Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Walking down Calle Aquiles Serdan recently, I was surprised to see a new shop which beckoned me in with its brilliant colors and unusual lighting. The deeper I went into the interior, the more intrigued I became. Shelves from floor to ceiling of multi-colored rugs and tablecloths; pillows in rich earth tones piled high; beautiful wood tables, some cut from huge slabs of tree trunks.
I was in the new showroom of Casa Oaxaca where art and home decor reign. The very knowledgeable owner, Alberto Contreras, and I began a lengthy conversation which took me back to my days as a handwork teacher where my students learned all things natural about wool, spinning, weaving, and dying with plants untouched by chemicals. Alberto's family have been weavers and dyers for over four generations. Their main factory is in Oaxaca where their Zapotec culture is reflected in the designs and colors of the textiles they create.
Alberto then took me to the lower level where the natural stone foundation complemented their work area. Here, baskets of unwashed wool, skeins of naturally dyed yarn in lovely colors, a spinning wheel and a pine loom, were all set up for demonstration purposes.
Alberto's mother, Juana, is here to help with the opening of the showroom. She is also a master weaver having learned from her grandmother as is the tradition. She answered my many questions about the dyes they use. There are 20 basic natural dyes from which 1400 different colors can be made! The two most popular are the reds from the nopal cactus insect cochinilla and the blues from indigo made by boiling the leaves of the indigo tree.
Other colors include yellow from the marigold or cempasuchitl, the same flower important in Day of the Dead celebrations; green from alfalfa; brown from pecan shells; and black from huizache berries. As you can imagine, the process of making the dyes is very complicated and done by only certain family members who have been trained in this skill.
The wool for all their beautiful rugs comes partly from their own sheep and partly from the wool vendors who come to the Oaxaca markets to sell their bags of wool by the kilogram. This is unclean wool right off the sheep so it all has to be washed to remove dirt, sticks, and other debris before it is ready for carding and spinning. One kilogram of dirty wool gives half a kilogram of clean wool after washing!
This shop has been Alberto's dream for many years. He came from Oaxaca over eight years ago to begin selling his family's rugs at the roving tianguis we see in various shopping mall parking lots around Mexico. He opened his first tiny shop here in Vallarta a few years ago but wanted a larger space to showcase the many talents of his family. The new Casa Oaxaca is located at Aquiles Serdan #377 in Colonia Emiliano Zapata. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, so stop by and say hello. You might find something you just have to have!
For more of my stories and photos of local culture, visit YourCulturalInsider.com. If you are in town, and would like to take one of my eight different Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours, contact me at sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 11 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a cultural photographer and writer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com.