We travelled to the small village of Teotitlan today as is known for its textiles, especially Tapete rugs, which are woven on hand-operated looms, from wool obtained from local sheep and dyed mainly with local, natural pigments.
We approached a lady selling her wares and introduced ourselves. First we were met with an air of suspicion and a few searching looks – she explained that many people come to ask questions and many weavers have stopped opening their doors to people wanting to watch them weave or learn the techniques as the so called ‘tourists’ have many times reproduce their work claiming as their own and the weavers don’t have the resources to protect themselves or their Zapotec patterns. Once we explained more about the project she eventually agreed to answer the questions we had. By the end of the conversation she opened up about her life, her feelings about the future of the weaving community in her village and about her children. Here is a selection of the interview below.
Interview with Matea Contreras Sosa and her daughter Petra.
Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca 12.1.16
I’m from here, from Teotitlan del valle, my parents too. We are all from here, my great grandparents, my brothers, my sisters.
I have two children, 1 son 1 daughter.
I started weaving when I was 12, my daughter is 5 years, shes not weaving yet. But my son is 9 and, he makes the ‘madejas’, (skein) and he mixes the colours.
It took me until I was 16 to start weaving more complicated designs. At 12 I was just learning and kept to more simple designs (she shows us an example)
At 16 I moved on, I learned different designs and how to combine the strings (here Matea begins to show us some designs) the tapete there has four different designs, these are the grecas, the diamonds, the mountains and the arrows. My parents, my brothers all wove, i’ve got 3 brothers and 3 sisters, my brothers showed me to weave. My great-grandparents were weavers. My great grandparents would weave but they didn’t sell, it was my grandparents would go out to sell, they’d go the the Istmo, to Oaxaca, to sell.
But then my father wouldn’t sell, he would just weave so it was my brother that went later on to sell. Now we are all independent, we’re all married and have our own families so we have our own businesses. Me and my husband, his father would go out to sell, he’d go to Ocotlan etc, but then he stopped going, so now we go to Tlacolula and Zachila. Now that we have our own family we go out to sell. But we don’t go very far, just here Oaxaca, we don’t export. We go to the sunday market in Tlacolula, it’s 15 minutes from here.
Would you like to export?
Yes we’d like to export, but how? Because aswell we studied, but not much, only up until primary school, because it depends on that, if you study more that you have more opportunities, but our parents could only get us though primary, and then we started weaving.
I think about my son, for example its important for him to learn English, when he finishes primary school, I hope he’ll go to English school, so that he learns better. So that he can help us to sell more and export.
I want him to continue in schooling to continue studying. So afterwards he can help us more, because we can work but we can’t take our wares to sell in other places. Its what I want for my son.
Before it was just men who would weave, now its both men and women. Before women would work just making tortilla, cooking, doing the domestic jobs, but we found a way to finish our work in the home sooner so that we could weave as well.
Have you seen changes in the designs and influences?
Yes, because before people would weave with just natural colours. But now we use lots of colours. We combine the colours.
For example; not to insult the work of my sister or cousin, but I see how the colours they choose is different to mine, my work is different to theirs. Why? Because of the of the colours we use. We mainly use grayer colours for dying, because if the wool is too white when you dye the colours, then they are too bright later.
How do you learn to make the colour combinations? Could you show me an example of your work and that of your sisters to see the diference?
We learnt from very small, we were shown. But when we got older we had to think for ourselves. For exmple, we think, if the cochinila it red, if we dye it with white wool its very strong, if the paint it with a darker wool its darker, depending no the shade of the wool dye, now if we combine it with a bit of pomegranete skin, what colour will it give us? So we put some in so it gives us a ‘brick’ colour. For example with the flower ‘sempasoche” if we dye it in white wool the colour is very strong, if the wool is more grey then it comes out a more orange colour.
Sometimes, before, to learn, you loose alot of wool, but there is when you see the difference, which colour you like more, which colours will ruin a piece of work, just one colour out of place can ruin a piece. Right now I have a lot of works, some of them are the best we’ve done, and the colours are really ours. It’s the colours that give each piece it’s originality. And for example, it you were to buy a tapete from me now, and then take it to Oaxaca to re-sell, if I were to see it on the street I would recognise it as my own work. Because I know they are my colours and my work.
When you like a piece, how do you remember later the colours and combinations?
I don’t forget! I never forget a piece, for example if one sells then I remember how it was and how to go back to recreate it, if not exactly the same, but similar. All the different designs sell. (she brings down a tapete to show us) For example this light gray, and this darker grey, sometimes we’d put in some black, but often it was too strong a colour, so we found a colour to make it softer, with these browns. Natural colours, all natural colours.
Who are your most frequent customers? Americans.
Do you believe that they have an influence on the kind of designs you weave?
Yes and no..I sell, trying to make the best quality I can, they sell. (pointing to a tapete with fish) Is this a traditional design?
No, it’s Picasso.
Why did you do that one?
Because some people like the Picasso … like the one of don quijote, miró, the woman on the beach, a lot of designs they see in a book and they want it, so they ask if we can do it, and because we can do it well we do.
Do you enjoy creating these designs for people?
No. Firstly because it’s more difficult, and sometimes the colours are very strong and its a battle to be able to do. But of course we do them, if it’s commissioned well then it’s money and so we do it. I enjoy making ones that are landscapes of traditional houses, people in their tradicional clothing. I enjoy it more.
Is everything in the shop made by you or your family?
For example (showing a table) all of this is from my cousin, (showing another corner) this is from my sister … and this is mine. Then because the shop is all jumbled up our works are mixed together.
How long does it take to weave a tapete?
One like this takes 4 to five days, 6-7 hours a day. Because its a slightly more complicated design as well. The more simple designs take less time (she brings out an example). Do the designs have a meaning? They are traditional designs, the diamond etc, they have names, yes. What do you think about when people come over and steal or copy designs?
How does it affect your work?
Yes it affects us, not hugely, but it does affect us. For example when we show an American our work, they value our work, when we explain and show them the processes, they value it, we’re satisfied and so they pay the price we ask for it. But then there are other people who will see something similar, but because it’s cheaper they prefer to buy it.