Words and photographs by Ehren Seeland
Teotitlán del Valle, a pueblo in the Tlacolula district of the Valles Centrales region of Oaxaca, is renowned for quality textiles with a particular focus on rugs that are produced on hand-operated looms. Given this, upon our departure from the local church and subsequent arrival to Avenida Juarez (the main drag in town), woolen finery in brilliant hues of royal blue, marigold and raspberry beckon us to join them with contours dancing in the breeze. From the van window, each new shop front provides a slow moving glimpse of the intricate skills that have been passed down through the generations. Every strand in these rugs (known as tapetes in this region) speaks both to the weaving of fibers and the intermingled stories shared between grandparents, parents and children.
Soon, we lock eyes with Frida and her monkeys as they languish on the front porch of Artesanias Eclipse. Guided by images of ruby lips and rich citrus hues, we shake hands with Gabriela as she waves us inside the family compound and weaving workshop.
Gabriela is a 23-year-old participant in the interest-free microloan program with Fundación En Vía. Like most residents of Teotitlán del Valle, she began weaving early in life – in her case, at the age of eight. Gabriela lives with her parents and together they card, spin, dye and weave wool into veritable works of art. Their tapetes include traditional patterns with birds, flowers and geometric designs, along with unique designs inspired by modern art and Oaxacan life.
While Gabriela was the first to join the Fundación En Vía program in her home, her mother Rosa is also now a participant – having learned about the lending process from her daughter. Gabriela and Rosa are not a part of the same lending group, however with their individual loans they indicate that have been able to grow the family business from one that relied on piecework for other sellers, where they would only see a fraction of the profits, to now being able to produce and sell their own weaving work themselves. Freedom and empowerment, they note, are the direct results of their interest-free loans, which are generally reinvested in new raw materials for their weaving business.
While weaving will always be a part of her life, Gabriela is a woman with additional entrepreneurial and professional aspirations. With her future loans, Gabriela plans to continue collaborating in the family weaving business, but is also interested in investing in a business that sells mezcal. Further to this, Gabriela is also currently studying to be a nurse so that her efforts can directly impact the well being of her community and others.
For those who plan to visit Oaxaca, it’s well worth meeting with and buying from artisans directly. Not only does this provide the opportunity for a personal connection with the makers, fair prices and transparency in supply chain, but it also offers the opportunity to learn about the generational stories that serve as the root of these beautiful tapetes – for each interwoven length of spun wool represents a history of family connection and ancient tradition.
As a stuffed mannequin slouches in his seat next to the looms, Gabriela and her family see us to the door. We emerge from Artesanias Eclipse, engrossed in newly cultivated knowledge around the weaving process, along with the storied history that inspires the magical woolen dance that has reignited around us.