About 45 minutes from Oaxaca, on the way to Mitla, is the beautiful little town of Teotitlan del Valle. Like other towns in the area, the people are mostly Zapotec, and Zapotec is spoken in the streets almost as much as Spanish. The town itself is attractive, nestled into the big green hills that line the valley of Oaxaca, with steep cobbled streets and a lovely if not particularly distinguished church.
Teotitlan is mainly famous for one thing, and that is the beautiful weaving done here. For centuries or perhaps millenia the zapotec people have been accomplished spinners and weavers. Of course, there were no sheep in Mexico before the Spanish arrived, so they worked with cotton rather than wool. Today the best tappets and sarapes are made from the wool of local sheep.
This handbuilt spinning wheel is in a museum (community museum of Santa Ana del Valle, a few miles away and worth a visit), but I saw many of the exact same design in the shops and home based businesses I visited. They are used standing up, and the wheel is turned by hand rather than with a pedal. I also saw some wheels ingeniously made from old bicycles.
Most weavers also do their own dyeing, mostly with local plants. Traditionally no synthetic dyes are used. This señora is showing us the plants they use, and giving a demonstration of the many colors that can be extracted from the cochineal insect, native to Mexico and a great source of treasure for the Spanish, being the only colorfast natural dye in blood-red.
It is highly recommended that serious buyers of textiles get out of Oaxaca City and head for Teotitlan or Santa Ana. Prices will be half of that in the tourist markets of Oaxaca, and you will have the chance to meet the artists and see them at work, not to mention enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful scenery of rural Oaxaca. I couldn't help myself - I bought this gorgeous blue tapete from the artist herself, pictured here with her creation. This is Dona Juana, who has been weaving tapetes for over fifty years and is a true master of her craft. It gives me great pleasure to be able to support a true family industry, and help in a small way to ensure that this traditional knowledge lasts for another generation.