In Puerto Escondido, we had encountered white cotton growing on vines, snaking its way up the fence, ready for picking and spinning. But upon arriving in Huazolotitlan and meeting the sisters Feliza and Paula, our education on growing, spinning and weaving of brown cotton (coyuche) ramped up many notches. These sisters are the only two women left in town who still practice the traditional ways.
While Feliza did all the talking, Paula quietly worked away on cleaning, fluffing, and spinning the cotton. Feliza eventually joined in and pressed us into service too. Joking with us, she said she would gladly grow more cotton is we stayed and helped out. Adding too that she was getting too old to be kneeling and beating cotton but it paid the bills. Watch this video to see the full process of what it takes to make handspun, handwoven cloth. You’ll appreciate why it’s rare and expensive. (A few things to note in the video: When cleaning the brown cotton, you align the fibers and fluff them at the same time. A pile of banana leaves is placed under the beating mat to create a resilient surface. While spinning, a chalk-like substance is used on your fingers to avoid friction and blisters.)
The traditional hand spindle (which I wrote about last week) is a support spindle whereby the spinner sits on the ground, rotating the spindle, the tip of the spindle resting in a small gourd. We were fortunate to find some lovely carved small gourds for the ClothRoads shop.
After spinning the cotton, the singles yarn is strengthened for weaving by dipping it into cornstarch sizing solution. This sized handspun is used as warp thread and is a darker color than the weft. But once woven and washed, the sizing is released and the coloring is consistent throughout.
Feliza laughed and called us chamaconas which we were told meant “big girls”, meaning we weren’t young women anymore. Later, we were told that chamaconas really means “young sexy, foxy women”, not just “big girls”. We liked that translation but maybe there’s another one we need to know about?
In the video, you’ll see a few clips from the San Juan Colorado weaving cooperative which I’ll blog about next week. They cultivate brown cotton (coyuche) and are bringing back natural dye methods used by their ancestors.