Finding a Weaving Teacher

25 December 2014

At the beginning of this weaving study adventure, I saw that the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, MTO, was having two workshops on brocade weaving on backstrap looms. Wow, just what I want to study, but they were both in November, ugh! I searched through their calendar to see what they might have while I was going to be in Oaxaca late December and January, and nothing was listed. So I decided to email them and ask, saying that I really wanted brocade backstrap weaving. I wrote in Spanish, it has been 30 years since I wrote in Spanish, took some dusting up. They nicely replied and said that the classes for Jan. weren’t finalized yet, but if I wanted they would put me on the email list and let me know as soon as they were finalized.

So just before Thanksgiving I got word that the class in Jan . was going to be backstrap weaving with warp pick-up taught by Abigail Mendoza. This is not brocade, and warp pick-up can be many things, and I have done many of them, but sure, backstrap weaving-I’m sure I’ll learn plenty. In the meantime I keep looking for contacts and teachers. I found a book, Stories of Hope-Oaxaca:Weavers of Southern Mexico on blurb.com. The preview chapter was about a farm near Oaxaca City where they raise silk worms and hand spin silk from the degummed cocoons. Some of you may know that I raised a small crop of silk worms this summer, so I ordered the book. It didn’t arrive until after Thanksgiving and it had contact information for the silk worm farm and a whole chapter on my teacher for the Jan. workshop, Abigail Mendoza Antonio and pictures of her amazing pebble weave. Pebble weave is one technique I haven’t tried yet. Her family and village use rigid heddles on their backstrap looms. They make the rigid heddles from bamboo. They also work with sewing thread as warp! I don’t think we will in the workshop.

This is all well and good but I am interested in brocade, and I am going to the land of brocaded everything, I’m going to study brocade so I need to find a teacher. I wrote to MTO in hopes of finding some one and the first day I visited them I paid for the Jan. workshop, got incorporated into the on-going class on seam treatments, and asked again about a brocade teacher. The young woman that was helping me said I could take classes with her Mother. We talked about the following Mon., 22 Dec. She gave me a telephone number to call. We tried to call but my phone wasn’t working here in Mexico yet. So I got the phone part working and called on Fri. and set the class for 4 PM Mon.

Mon. I walked a few blocks here in the old center of the city with many colonial buildings to a school that teaches English and has an adventure tourism office. As I walked to the back of the old building I could see that it was built on a classic Roman building plan; atrium, then a central patio surrounded by rooms with a columned walkway around it. No question of where to attach backstrap looms. I paid for my 2 hour class and the materials fee which included a loom ready to weave on. My teacher, Eufrosina, showed up at 4 and first unpacked a bunch of her weavings.

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This last picture show the back side of the one that has silk brocade.

This is one of the quieter types of brocade found here, a traditional Zapotec style. The ground cloth is a balanced plain weave in light weight cotton, 16/2 is a common weight for warp and weft. The brocade weft can be cotton or silk, hand spun local silk. The technique is discontinuous inlay on an open shed. She had made a loom for me and it was ready to weave, it had a warp about a half a yard long and 10″ wide. Now the widest I woven on Andean style backstrap loom is about 4″ and wider the harder it is to open the sheds, much to my surprise it was very easy to open the sheds on this loom. So I wove a bit of ground and then she asked me which design I wanted to try for the brocade. I picked the one I thought would be the easiest for me, a double zigzag. You can see it at the bottom of the 1st pic. She gave me embroidery floss cut into 6″ lengths and separated into 3 strands to use for the brocade.

As I wove slowly there was conversation, I wanted to learn how to set up the loom like this , all my backstrap weaving has been warp faced and getting the warp separated for balanced weave was new to me. She said we could do that the next day but she would like to do that at her studio since she had the warp set up there. Her husband or son would come and pick me up in the car and take me out to her home. She asked if we could do it earlier when there was better light. She remarked on how well I could see, and I explained that it was new lenses.

I left the class with a loom and materials to weave, a basic understanding of how she wove brocade. She made a color photocopy of two designs and I has pictures of more . I bought a sword ( they call it a machete here which I find amusing) from her. She said that her husband makes the swords and the beams for the looms. And we left with arrangements for me to go out to her Studio at 10AM the next day. She said that in 3 hours we could make a loom from scratch, but that she preferred to do it there where she has sticks she could put in the ground.

Fruitful day. I came home an wove a bit on the loom clamped to the table where I’m staying, it was dark when I got home. But the table danced around when I tried to beat hard. The designed was very elongated too. But the loom was easy to weave on.

After weaving a bit, I looked at my book on Weavers of Southern Mexico and there was Eufrosina Vásquez López, my teacher with a whole chapter of her own!

Note: If you would like to see more Zapotec brocade weaving here are a few links:

Huipil at MTO

Huipil from San Bartolo Yautepec

A recent huipil from Yautepec

Another one piece huipil

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