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
In January/February 2011 at the Museo Arte Popular Oaxaca – in San Bartolo Coyotepec (south of the city of Oaxaca) there was an exhibit of the very best textiles that the state of Oaxaca has to offer. We might even say – the MOST exceptional textiles of the highest quality. These were commissioned and collected by Remigio Maestas, who has been working with 250 indigenous Oaxacan artisans for many years, throughout the state, to encourage and support development and production of fine textiles. The theme of this exhibit was ‘Tres Colores – Indigo, Cochineal and Caracol” since the textiles, which were hand-woven on backstrap looms, demonstrated the natural dyes of the state of Oaxaca. All the textiles; huipiles, some in lienzos (woven strips), garments, shawls were traditional in design – but each artists interpreted her/his traditional textile using the three natural dyes in a very personal and creative way. The outcome was an outstanding exhibit full of beauty and grace and even some surprises! Remigio’s goal is to elevate traditional textiles from artisania (hand-craft) to ART…well demonstrated by this exhibit.
Attached is my YouTube slide show of the exhibit listing the village from which the textile came. I will also provide the artist’s name if you contact me. Enjoy the fine textiles and the Tres Colores de Oaxaca!
If you are in the city of Oaxaca you can visit Remigio’s store Los Baules de Juana Cata inside the entrance to Las Danzantes’ Restaurant on Alcala #403 – 2 – near Santo Domingo church. Also Remigio has a Los Baules in the Museo Texitle de Oaxaca. A wonderful textiles museum shop.
Beautiful color RED…..COCHINEAL. What is it?
Here is the short story.
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.