In the United States we tend to be most familiar with the northern part of Mexico and Baja. The landscape and vacation spots, the culture and food, even the cities and political issues. But Mexico is a huge country and it’s southern part is vastly different. Southern Mexico is still quite remote, separated by desert expanses and soaring mountain ranges. The pace slows, traditional ways of doing things endure, and the flavors become more savory.
In the southwest end of the country, tucked into the Sierra Madre range that also runs through California, is the state of Oaxaca. Farmland is given to residents of Oaxaca but the government provides little infrastructure, making it difficult for farmers to access agriculture technology, markets to sell their goods, or money for their labor. As in most third-world countries, the farther away people are to the capitol city the farther away they are from government attention, resulting in less money, assistance and development.
At the center of Oaxaca is the beautiful Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts of its Spanish colonial-era architecture and native Zapotec and Mixtec archeological sites. Just outside of Oaxaca City is Teotitlán Del Valle, a hub of Zapotec weavers who have been working with organic wool for centuries. With tourism’s draw to the city, Teotitlán used to thrive before the “Great Recession” in 2008 in the United States. It built up its roads, homes, and shops through income generated from their weavings. Today, they are quiet streets with shops that are full of color but not visitors, aside from the occasional tour bus. And yet, just as their ancestors did, they continue to weave.
Each generation learns the method and designs by heart, carrying on their heritage while adding their own personal versions to the family collection.
This time-tested craft still involves the every member of the family. The women clean, dye and rinse the wool in a local river. Using combinations of local plants, fruit, seeds, grasses and insects, organic virgin wool is transformed into vibrant shades of thread. Each family has exclusive shades of colors they’ve discovered through decades of experimenting with combinations of dyes. As with any good family recipe, the specific mix of ingredients isn’t shared with people outside their family.
The men weave on looms in their homes. The designs celebrate the cycle of life, seasons, faiths and the land around them. They start to teach their children the process around eight or nine years old, beginning on small swatches after their schoolwork is finished. Each generation learns the method and designs by heart, carrying on their heritage while adding their own personal versions to the family collection. Just like any family tradition, it carries the stories of each generation, each era, each family member.
This season, we’re carrying a small collection of Zapotec wool pillows, rugs, and scarves from Oaxaca. From warm neutrals to holiday hues, these pieces are sure to make your home a little cozier this season.