap weaving at the Oaxaca Cultural Center taught by a woman named Norma. Norma was a skilled teacher - able to teach 10 newbies in a matter of 4 hours. She only spoke Spanish, but we were easily able to overcome the language barrier with her demonstrating the techniques. We learned regular plain weave and then we learned how to add motifs to our weaving using embroidery floss. These motifs were traditional for the Zapotec people. I loved this new way to weave and it was such a treat to be able to take this class while traveling.
Another amazing textile tradition of this region is embroidery - especially the embroidered decoration of Huipils - the simple traditional shirt or dress worn by indigenous people of central Mexico and parts of South America. There were shops and market vendors around Oaxaca selling their hand-embroidered works. Keli of Drygoods Design, whom I was traveling with, found the perfect Huipil in one of these shops to take home.
There is plenty of inspiring textile traditions to learn about in Oaxaca beyond what I've mentioned here - yarn paintings, basket weaving and so much more. Oaxaca is also known for its food and drink which is incredible...so many reasons to go check out this part of Mexico! There is another Ace Ritchie Trip coming up next year or book your own trip - you will love it!