Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


Many different indigenous communities from Oaxaca have been exposed to trade routes that have been active even before the first Europeans came to the continent. Such exposure has led to a “global market” that has influenced the way in which these communities behave. Textiles (from fibres and dyes to yarns and finished cloths) have been a part of this very active exchange. What could be considered “traditional” now, was in fact very avant-garde at the beginning.

Silk is one of the products that has transformed the appearance of Oaxacan textiles: it is soft, it is easy to dye, it offers a very bright and diverse range of colours, and it gives a sheen that contrasts nicely with other fibres, such as cotton and wool. Silk has been dyed with natural and synthetic dyes. Some of the most valued wrap-around skirts from the coast of Oaxaca, said to be dyed with cochineal, consist of hand-spun silk dyed with fuchsine. This aniline has been used to create and develop different techniques of ornamentation. Silk satin or embroidered ribbons have also been used to complement fabrics woven on the back-strap loom. Some communities discontinued their weaving tradition and favoured the use of imported silk satins, taffetas, and velvets--all of these by the end of the 19th century. Silk, therefore, is a raw material that allows us to understand the ever-changing taste of indigenous communities, forcing us to broaden our mindset when referring to “traditional” textiles.