Archive for August, 2014

Who You Calling A Fool?!

August 18, 2014


Do you know your Fool’s Gold from your Blue Kyanite? How about Rose Quartz from Amethyst? We do! We’ve become amateur geologists at Zingara. Our big bin of rocks and crystals is super popular with the kids – and some adults too. With each rock you purchase, you get a little information sheet that describes its fascinating geology and properties. All interesting and scientific facts, however. So… to learn about the metaphysical properties attributed to the various rocks and crystals, you’ll have to do your own research. Sorry. We are putting to the test, though, the theory that Hematite helps one focus! We’ll keep you posted on that.

Fair Trade (Friday) Zapotec Bags

August 01, 2014

Fair Trade Zapotec Bags at Zingara

We just received a new selection of gorgeous Zapotec handbags and totes!

The colors are beautifully rich and the designs are traditional and modern at the same time. The bags are handcrafted in Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the Zapotecs have been weaving since 500 B.C. In pre-Hispanic times the Zapotec people would weave their traditional designs using plant fibers on back strap looms. Today, they employ the treadle looms and largely the same methods of spinning and dyeing wool as introduced by the Spaniards.

The wonderful weaving tradition of Teotitlan is currently threatened by a vanishing market. Because of political violence that took place in the state of Oaxaca in 2006, plus problems with violence due to drug trafficking in Mexico, the tourism industry has dropped dramatically. Tourists that used to fill the streets of Oaxaca and Teotitlan have vanished, and the weavers are able to sell only a fraction of what was sold previously. Most of the remaining tourists go to the “big houses” in Oaxaca and in Teotitlan. These merchants buy weavings from the artisans at such low prices that many weavers are giving up their trade in order to find other work. By offering their crafts at fair prices at Zingara, we hope to help sustain this marvelous community of weavers.


The weaving families live in simple adobe and brick houses and all family members contribute to preparing and dyeing of the yarn and weaving the traditional tapetes, or rugs. Even small children will comb through the finished products in order to remove bits of debris that remain from the sheep’s wool.

Each home will have several large treadle looms, and each loom will have a different work on it, with various family members devoting hours each day to the long process. The treadle loom separates the different warp threads by the use of foot pedals, which makes it faster to send the shuttle through them carrying the weft fibers.

Many of the families also card their own raw wool, after a thorough washing in the river, by using two carding paddles with metal teeth. This separates, stretches, and softens the fibers. The wool is then spun into yarn using the spinning wheel or hand spindle. The thread must be uniform, smooth (without lumps) and durable.

In addition to the looms that dominate a Teotitlan home, you will also see hanging skeins of yarn in every imaginable shade. Many families are completely devoted to using natural dyes, which are concocted from a large variety of plant, animal and mineral sources. Natural dyes are prepared very carefully and laboriously and produce a large variety and subtlety of the colors, often depending on how well the mordant or fixer (usually lime juice) is mixed in. Other families prefer the more vivid colors produced by chemical, or aniline, dyes. Many artisans will use a combination of dyes, depending on the desired effect.


Though Maria Luisa enjoys every part of the weaving process, it’s combining colors that really makes her artistic heart sing. She’s also incredibly creative at making new products, and when asked about creating a prototype glasses case, immediately pulled out a woven pencil holder she’d made for her college student son to carry in his backpack. Her purses are studies in subtle and complementary color-blocking and traditional patterns.

José Luis didn’t begin to weave until he married Maria Luisa more than 20 years ago. One of 11 children in a farming family, he had learned to sew when he was a student in Veracruz. He does the stitching and leather finish work for Maria Luisa’s purses, with near-perfect seams and detailing. A heavy-duty sewing machine with industrial needles handles the heavy leather, but it’s his precision and eagle eye for detail that are the icing on the cake to his wife’s beautiful purses.

The family lives in Tlacochahuaya, a small town just a few miles away from Teotitlán del Valle, where most of the other weavers live. The shop inside of their home is spotlessly clean and arranged with an eye for beauty, with purses hanging from a wooden rack and rugs, cosmetic bags, pillow covers and coin purses lined up neatly on tables.

But there is always room to grow. “If we had a little more money with more sales,” muses Maria Luisa, “I would love for us to be able to upgrade our workshop,” she says. “I’d like to buy another sewing machine and maybe even get air conditioning one day!” (The shop is located in a semi-enclosed area under the deep veranda roof of the house, with one side open to the elements, and like most of the houses here is built around a central courtyard.)

“Above all, I want to make sure that our sons get an education,” she says. “We want them to become professionals who can do any kind of work that they want.” She herself wonders if she hadn’t have become a weaver, might she have become an elementary school teacher, or even an accountant.

“Weaving is our life now,” she says, “and it is a life full of color.”

We hope you’ll make these wonderful colors part of your life – and at the same time, help sustain a long tradition of craft in Mexico.