The Zapotec Weavers of Oaxaca, Mexico

History of the Zapotec Indian Weavers

Zapotec RugThe Zapotec weavers of southern Mexico are descendants of one of fifteen Pre-Historic Indian cultures of Mexico. The Zapotec Indians were weavers of cotton for generations before the Spanish brought wool into the areas. In 1548, the missionary, Father Juan Lopen Zarate, introduced sheep’s wool and the first woolen articles were woven on back strap looms. By late 1500s, European shuttle looms and spinning wheels were in use. Thus, the weaving of hats, belts, and baskets using cotton, agave fiber (cactus), and horse hair gave way to wool weavings. A new medium for the artistic talents, each weaving was and is a unique expression of the individual weaver’s art and skill. The technology used today is identical to that employed in the 16th century. Zapotec weavings are a continuation of artisan traditions rather than a revival of a lost art.

The entire family works together to produce a finished piece. Typically the women, but also the grandparents, are incredibly skilled in carding and spinning, which takes expertise and dexterity that few non-weavers possess. The dyeing process is also is a family affair. The wool is boiled with hand ground vegetal dyes literally cooking the wool until the desired color is achieved. The family seeks out or grows the vegetable dye materials; a parasite that lives in the paddles of the prickly cactus makes the red tones, alfalfa for the greens, chamomile and marigolds for yellows, browns are made from pecan shells… The men perform the actual weaving, although more and more women are weaving today. Each work is started by using a wool warp instead of cotton or flax, producing a much more flexible and durable weave.

All this has been kept alive through generations, recorded historically by the Zapotecs. Designs are taken from Pre-Columbian stone temple carvings, Greca motifs, Glyphs and Caudices reproductions (picture writing of the ancient Mayas, Aztecs and Zapotecs).

We at Tubac Old World Imports, feel this art form is very quickly disappearing as our world becomes smaller and technology eases life-style. From a quality point of view, the changes in the art of weaving are evident. We hand select our artists and offer some of the finest quality weavings in this hemisphere. Custom designs available in all sizes and colors with your imagination in mind. The value of these extraordinary Zapotec weavings is substantially increasing as more and more people discover them. They speak for themselves.


This is just a hint of the history behind a true art form which will be appreciated for generations. Each weaving is a one of a kind, natural wool with all natural dyes and Swiss aniline .