Fidel and Maria Luisa Cruz, Traditional Zapotec Rugs

Hand Dyed Natural Wool

Hand dyed wool from 100% natural materials on display at Casa Cruz.

About 20km east-south-east from the bustling city of Oaxaca is a small village named Teotitlán de Valle. Here, the indigenous Zepotec people have for hundreds, probably thousands of years, been weaving textiles. It wasn’t until Fidel Cruz decided to return to the roots of using natural materials used for dying that this ancient method saw a resurgence. Although every weaving house in Teotitlán de Valle will have a smidgen of these materials on display and will give you a show about the extraction, materials and methods, there are only a handful of weavers, who under Fidel’s tutelage, are actually use these methods. The synthetic aniline dye trade took hold of this community generations ago and has left an indelible mark as permanent and caustic as the chemical dyes themselves.

Casa Cruz, Fidel and Maria Luisa and son.

Sign welcoming visitors to Casa Cruz, where Fidel, Maria Luisa and their son carry on the tradition.

The payoff for Casa Cruz is that fact that he has carved out an artistic trajectory for himself that the other weavers cannot attain. His weavings are sought out by museums and collectors throughout the world. The recognition and accolades he receives are his payoff, and the pride he and Maria Louisa have in maintaining the integrity of their work, and in seeing their sons carry on the tradition its what keeps them on the true track they are on. We have chosen to promote the works of Casa Cruz for this very reason.

Unfortunately, we are unable to show you the works from Casa Cruz. Fidel and Maria Luisa were adamant about this, as their unique, innovative and highly detailed designs are copied not only by locals and even international concerns. There are now Chinese mills who are copying and mass producing Zapotec designs. We invite you to visit our showroom in Brooklyn, we try and keep at least 5-pieces from their workshop. If you contact us personally, we can always communicate with you privately regarding pieces from Casa Cruz, but we much respect their request. We can however show you some  detailed images from some of their pieces, and we have also included a few comparison images so you are able to see the quality of weave and vibrance of colors as compared to other typical “Mexican” rugs.

Incomparable vibrance of true cochineal vs synthetic dyes.

Production house top, Casa Cruz below.

To give you an example of the color and weave difference, the weave one on top being from a typical weaving house, the one below being from Casa Cruz. You can notice the fineness of both the weave and design as well as the vibrance of the colors. I wouldn’t necessarily call the weave on the top piece rough, but it is quite noticeable when placed next to the Casa Cruz piece.

As with most of the production weavers, the designs themselves tend to be rather simplistic geometric shapes. Calling from traditional design elements, they rarely show the kind of detail that we can clearly see in the Cruz pieces.  The red coloration in the piece on top seems rather flat and artificial when compared to the richness of the cochineal, and the degree of gradation is also apparent.

Casa Crus detail images left and right, production house detail center.

Here we can clearly see the refined detail seen in the Casa Cruz pieces (right and left), as well as the refined weave as compared with a production house weaving (center).

Because of the hand-spun wool used by Fidel and Maria Luisa, they are able to produce the incredible detail seen in this example, whereas the production weaving has difficulty even creating a straight line in their designs. We would show a comparison of the fine detailed work from the production houses, but they simply do not exist.

As a note, I have referred to some of the other weavers as “production houses”. I will clarify, as these are not in any way high-production “factory” type workshops. The shops are all quite intimate and usually family run establishments, the people running them are always quite warm and welcoming. The term is used to reflect the approach they take in producing weavings, as it appears that they are more geared to the production (and subsequent sales) of their work rather than in preserving the traditional methodology. The fact that without exception, each and every workshop has a sign outside touting the “fact” that they are using natural vegetable dyes and doing so by hand. This simply is not true. Teotitlán is a small town and politics run deep, so while the majority of workshops flaunt their signs with no regard for “truth in advertising”, the majority of shops have more to lose than gain by changing the status quo. Fidel and the (literal) handful of other artisans who are adhering to the traditional methods are seeking some official certification (see High Fidelity post). Fidel and Maria Luisa were the one’s who resurrected and refined these forgotten methods, and they have always been open to sharing their acquired knowledge with others in the village. But the ease of use, the savings in time and expense in using the chemical aniline dyes have already permeated the community.

Satisfied with the results, Fidel finishes the four-hour process of dying the wool in cochineal.

 

Fidel and Maria Luisa took a huge risk at their decision to go the way they did. Theirs was not an easy path, especially as the older, well established weavers were well plugged in politically and to the tourist trade. If you ever visit Teotitlán de Valle and are treated to a “show” at one of the “traditional” weavers, ask them if you can visit during the dyeing process. Excuses for not allowing you to watch this process are as common as synthetic aniline dyes, but not at Casa Cruz.

  • For more information of Fidel and Maria Luisa, see some of our blog entries listed below.

20 April, 2010. Weaving and Bobbing.

30 Sept, 2011. Authenticity.

10 January, 2012. Tagetes Lucida, Pericón, or Just Yellow