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Monday, 30 May 2011

Teotitlan del Valle

After making our way back down the treacherous mountain road from Hierve del Agua we headed to a village called Teotitlán del Valle. The village has become famous for an abundance of workshops where ancient techniques are used to make textiles using skills that have been passed down from generation to generation.

All of the production is carried out by hand by local indigenous artisans. It’s a result of hundreds of years of skill and experience. The whole process of production was explained to us in great detail by one of the local weavers.

They start off by brushing the wool that is cut from local sheep. The brushing is done with two brushes with short wire bristles which are used to clean the wool and prepare it for spinning. After the wool is brushed it is rolled into lint like balls. The wool is then fed onto a spinning wheel, which we all had a go at doing. To be honest, it looked so easy when we watched it being done at first, but we all failed miserably at trying to make even the smallest length of string. Only Ciara seemed to have any real success making it a few centimeters long. We were comforted by the fact that the locals start learning when they are young, and that it takes years to develop the necessary skills. As early as four years old, children begin to learn to brush the wool. Around age eight, they begin learning to spin. The children begin working on the loom between thirteen and fifteen, working on weavings about 2.5' x 5.0'. They begin first with simple straight lines. Once that is mastered, they begin learning grecas, a straight-edged design taken from old Mixtec temple ruins close by. From there, they progress to diamonds and other shapes.

Once the wool is ready it is rolled onto spindles ready for dying. The dying of the wool was one of the most interesting aspects of the whole process. All of the dyes used are natural, coming from roots, leaves, nutshells, and insects. They explained to us how they produced the wide variety of different colours. The red is extracted from a little insect called cochineal, which lives on the nopal cactus. The red colour is naturally soft, but when lime juice is added, it makes a brilliant red.
Another red colour is extracted from brazil wood, which is soaked in water for two months.

The brown colour that you can see in the picture is taken from pecan shells soaked in water. Different parts of the pecan tree are used to create different colours, such as the roots, leaves and shells. The shell gives a much stronger colour than the leaves. Different shades of blue are extracted from the indigo plant. The prime colours can then be mixed to make a much wider variety of dyes.

Once the one is spun and dyed, it is weaved into one of the many different patterns, many of which the local people know by heart: The weavers use big wooden two pedal looms similar to the ones the Spanish introduced five hundred years ago. A simple 2.5'x5.0' weaving can take ten days or more to finish. Larger ones can take months.

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