How To: Hand-Weave a Traditional Zapotec Rug

So you want to make a rug. Well, that’s an interesting decision but it’s up to you. The Global Goulets visited Vida Nueva, a women’s weaving collective in Teotitlán del Valle. Here’s how it’s been done by the indigenous Zapotec people in Oaxaca, Mexico, for centuries.

1) Pluck some cochineal insects off your cactus plants (you’ve been growing those, right?). You’ll need a whole lot of insects to get enough red dye.

Make sure to pluck an extra bloody one!
Step 1. Make sure to pluck an extra bloody one!

 

2) Throw the insects in a bowl and pummel them with a rock grinder until you have a fine, rich red powder.

3) Smear the insect blood on your cheeks like war paint. It might not be the Zapotec way, but it’s the Goulet way.

Step 3. He's not just giving you the finger, he's weaving a rug the Goulet way! But yeah, he's also giving you the finger.
Step 3. He’s not just giving you the finger, he’s weaving a rug the Goulet way! Okay, he’s also giving you the finger.

 

4) Mix the insect blood with water for a rich red dye. Mix that with a fresh lime for orange. Or mix it with ash for brown. If you’re feeling yellow, mix tree bark with lime and wait about a week.

5) Obtain some sheep’s wool in three colors: blanca (white), gris crema (cream), and gris oscuro (dark grey). Hand comb it and clean it inch by inch until it can be used as lana, or yarn.

6) Your dyes will produce different shades of colors depending on which yarn you choose. Cook your choice of yarn in your choice of dye in a big pot over a fire for 1 hour.

7) Eat a lot of platanos, or plantains. This is easy if you have a plantain tree or two on your property. Plantains will help you keep focused at the loom for a long day of weaving.

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Step 7. Grab your plantains, weaving takes time.

 

8) Get focused. You’ll be weaving for 8+hours a day, and a small rug takes about a week and a half of dedicated work. It’s just you. You’ll need to stay concentrated. See Step 7 about plantains.

9) Pick a design. Keep it simple and symmetrical. Your family probably taught you most of your best designs. Flechas (arrows) for protection, mariposas (butterflies) for liberty, lagrimas (tears) for joy, or for sadness (but always in life there are tears), lines for the constant passage of time. It’s up to you.

10) Pedal your feet on the loom while weaving your choice of colored yarn through its threads. Remember, plantains!

Step 10. All hands, and feet on deck! Weaving takes hours and hours of full body and mind concentration.
Step 10. All hands, and feet on deck! Weaving takes hours and hours of full body and mind concentration.

 

11) Sell or gift your rug. A small rug may take 1-2 weeks of dedicated weaving, and can net you ~400 pesos, or less than $30 USD. The Goulets are sitting on their favorite, naturally made rug right now, hand-woven by Violeta, who showed them this process.

Step 11. Make that sale!
Step 11. Make that sale!

 

It’s a tedious process, but you said you wanted to do it, right? Good luck, and remember – eat your plantains!

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One thought on “How To: Hand-Weave a Traditional Zapotec Rug

  1. Pingback: Dispatch 8: One-of-a-kind Oaxaca - #GlobalGoulets

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