Zapotec Weavings

The Zapotec weavers of southern Mexico are descendants of one of the fifteen known Pre-Hispanic Indian cultures of Mexico. If you ask a Zapotec Indian how long his family has lived in the Valley of Oaxaca, he will stay, “Siempre (always).” The valley, hidden by volcanic mountain ranges, is home to a rich and productive agrarian culture that is largely isolated to trade. This combination has produced a culture with a unique and special dedication to the art of weaving.

The Zapotec Indians were weavers of cotton for generations before the Spanish brought wool into the area. In 1548, Father Juan Lopen Zarate introduced sheep’s wool to the area, and the first woolen articles were woven on hip looms. By 1568, European shuttle looms and spinning wheels were in use. Thus, the weaving of hats, belts, and baskets using cotton, agave fiber (cactus), and horsehair gave way to wool weavings. The Zapotecs eagerly embraced this new medium as a showcase for their creativity and skill. The technology used today is identical to that employed in the 16th century. Zapotec weavings are a continuation of artisan traditions rather than a revival of a lost art.

The entire family unit is needed to produce a finished piece. The young boys tend the sheep. The women are incredibly skilled in carding and spinning, which takes expertise and dexterity that few non-weavers possess. The “cooking of the wool”, which is the dyeing process, is also done by the women. All this is accomplished in an open, outdoor adobe compound with animals, children and nature all interacting. The men seek out or grow the vegital dye materials, which requires a lifetime of plant and animal knowledge to produce. The men perform the actual weaving in most cases. Each work is started by using a wool warp instead of cotton or flax, producing a much more flexible and durable weave. 

All this has been kept alive through generations, recorded historically by the Zapotecs. Designs are taken from Pre-Colombian stone temple carvings, Greca motifs, Glyphs, and Caudices reproductions (picture writing of the ancient Mayans, Aztecs and Zapotecs).

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