Nestled in the valley, only 26 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca is deceptively quiet. As soon as there is enough light to distinguish colors, however, the rhythmic clatter of the old fashioned looms starts. First one, then another and another, until the air vibrates to what is, essentially, the very heartbeat of Teotitlan Del Valle, for this is no ordinary sleepy Mexican village. Teotitlan del Valle is a wonderfully traditional town where traditional dress is still worn and Zapotec is spoken by everyone. The success of the weaving business has allowed the people to protect their heritage.
In the beginning of the Spanish conquest, weavers produced blankets, srapes and ponchos for their own use and for trade with other indigenous groups or the Spanish. As the market shifted to tourism, the function of these wool blankets and their style also changes. Textiles now served as art and home decor rather than clothing. The Zapotec weavers of Teotitlán first wove on traditional backstrap looms until the Dominican missionaries introduced harness looms and Roman Catholicism during the 16th century. Today, the lovely Dominican church which stands four-square in the center of town bears witness to the co-mingling of the two cultures.
The whole thing begins with the raw wool. It is washed, combed and rewashed until all impurities are removed. It is then sorted by its natural color, since whites off-whites and grays all take the dyes with slight differences in color. Carding straightens the fibers for spinning which is usually done on a primitive spinning wheel. The hanks of yarn are now ready for dyeing. The production of dyes is a painstaking and time-consuming task. For blues, indigo is ground to a paste and allowed to ferment for 27 days. Reds come from crushing
cochineal, a tiny insect that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. Musgo de roca, a type of moss, yields yellows. Huisache bean plants are used for blacks and nutshells for browns.
Until Tomorrow: “Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.”