Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vida Nueva - Teotitlan del Valle

My mom came to Oaxaca for the month of June and during her last full week in Mexico we went to visit a women's weaving cooperative in Teotitlan del Valle, a village outside of the city of Oaxaca known for its tapetes or rugs. During my stay in Oaxaca in the summer of 2006 I went with my study abroad group to Vida Nueva, a women's co-op of weavers and bought a tapete for my mom. Vida Nueva consists of single women, widows, and single mothers who otherwise might not receive a decent price (or live a decent life) for their weaving in the male-controlled tapete business that dominates Teotitlan. After telling her the story of the cooperative and the women who benefit from it, my mother was eager to visit herself and support this group. Luckily I ran into a friend who was taking a group of students to the cooperative and she was kind enough to let us tag along.

Pastora Gutierrez is the founder of the coooperative (the woman on the left in the photo below) and has taken the rugs and the story of Vida Nueva far beyond the borders of Teotitlan del Valle. Her leadership has allowed the women of the co-op to escape what are sometimes difficult domestic situations and live a safe and (moderately) prosperous life. For the first part of the demonstration Pastora and her sister showed us how they card the wool to remove dirt and prepare it to be transformed into the thread that will be woven into tapetes. This process is much harder than it looks by the way, these women have very strong arms.

After carding, the women take the wool and with their hands start to sort of roll it into thread and then use this wheel thingy (I'm sure there is a name for this but I have forgotten it) to create the thread. Oh, and my mom took some of these photos so I must give her credit for it, thanks mom!

We were then shown how the women create the dye for the tapetes. They use all natural materials including the famous cochineal bug which, when dried and ground, creates the red-tinted hues in the rugs. If you click on the photo below you will notice some glasses with water of various colors. The woman giving the demonstration placed some ground up cochineal in water which produces a bright red color, then, to change the color, she would add a bit of lime, which made the water orange. In another glass she mixed cochineal and ashes which turned the water/dye purple. Using the cochineal mixed with other natural elements a beautiful color spectrum is achieved. The cochineal bug is a kind of parasite and grows on cactus here in Oaxaca. Cochineal has a long history in Oaxaca, in the 19th century (I think, could be the 18th, clearly learned this awhile ago) this little bug was shipped worldwide and was responsible for an economic boom in Oaxaca. Using the bug to color rugs and other fabrics fell out of favor for some years as other dyes, especially chemicals, replaced it. Now however, it is back in vogue and used by many weavers in Teotitlan. These women have a cochineal farm where they "grow" the bugs on cactus that looks like a prickly pear.

My mother took the picture below which shows many of the natural dyes the women use for their rugs. The small bowl in the upper left is indigo which comes from a root grown on the Isthmus of Oaxaca. The indigo is used to create wonderfully deep, rich blue hues. The large bowl in the center is filled with dried cochineal bugs, for the orange-red-purple colors, and sitting on top of the dried bugs is a small bowl of tree bark used, along with nut shells, to create brown hues. My mom liked this photo because it shows these natural, traditional dyes used for centuries next to their very modern phone.

The student group we tagged along with was going to stay the entire day at the cooperative and help the women dye wool. The large pots of boiling water below are being prepared for this process. You can also see one of the looms the women use for weaving behind those large pots.

My mother really enjoyed our visit to the cooperative, bought a tapete, and also procured a handful of cochineal bugs to take back to the states for an artist friend. The women were so funny, they told my mom to tie the bag of little dried bugs in a dirty sock so she could get them through customs.

After the cooperative we went to the town of Mitla a few miles up the road to take in the ruins. Below is a picture of some of the geometric designs which adorn these ruins. Many of these designs are incorporated into the rugs you see all over Teotitlan del Valle.

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