Once upon a time in Oaxaca – during the early colonial times, the production of silk was one of the main cultivated products, along with cochineal dye, for export. In the area of the Mixteca, were most of the recorded villages of silk production are located, this persisted until trade with the Spanish colonies of the Philippines replaced it – and a local plague on the silk worms finished it off. But it never completely died in Oaxaca and while silk thread was still special and often reserved for the highest class levels of priests and caciques (chiefs), the humble people still wore silk fajas (belts) and silk symbols and patterns were sometimes woven into of their traditional garments.
When I learned there was a family reviving the cultivation of silk in the nearby rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, the next thing I knew I had signed up for a a video documentary workshop coordinated by Norma Hawthorne’s organization- http://oaxacaculture.wordpress.com/. The teachers were Erica Rothman and Jim Haverkamp, both professional videographers from North Carolina and the Duke Center for Documentary Studies.
This endeavor was all with the idea of visually capturing the revival of silk production in Oaxaca.To say it was an intense 5 days, is an understatement, as it was my first time holding a video camera. My supreme luck was in having, as my partner, Pam Holland. a world class quilt maker and visual artists, so together we accomplished a 7 minute exploration (with a lot of editing help from Jim) telling the story of the ‘Revival of Silk’ by Arte Seda (Silk Art) the family business of the Reynoldo Sosa of Teotitlan del Valle.
This short documentary shows the process of creating a silk scarf, from the tending of the tiny silk worm eggs to the natural dyeing of the finished woven scarf…hopefully answering the initial question, “Why are these things so expensive?”
The Reynoldo Sosa family would be happy to have you visit their home and production place featured in this video. They are located on Av. Juarez # 4, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Tel: (01-951) 52 4 41 19
WONDERFUL NEWS! Los Amigos de Arte Popular (LADAP) a Mexican folk art collectors group from the US, has just awarded Living Textiles of Mexico a grant for materials for the Flores Silvestre, a Mazahua revitalization group project in Santa Rosa de Lima, Edo. Mexico.
The materials that will be purchased are indigo and cochineal dyes from the State of Oaxaca. This will facilitate the last stage of their revitalization project to produce 30 traditional wool skirt. If you read a few posts ago, the skirts are woven in 16 foot lengths to produce the wool enredos (circular skirts) woven on a back-strap loomwhich weigh about 7 lbs when completed.
These natural dyes previously came to the project from north of Mexico City at 300 times the cost of the materials here in Oaxaca. The wool for these skirts is harvested from local sheep, cleaned thoroughly and then sent to Toluca where is it carded and made into a loose ‘roving’.
It is then hand spun with malecates, the most ancient of spindles, dyed with cochineal, indigo and wild marigolds, then hand woven on traditional back-strap looms. The final skirt in stripes of blue, orange, yellow and red (and sometimes green) is embroidered with tiny white patterns on the top and bottom side of the skirt. A magnificent traditional Mazahua skirt worth preserving.
A little bug lives on the nopal cactus and has babies that make a fuzzy cover for protection while they grow into mature adults. After they mate, the males fly away and eventually die, the mother is incubated in a little woven tubes. The babies crawl out and spread on the cactus while mothers then die and become the dye (carmenic acid) after they are dry. Many thousand of dry cochineal bugs make up a pound of dye.
The nopal ‘paddles’ are the host for the cochineal bug and are harvested from the parent cactus and set in dirt as pictured at the Rancho Nopal Cochineal, a cultivation farm in Oaxaca. They can also be suspended on a frame as seen at Bii Dauu rug weavers studio in Teotitlan del Valle.
The cycle takes about 3 months from incubation to full maturity, depending on the warmth of the air and season. Dried cochineal bugs are then ground either on a matate or in a coffee grinder. Different mordents, when added to the yarns or the hot dye bath, create different colors. Limon, an acid, creates a orange color and soda, an alkaline, creates a deeper red.
Cochineal can be seen in several indigenous garments below. A wool skirt from the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle and a quechquemitl (cape) and a striped skirt from a Mazahua village – Santa Rosa de Lima, State of Mexico. Cochineal dyed garments stay vivid for a long while, as seem the bright pink Mazahua gaban (poncho) which is over 130 year old.
“Mazahua Week’ at the Museo Textile Oaxaca was very dynamic time for Regina Torres, revitalization project coordinator for the Santa Rosa de Lima, Edo.Mexico. Besides a full schedule of presentations, demonstrations and teaching a small workshop at the museum, she also visited the Bii Dauu weaving co-op in Teotitlan del Valle, several times. While sharing natural dye recipes and weaving methods she also brought her spectacular wool skirt enredo and quechquemitl (cape like top). The skirt alone weighs 7 lbs. and is 16 feet long. These garments are made with hand-spun wool yarn, naturally dyed with indigo, cochineal, and wild marigold, woven on a telar de cinta (back-strap loom)and finished with fine wool embroidery, taking almost a year to produce.
Several young Bii Dauu Co-op member tried on the costume apparently enjoy its warm thermal quality. Santa Rosa de Lima lies at 9000 feet above sea-level so it’s climate is very different than warm Oaxaca. Regina’s visited the Bii Dauu Co-op’s huerta (country plot) where they are growing the dye plants and mordents crucial for the natural dye processes they use on wools yarns for their beautiful carpets.