January 29, 2012

Natural Weaving in Agato

Sheep's wool waiting to be made
into thread and the end product.
My birthday present to myself (sure, why not?) was to go to Agato, near Otavalo, and drop in on a very special kind of weaving that is done at the Tahuatinsuyo Weaving Workshop. The founder, Miguel, wasn't there, but lucky for me, it's a family business and so I got to meet Luz Maria and her husband. They are an indigenous family as you'll notice from their clothing and hats. Going to their workshop was the highlight of my Friday (Greg was in school so could not come).

It's set in Agato, a rural village about 15 minutes by taxi up a bumpy cobblestone road from Otavalo. The workshop itself looks like a regular albeit larger family home. I didn't see anyone in the workshop, but a few dogs, so the taxi driver and I had to ask a few people where I could find the weavers.
Luz Maria showing how yarn/thread
used to be made by hand instead of "machine"

The husband (who I forgot to write down his name and then forgot the name as usual) showed me the bags of wool waiting to be carded (separated with two big brushes), shaped into cylinders of sorts with two different, but similar-looking brushes, and then added on to existing thread on their threading machine. I took a video of that.

In Otavalo, weaving is mainly men's work because it is strenuous. The women typically clean the wool, dye it and then sell the work once it's done. In this workshop, they use mainly natural dyes - walnut for brown, grey and black; achiote for reds; and cochineal for shades of purple; lichen for yellow.

He sat down to show me how he used the backstrap loom, which you can read more about their use of it here. Their family is one of few that still uses the backstrap loom.

The husband showed me how he moved a spool of thread to separate the lines of the designs. He did not follow a written down pattern or design from paper - everything they make is in their heads. It's backbreaking work because you're sitting on a mat with the backstrap of the loom behind your back and the weaving in front of you. After 8 hours of weaving, you may only make 6 inches of length in a 15-inch wide piece.

Adjusting the backstrap
Therefore, in their shop, they sell the rugs, table runners, blankets, tableclothes,   and scarves for much more than you'll find in the Otavalo market. To give you an example, a machine-made tablerunner in Otavalo will sell for $8-10. In comparison, the ones at the Tahuatinsuyo workshop sell for between $60-120 depending on how intricate the design and materials.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, that it was really an amazing experience for me to see them working and to be able to ask my questions to Luz Maria without feeling rushed or being forced to buy anything. She just really likes meeting people from all over and sharing their craft. I hope to come back in the summer for a few days to either take a natural dyeing class or a weaving class with them and stay  in their home.
The "inner" workings of the loom - on a side note, notice how small  the man's feet are! Mine feel huge in comparison. In fact in Cotocachi (the leather town), one store only went up to size 38 European/7.5 US.

1 comment:

  1. What a great way to spend your birthday! And, it may turn out to be a valuable resource in your clothing design career :)