Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weaving from Beduin to Zapotec

On Wednesday, I took a vacation day from my job to attend  a double header of weaving presentations. Wow! and Wow!

The Santa Cruz Handweavers Guild, of which I am a member, meets inconveniently for me, on Wednesday mornings. Once or twice a year, I rearrange my work schedule to take in a meeting and plan this for the programs that sound most interesting. This month's program was a presentation on Beduin weaving by Joy Totah Hilden. She has a new book out which you can see along with other interesting things on her website at Or look at her slide show here.
Joy did field research on Beduin weaving for 12 years. With her husband, who taught in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, she traveled near and far in search of weavers whose knowledge of this fast-disappearing craft she wants to preserve.
The gigantic woven tents used by the nomadic Beduins were fascinating. The large panels were woven in narrow widths and pieced together. The fancy parts most often reserved for interior walls, used a lot of weft twining. Lots of tent photos in the slide show.
 Here are a few pictures I took of small  bags and decorative panels which she brought along.
Storage bag
Warp Substitution
Long floats on the reverse!
On these pieces, a warp substitution technique is employed. For a detailed explanation of this process, Laverne Waddington has a tutorial on her website here. And Laverne has also recently done some studies of weft twining and woven some beautiful pieces which can be seen here.  She is a technical master (mistress?) so if you want a scholarly discussion of these techniques it is worth your time to visit her blog!

This week Pastora Gutierrez, a Zapotec weaver of Oaxaca, Mexico is traveling in our area to promote the women's co-op she is director of there, called Vida Nueva (New Life). Historically, only men were permitted to weave, but in the last 55 years women have also begun to share in this rich heritage, however, it is still difficult for women to gain equal respect and recognition. So, in 1996 they formed the co-op with each member striving to advance their mission of creating economic opportunities for women, serving their community and preserving their Zapotec heritage.

A whole stack of tapetes in rich and beautiful colors!

Pastora spoke about traditional dress, materials, preparation, weaving, dyeing and designs.
 Here are a few pictures. I could hardly contain myself, but only bought one of the beautiful rugs being offered for sale. Mine includes the traditional designs "Greca" (Greek key) and Caracol (Snail) and is woven in natural wool colors. I love, love, love it!

I also REALLY wanted this one with which Pastora sweetly poses. It depicts the strength of women coming together (illustrated by the roots) and joining forces to become one strong force which will allow them all to rise to greater heights (symbolized by the corn plant reaching upward). Corn is a symbol dear to my heart and the whole concept of the piece was very powerful for me.

Thanks to these two women for making my day!


  1. What an amazing week you've had! Wonderful presentations and I love your rug. I love it all. How DID you only manage to bring home just one?
    Thanks for sharing all those great links. I'm off to check them out now.

  2. Wow Annie,
    Thanks for this post. I an amazing time you had with these two presentations! I am so happy you took photos of the back of the Bedouin pieces! So few people do that and I really wanted to see those floats. Interesting to see their use of orange there in the main design area. So far I have only seen black and white with small bits of orange worked in as stripes in the plain area. I couldn't quite bring myself to use orange when I wove my wall hanging!That storage bag is wonderful with its additional panels of patterning and how wonderful to have met Ms Hilden! And as for the Zapotec weaving....what can I say! Lucky you and thanks for sharing it all with us.

  3. How lucky you are to have such great speakers at your guild. Such beautiful textiles I am sure it was difficult to come home with only one rug!

  4. Very rich colours and designs. What a great way to spend your day - and your money.