Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


The origin of cultivated silk in Mexico can be traced to Cortez’s first shipment from Spain of Bombyx mori eggs in 1523. For the following 60 years three urban centers, Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca City were exclusively awarded the right for Spanish weavers to create silk satins, velvets and taffetas to be worn by the recent invaders. The indigenous people did the field work required for production of the fiber but were forbidden to weave on the newly introduced floor looms.

Sometime over the ensuing centuries silk fiber was adopted and used in Oaxaca by indigenous groups. Recent field work confirms the continuation of silk production and weaving in certain Mixtec and Zapotec communities in the mountainous areas of Oaxaca. Here in particular areas traditional pieces using silk continue to be woven on the backstrap loom.

In addition during the past ten years there has been an effort to commercialize silk usage. The government introduction of varieties of Japanese silk worms and new varieties of mulberry trees from Colombia, Brazil and India is intended to increase this production. This introduction is to replace the “yellow cocoon” and the indigenous mulberry that Cortez first recognized on his arrival. The introduction of foot looms as well as electric spinning wheels may have the significant impact of encouraging efforts to commercialize, streamline and offer employment for people in the mountains. This transformation in Oaxaca is very much in its infant stages and awaits a market particularly for silk rebosos.