Meet Jesus Vásquez from the famous weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle. His family has been weaving beautiful woolen rugs for so long that nobody remembers when they started. Here, Jesus is teaching us how to card the wool, getting out the gnarliest knots with the help of two square paddles that you’re supposed to rub together to align the fibers.
After the wool’s been thoroughly combed, it’s spun into yarn. It takes about 36 bundles of wool to make one medium-sized rug, and each bundle takes 2.5 hours to spin. The spinning is traditionally done by women, and Jesus told us that his father disapproved of him doing it even for demonstrations! Alas, his mother was at church.
The Vásquez family uses all natural dyes. The base for most colors comes from the grana cochinilla, a worm that you find on cacti. Crushed, grana cochinilla produces a deep crimson color; for red, you simply add lemon; yellow comes from a special flower, and can be mixed with red to make orange, or ashes to make green; add baking soda to the mix and you’ve got purple!
The yarn will soak in hot vats of dye for 8 hours. The final result is brilliantly colored strands ready for weaving.
Jesus’ mother Alicia got back from church just in time to show us how to work the loom. The family has a few looms, all operated by hand, including one that belonged to Jesus’ great-grandfather’s great-grandfather. Common designs include the traditional Zapotec diamond, and the círculo de la vida (circle of life), along with a few other, more unlikely suspects—like designs inspired by M.C. Escher.
Jesus happened to be working on replicating one of Escher’s designs when we visited. The weavers of Teotitlan del Valle are famous for their reproductions of modern art, and it all started when the celebrated Oaxacan painter Rufino Tamayo came to Jesus’ grandfather and asked if he could weave one of his paintings. In the years to come, the weavers of Teotitlán del Valle would go on to discover the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Dalí, giving the paintings new life on their looms.
These days the Vasquez family’s textiles are internationally renowned. In fact, when we met them they’d recently returned from an exposition of their work in New York City. With regards to their impressions of the Big Apple they were divided. Jesus swore he’d never go again, while Alicia told us that she had loved it. When asked what was her favorite part, she raised her arms and said “all the tall, tall, tall buildings.”