Mexico Day 7 – A Day in Teotitlan

Dyers booth, samples - click to enlarge
Dyers booth, samples – click to enlarge

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We drove from Mitla in the morning in time to eat breakfast at the local market. This was the nicest market I’ve ever seen because it was not crowded or dirty. Every morning for a few hours the town people go to the market and socialize and fill their baskets. We ate tamales made by the woman in the picture. She served them on pieces of paper towel and they were delicious. I had an orange juice drink from a plastic bag knotted at the top with a straw coming out the top. A dyer had a booth with his samples and jars of dye stuff. All the women carried nice baskets and I hunted for a booth to find a small one I think I can fit in my carry on luggage. The seller crossed herself and kissed my money. I was told that it was because it was her first sale of the day.

Then we went to a weaving workshop in a large home. They do commissions from artists as well as their own designs for tapestry- woven rugs. The looms were huge as you can see. The wife is the dyer and we went up to the roof where the dye pots were cooking and skeins of yarns were drying. They used chemical dyes and do a big wholesale business in the US.

Then we went to see a husband and wife who do natural dyes on the wool yarn they use for their woven rugs. Dyeing with plants had not been done in Teotitlan for some years so they had to teach themselves. They now are world class dyers but he brags he never tries to match colors. I bought a runner that is like a sampler of many many natural dye colors. I hope I can get it home and I hope it will fir in my hallway! They dyed with cochineal today, not measuring a thing. The pictures show the before and after dyeing of the yarn.

Cochineal is like a scale or bug that grows on cactus. The dye is made from the dry bugs ground very fine. I smashed one on my hand and spit on it and got some red color. I had never seen the bugs growing on cactus leaves before. The dye had a huge impact on the economy in history. Maybe it was valued as much or more than the gold the Spaniards shipped back to Spain. I’m not entirely sure about the historical facts here.

The wife of the dyer had a wonderful expressive face. She was disagreeing mildly with her husband when I caught her lovely scowl. I loved her laughing face, too. They were young when they got married and couldn’t afford commercial dyes so began using local plants. It was a rags to riches story. Now they are quoted in books.

Our leader said there are 5000 people in the small town involved with weaving in some way. Our last stop was to the home of a candle maker who also had a big loom going. All around the loom were cactus leaves ready to be infused with cochineal bugs which will grow and multiply on them.

A young girl poured the melted wax on the candles to build up layers and layers. These long candles were made this way instead of dipping. The main candle maker is the older woman. Her specialty was fancy candles for festivals.
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2 thoughts on “Mexico Day 7 – A Day in Teotitlan”

  1. Peggy, your trip has been fascinating. I gasped when I saw that cochineal bugs are white until they’re ground. I assumed they were red, like ladybugs! I’m going to show your photos to my weaving classmates, some of whom are dyers.

  2. Peggy your blog is as good as any travel program on tv. I love travelling with you and seeing all things textile.
    I’ve dyed with cochineal bugs but the ones I have had have been more dark grey than white when dried. I wonder if they are another species or perhaps they go darker with time.


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