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Don Isaac Vásquez Hand-woven 100% Wool Rugs
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Don Isaac Vásquez Hand-woven 100% Wool Rugs

The Mexican Rug Company (UK) Ltd

Exclusive and Authentic rugs from Mexico

About the rugs….

Each rug is hand woven using 100% wool and natural dyes. Every rug is unique due to subtle variations in the dye colour and the individual interpretation of the design by the weaver.
We are so impressed with the skill and care that goes into the making of each and every rug that we have produced a documentary DVD which shows how the rugs are made, from the raw wool to the finished article. A complimentary copy of this DVD accompanies each purchase. A free copy of the DVD can also be obtained by sending us an e-mail. A poorer quality version is available on youtube (see below)

Standard sized rugs are either 95/110cms x 56 cms or 145/150 cms x 80 cms but due to the handcrafted nature of the product these sizes are approximate and may vary slightly between designs. Other sizes can be woven to order and special commissions can be undertaken for that totally individual rug.

Who made my rug?

Of all the weavers of Teotitlán del Valle the one man who stands out is Don Isaac Vásquez. We are very proud that Don Isaac has given The Mexican Rug Company exclusive sales rights in the UK.

Don Isaac worked closely with the painter Maestro Francisco Toledo in the 1960-70’s in order to preserve employment of the traditional weaving and colour preparation techniques of the area.
Don Isaac works with his immediate family, all expert weavers to whom he has passed on his many years of expertise. Although now an old man, he still weaves what he considers to be exclusive pieces, which bear his signature and as such should be treasured.

An introduction by Don Isaac and how he makes his yarn can be seen on the DVD or alternatively on youtube. However quality of picture is poorer.

What is so special about the colours?

The main reason why the rugs are considered so exclusive has largely to do with the colours and the laborious process involved in their preparation. All of the colours are 100% natural. This is where rugs from The Mexican Rug Company differ from other Mexican rugs, which may not contain 100% wool or may contain elements of synthetic dyes.

An explanation of where the natural dyes come from and their preparation is shown by Don Isaac on the DVD, or alternatively on youtube. However quality of picture is poorer.

Where do the colours come from?

There are four principle colours which give all of the colours and tones found in our rugs:

Red or ‘The King of Colours’ comes from the cochinilla. Cochinilla is a cultivated parasitic insect of the ‘nopal’ or Prickly Pear Cactus. It is used in expensive cosmetics as it is non-toxic, and is considered the best colouring red in the world.
It produces a bright red colour that can be made brighter by adding lemon juice or purple with baking soda. The red colour is extremely valuable and is described by Don Isaac as ‘red gold’. Indeed in the time of the early Spanish occupation it was valued at more than gold pound for pound. Isaac Vasquez is quoted by Oliver Sacks as stating that it takes ‘seventy thousand ‘insects’...’to produce a pound of dry material’. The cochnilla used in ancient times can still be seen on the ruins at Mitla and Monte Alban, both of which are thousands of years old.

The blue, which is made from the ‘añil’ or ‘indigo’ plant, is a very time consuming colour to make as first the plant has to be fermented, where fine ash is added, then left to settle for 22 days, and finally made into a paste. The interesting thing about this colour is that the cultivation of this plant had almost stopped, in fact there was only one producer left until Don Isaac along with the world famous painter Fransisco Toledo decided to rescue it, and began to use it in their art. This is the only plant in Mexico that produces the blue color.

Yellow is obtained from rock moss. Only moss from rocks and not the moss that grows on the trees is used, as it is the mineral content from the rocks that provide the colour.

Finally, Black is made from an acacia called ‘huisache’ by crushing and boiling its seed pods. Different shades of black wool are used along with the dye to create different tones.

The different tones of colours are achieved by varying the concentration of the dyes and the time that the yarn is left to settle in any particular dye. As in the case of the cochinilla the colour can be changed by adding lemon juice or bicarbonate of soda. The red, black and yellow are fixed with natural salt, the blue with fine ash.

Through these four basic colours many different shades and colours can be made. More information on these ‘antique’ dyes and their production can be found on our DVD.

Why use natural dyes?

Natural dyes do not fade and offer more subtle shades than those produced synthetically. Natural dyes do not need chemicals to be produced and every part can be linked with the flora, fauna and culture of this historical area.
In the 1920’s – 30’3 the introduction of synthetic dyes created a dramatic slump in the use of natural dyes. Don Isaac continued to use natural dyes and is often referred to as being the man who turned things back to the traditional methods in Oaxaca. Thus making Teotitlán del Valle as an important and visited a place as it once was at the height of Zapotec culture.

History of the designs

Until as late as the first half of the 20th century the designs on the rugs made in Oaxaca were mainly plain colours using natural wool coloures creating white, or grey with black designs. They often depicted animals such as the jaguar and had motifs of the ‘Zapotec Sun’ or the ‘Flower of Oaxaca’. These traditional designs continue to be used but with the completion of the Pan American Highway in the 1950’s new designs and European art were also brought in. One such example of this is an interpretation of M.C Escher’s 'sky and Water (1938)', which shows rows of fish that metamorphose into rows of flying birds and then back again into rows of fish.

M.C.Eschers  - Sky and Water

These new designs can be seen in Don Isaac’s collection alongside more traditional designs. More advanced weaving techniques used by Don Isaac such as ‘tapestry weaving’ allows the inclusion of motifs such as flowers, birds and much more.

This natural and traditional method of making rugs can be tied to local tradition in more ways than the production process. Visit the ruins of Mitla and gaze upon the geometric mosaics dating back to as early as 200AD which depict the stages of life for the Zapotec people, the forces of nature that surround them and their religious beliefs all weaved together in stone. Then notice that these are now strong themes with the weavers of Teotitlán del valle.

Mitla

How do they differ with European produced rugs?

Traditional Mexican weaving is still based on the idea of the 'serape convention'. The serape was the wool blanket that at one time was the symbol of Mexican masculinity and an essential item. Using this convention of weaving, all new threads are woven into the cloth creating a mirror of the pattern created. In contrast, many European weavings hide the loose threads that remain after the insertion of new threads.

Why is one rug more expensive than another rug?

The design of the rug has much to do with the price of the rug. For example natural rugs are slightly more expensive because it takes a long time to sort the raw wool into the different shades needed, then to accumulate sufficient quantities of each required shade, and then the time taken to make the grey colour, which is produced by carding white and black wool together in just the right quantities. Also if it is not a geometric design it takes the weaver a lot longer as he or she has to constantly change bundles of yarn when weaving. Geometric designs are generally less expensive because larger sections of the rug can be woven with each movement and the weaver doesn’t have to change bundles of yarn so often. Rugs with borders are more time consuming as the weaver must change bundles every time he reaches one of the two edges.

An explanation of the weaving process is given by Don Isaac on the DVD, or alternatively on youtube. However quality of picture is poorer.

How much work went into my rug?

(The simple answer is) A LOT. A geometric design may progress up to 2.5 – 3 cm a DAY, a curved design possibly 1.5 to 2 cm. It should also be remembered that this is only the weaving process. The carding, (which is done by hand), the preparation of the dyes, and the sorting and dying of the wool, are all time consuming processes which require immense skill and experience.

Why so much work?

The question you may be forgiven for asking is, “Why go to such lengths?” The answer is simple; quality. Not only do our rugs conserve the traditional techniques of the Zapotec weavers but also the carding is done by hand, only 100% wool is used, and the weaving is done totally by hand, the finished rug is very, very durable.

How to recognise a high quality rug.

Feel the rug.
It should be thick and strong. Also check if you can push the threads apart to check the rugs' density. A sign of a high quality rug is densely woven wool. A quality rug should have around 20 threads per inch, whereas a low quality rug may have as few as half this. A higher density of threads means a more durable rug.

Lay the rug onto the floor.
It should lie flat with no bulges, the corners should form right angles and the edges should be straight.

Hold the rug up to the light.
If any of the strands of yarn shine this may mean it has acrylic qualities and was woven elsewhere.

The dyes should not run.
Low quality rugs may be coloured and set with less time and effort taken or dyed with synthetic materials allowing the colours to run. With quality rugs much time is taken over the making of the specific colours and also the setting process – the colours should never run.

Close up view of weave

The Process

The wool used comes from the Mixteca region which is very cold and therefore the sheep are sheared only every ten months. This means that the threads are very long and it is considered to be some of the best wool in Mexico.
The wool is then washed with soap and ‘amole’, a natural root with cleansing soap qualities that has been used since pre-Hispanic times. As well as cleaning the wool this also makes it bitter which in turn keeps insects away. The wool is then carded to pull all the fibres into the same direction, readying the wool to make the yarn (also carding is used to mix natural colours together to get greys). This is very slow work but does not destroy the fibres of the yarn, as carding by machine does. The wool is then dyed. To make the red colour cochinilla are used, these are the parasitic insect of the nopal or Prickly Pear Cactus. However, it is only the female cochinilla that will make this colour. The female cochnilla will inhabit a nopal for about three months whereas the male cochinilla after only a month will grow wings and fly away. The female cochinilla feeds on the ‘cariminic’ or carmine acid and it is this that creates the colour. The red colour can be made brighter by adding the acid of limejuice but can then be made darker into purples by adding the alkaline baking soda to this mix. Using these methods sixty shades of red can be made. This colour is fixed with natural salt.

The blue colour is the most difficult to prepare as after the harvest of the plant it must be fermented during which time fine ash is added. This is left to stand for 22 days and the end results are hard rocks of colorant, and after grinding a powder that can be mixed with water. When colouring the wool a chemical reaction takes place. Unlike the other colours this colour needs no boiling or heat as the pigment oxidises with the air and reacts to change from an initial green to blue colour. In this case the ash acts as a natural fixant.

Yellow is obtained from rock moss or ‘musgo de roca’. Mosses from other objects cannot be used as it is the minerals in the rocks that create the colour. Rock moss is boiled with the yarn. This is also fixed with natural salt.

For black, ‘Huisache’ is crushed and boiled and then the yarn is added. Intense black is made by using wool from black sheep which are actually not actually totally black. This is fixed with natural salt.

Variations of these colours are made by altering the amount of dye material used and the time the yarn spends in the dye.

It is much quicker to make these dyes using chemicals; however colours made using chemicals are not as durable as ones made by traditional methods.

When a suitable amount of the right coloured yarns have been made these are then ready to go onto the loom. Firstly an enlarged copy of the desired design is made and then laid out underneath the ‘strings’ of the loom so it can be traced and used as a template for the artist. Smaller bundles are taken from the big bundles of yarn and are used on the pedal operated loom, when the design is ready to be made the laborious process of the weaving begins. Once the rug has been made, it is washed again with amole before being dried. After it is ready for sale.

Click here to browse rugs.


For more information please contact us to request a Free DVD.

A rug from the Mexican Rug Company is a piece of authentic Mexican art for your home. Part of the living Mexican tradition of weaving which can be appreciated each and every day.