THE PROCESS

The process of creating a traditional Zapotec weaving has evolved over many hundreds of years. As in most arts, first comes the inspiration for a new design. Before the actual execution, the elements necessary to create it must be gathered and prepared. Depending on the size and complexity, the time needed to complete a weaving can vary from several days to several weeks. A brief summary of each step is listed below. Each topic has a link to more photos, in-depth explanations, and (eventually) videos.


THE MATERIALS

THE RAW WOOL

SPINNING YARN

NATURAL DYES


DESIGN AND EXECUTION

INSPIRATION & DESIGN

PREPARING THE LOOM

WEAVING

FINAL TOUCHES



THE MATERIALS

• PROCESSING RAW WOOL
Wool for spinning into yarn is from Churro sheep which were originally brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. The sheep are typically sheared once a year. The newly shorn wool must be washed and thoroughly cleaned. This is usually done in the river using the root of amole, the indigenous soap plant. Burrs, plant matter and other debris are picked out by hand.

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• SPINNING YARN
When the wool is clean and dry, it is combed with carding paddles to separate, clean, and align the fibers before it is spun into yarn on manually powered spinning wheels. After the wool has been made into yarn, it is boiled in potassium alum, a naturally occurring mineral that helps to fix the dye colors into the yarn. Then the yarn is ready to dye.

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• NATURAL DYES
Before dyeing begins, the plants, earth minerals & insects that the dyes are made from must be collected. These ingredients are gathered in the mountains above the village, grown in home gardens, and sometimes grown by neighbors who specialize in one element, like pecan or sapote negro for example. After dyeing, the yarn is hung up to drip dry. When it is dry, it is ready to be wound onto bobbins.
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NOTES:
We have been asked how long it takes to create a traditional weaving. A simple answer would be to say that it can take from several days to several weeks to complete. But that does not take into account the time spent gathering dye plants, collecting firewood needed to boil the dyes, hand cleaning & spinning yarn, winding bobbins, etc. Many dye plants are seasonal and can only be found during certain months. Others require long treks into the mountains. All plant dyes take far more time to prepare and color the yarn than chemical dyes. Indigo must be grown, harvested, fermented and dehydrated into chunks that are then ground into powder on the metate. The powdered indigo is then steeped with muitle in wood ash water for several days. Finally it can be boiled and its color imparted to the yarn. Hand spinning yarn adds more time to the to the number of days needed to create a piece. Other time consuming steps include; drawing the design, figuring out how to best execute it on the loom, tying on warp threads, aligning the loom, winding bobbins, weaving, and finishing the edges, and cleaning & grooming the final piece. All these steps make creating our art a very lengthy process, but we are proud to say that our weavings are made using sustainable methods. We are also very proud to say that we make them true to our Zapotec heritage and traditions. Occasionally, a small amount of yarn from outside sources is included in a design. These fibers are natural but not always hand spun.
DESIGN AND EXECUTION

• INSPIRATION
The idea for a new design is usually the first step in creating a new weaving. Sometimes the design will only be seen in the mind of the artist but usually a sketch is made to help clarify complex patterns and/or determine what colors of yarn will be needed. Below are three steps in the creation of a new piece; a sketch, weaving the design, and the finished piece.

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• PREPARING THE LOOM
Preparing the loom consists of measuring and tying on the warp threads, setting them to the right tension, and making sure all threads and parts are aligned properly. Yarn colors needed for the design are wound onto bobbins for use on the loom.

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• WEAVING
The looms used by Porfirio Gutiérrez y familia are upright pedal looms. A weaving is created by passing a bobbin or shuttle through the warp threads, shifting the warp threads with the foot pedals, and repeating. As the design calls for different colors, bobbins with individual colors are passed through the warp for length required to make the patterns. Sometimes dozens of bobbins with different colors of yarn are in play at one time.

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• FINAL TOUCHES
When a piece is finished, we cut the warp threads to remove it from the loom. The piece is cleaned and then the long warp threads are “finished” to assure the weaving does not unravel. This can be done by threading them back into the weaving, by knotting the warp threads in a macrame pattern, by twisting together the warp threads, or by braiding them. The weaving is then washed, blocked and dried. Once it is dry, it scrutinized for any irregularities and brushed for a consistent texture before it is presented as a finished piece.

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