The Art of Wool
Short history of weaving in Mexico and especially in Michoacán.
The Art of Wool
The many different native groups of Mexico used cotton, henequen fiber from cactus and even bird feathers to create garments, and henequen, lake reeds and palm for weaving rugs and mats. Sheep were introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards in Colonial times and thereafter wool was used in addition to the native fibers. Previous to the Spaniards the Purhépecha Indians of Michoacán used backstrap looms with limited width to handweave rebozos, jorongos, gabanes, cobijas, and quesquemen, which translate into our modern shawls, rugs, "ponchos", blankets, and capes. The introduction and use of standing wooden looms allowed for larger rugs and weavings made in one piece using traditional native patterns.
In the State of Michoacán sheep are sheared both in March and in October providing two lots of wool a year. The spring shearing provides wool that is dry, but contains autumn seeds and burrs that must be carded out while the fall shearing provides wool that has fewer bits of dried seeds, but more dried mud from the summer rainy season, which must be thoroughly washed out. Therefore the first steps after shearing the sheep are selecting, washing and carding the wool. Next it is spun either in ivory, natural dark brown (as black as sheep actually are) or in shades of gray made by blending the ivory and natural black. Any of these can be dyed with plant or aniline dyes depending on the color needed and on the season.
At El Jorongo we use two different qualities of wool to hand weave our jorongos and hand knit our sweaters: Merino wool and Criollo wool. Following are descriptions of the wools including that provided by Webster's Third New International Dictionary and care instructions for jorongos and sweaters made from each type of wool.
Merino wool is from "a breed of fine-wooled white sheep originating in Spain, widely popular especially on the ranges of America and Australia and excelling all others in weight and quality of fleece..."a soft fabric resembling cashmere, originally of merino wool...." Our Merino wool is so soft that even babies and many people who are "allergic"to normal wool can wear Merino wool with pleasure.
Criollo (Creole) Wool is "of native origin or production" and "belonging to, or characteristic of native born people [please read 'sheep' instead of 'people'] of European (as Spanish) descent resident in especially Spanish America..." Our Criollo wool contains natural lanolin making it perfect for outdoor wear. It is warm, water repellent and very durable.
We recommend that Criollo wool be hand washed per the instructions given above for hand washing Merino wool with the addition of a tablespoon of olive oil in the rinse water to replace the lanolin that is taken out by even the mildest soap. Dry cleaning is also a possibility if the water repellency factor is not important.
At El Jorongo we use top quality aniline dyes and seasonal plants to hand-dye our wool . In addition we simmer the wool in the dye bath sufficient time to set the dyes and be able to guarantee that they will not run. Any dyed color will eventually lose some of its intensity if placed in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time , but you can expect to enjoy the colors of El Jorongo's hand-dyed rugs and sweaters for many years.