The process of creating each weaving can take several months, depending on the design complexity, material used, thread count per inch and size.
Before starting on a piece, we need to wait for the greater being to give us rain so that the plants for our colors can grow, which will take about five months. If we get enough rain for the season, we can then harvest. Some of the plants or fruits need to dehydrate, some are used while green. Indigo goes through a labor intensive process to transform a green plant into a blue dye. Cochineal insects take around three to four months to mature before they can be harvested, and about 60 to 70 thousand insects are needed to make one pound of dyestuff.
As in most arts, the inspiration and meditation for a new design comes first. These are the foundations of the actual execution of a weaving. A brief summary of each step is listed below.
Soon each topic will have a link to more photos, in-depth explanations, and videos.
PROCESSING RAW WOOL
Wool for spinning into yarn is from sheep which were originally brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. The sheep are typically sheared once a year. The newly shorn wool must be washed and thoroughly cleaned. This is usually done in the river using the root of amole, the indigenous soap plant. Burrs, plant matter and other debris are picked out by hand.
When the wool is clean and dry, it is combed with carding paddles to separate, clean, and align the fibers before it is spun into yarn on manually powered spinning wheels. After the wool has been made into yarn, it is boiled in potassium alum, a naturally occurring mineral that helps to fix the dye colors to the yarn. Then the yarn is ready to dye.
PALM LEAVES & AGAVE FIBER
These materials are historical—used by Porfirio's Zapotec ancestors—and still used today by different communities to make mats, baskets, bags and ropes. The agave fiber comes from the leaves of the plant used to make mezcal, and would otherwise will be wasted.
In deepening his knowledge of his cultural identity and the arts, Porfirio discovered the importance of these materials in the arts of his ancestors—these materials were used to make objects that were and still are used in everyday life and in ceremonies. Each work Porfirio creates with these materials pays homage to the great artists who developed the wisdom of spinning and weaving with these plant fibers.
In Porfirio's family, the natural dyeing practice is seen as a spiritual process, where the basic understanding is to be mindful that mother earth is a living being with a tremendous force. All elements used for natural dyes, traditional medicine or foods, are grown thanks to the rain, soil, and other important sources provided by a greater being. All of these elements are alive, and without them, there would simply not be colors for weavings. This world view holds that the colors that come from plants go beyond beauty; they are connected to a living source and working in harmony with the wisdom of the practitioner. These dyestuffs are sacred and precious to the Zapotec culture, and connects Porfirio's family with the great master dyers and weavers before them, who started these practices thousands of years ago.
Before dyeing begins, the plants, earth minerals and insects that the dyes are made from must be collected. These ingredients are gathered in the mountains above the village, grown in home gardens, and sometimes grown by neighbors who specialize in one element. After dyeing, the yarn is hung up to drip dry. When it is dry, it is ready to be wound onto bobbins.
Design & Execution
The idea for a new design is usually the first step in creating a new weaving. Sometimes the design will only be seen in the mind of the artist but usually a sketch is made to help clarify complex patterns and/or determine what colors of yarn will be needed. Below are three steps in the creation of a new piece; a sketch, weaving the design, and the finished piece.
The idea for a new design is usually the first step in creating a new weaving. Sometimes the design will only be seen in the mind of the artist but usually a sketch is made to help clarify complex patterns and/or determine what colors of yarn or materials will be needed. Below are three steps in the creation of a new piece: a sketch, weaving the design, and the finished piece.
PREPARING THE LOOM
Preparing the loom consists of measuring and tying on the warp threads, setting them to the right tension, and making sure all threads and parts are aligned properly. Yarn colors needed for the design are wound onto bobbins for use on the loom.
The looms used by Porfirio Gutiérrez y familia are upright pedal looms. A weaving is created by passing a bobbin or shuttle through the warp threads, shifting the warp threads with the foot pedals, and repeating. As the design calls for different colors, bobbins with individual colors are passed through the warp for the length required to make the patterns. Sometimes dozens of bobbins with different colors of yarn are in play at one time. Often the looms gets modified to satisfy the needs of a specific material or design.
When a piece is finished, the warp threads are cut to remove it from the loom. The piece is cleaned and then the long warp threads are “finished” to assure the weaving does not unravel. This can be done by threading them back into the weaving, by knotting the warp threads in a macrame pattern, by twisting together the warp threads, or by braiding them. The weaving is then washed, blocked and dried. Once it is dry, it is scrutinized for any irregularities and brushed for a consistent texture before it is presented as a finished piece.