Zapotec people have had weaving in their blood for generations stretching back to 500 B.C. Before the Spanish conquest in the 1500′s, their fine cotton textiles made on backstrap tension looms were traded all over Mesoamerica. Later the Spanish brought sheep to the weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, so they could begin to make blankets out of wool. The friars also taught the Zapotec men to use the foot pedal or treadle upright loom, and the tradition of weaving wool blankets and serapes became an integral part of daily life.
The marvelous traditional designs weren’t introduced to the rest of the world until the Pan American highway was completed in 1948. Gradually a handful of importers from other countries, as well as a growing tourist industry, began to request rugs and tapestries in addition to the usual blankets and serapes. They also asked for modern designs in addition to or in combination with the ancient ones. Today if you walk through this village, nestled in one of Oaxaca’s beautiful mountain valleys, you will see an endless palette of designs and colors in the rugs hanging from almost every doorway, each family hoping for a sale. Teotitlan weavers have always enjoyed weaving their ancient historical patterns and geometric shapes as an expression of their connection to their roots, and at the same time they have also been responsive to introducing exciting new ideas in response to market demand.
The wonderful weaving tradition of Teotitlan is currently threatened by a vanishing market. Because of political violence that took place in the state of Oaxaca in 2006, plus problems with violence due to drug trafficking in Mexico, the tourism industry has dropped dramatically. Tourists that used to fill the streets of Oaxaca and Teotitlan have vanished, and the weavers are able to sell only a fraction of what was sold previously. Most of the remaining tourists go to the “big houses” in Oaxaca and in Teotitlan. These merchants buy weavings from the artisans at such low prices that many weavers are giving up their trade in order to find other work. This is why Manos Zapotecas is now importing to new markets in the US, at fair trade prices, in order to help sustain this marvelous community of weavers.
Zapotec culture is both proud and humble. Weaving has been a family tradition for centuries, where children learn from their parents the art of crafting incredible beauty on their looms, and several generations in each household work together. Each family takes huge pride in the quality of their work, and we at Manos Zapotecas are just as proud to bring their work and their story to you.