One, only one, band of silk worms, tended by a hermit far beyond the village of San Pedro Cajonos, survived. The Mexican government inadvertently took out all the rest of a vast silk worm population in this historically silk-producing town while trying to curb malaria carried by mosquitoes. 500 years of craft would have died there in the 1960s, but for this one woman’s seed stock. From it, descendants of the original Spanish creatures powered on - she singlehandedly brought back enough silk thread to supply the remaining weavers in that area.
Which were four. That’s how many weavers remained by 1990 - in a town once renown throughout the country for their spinning, dyeing, and weaving of silk rebozos - now they were barely produced at all. After all, they had polyester from China.
Last summer, I came across an indigo-dyed silk dress with a hand and drape so alluring - textural and raw and yet sumptuously soft - and a color of such depth that I wanted to plunge into it. I circled around the Santa Fe Folk Art Market for two days before I realized that I had to buy it.
That was when I learned that this silk which had seduced me signifies the renaissance happening in San Pedro Cajonos - that not only did the silk worms survive, but the passion for this tradition did, too. I met after the market with Moises who had woven my dress and, through an interpreter, learned about the revival of the sericulture in Oaxaca. And then I had to say, very reluctantly, that as much as I loved this dress and all that it represents, and as much as I will take pleasure in wearing it, I simply could not offer it at Ibu, since it is not the work of women artisans. This happens to me a lot- it is hard to say no to such gorgeousness, but I must be true to our mission.
But no! the knowledgeable interpreter interjected. Realizing what I was saying, Moises began to unfold the real story about this language in cloth: about the women in his extended family who spin from the cocoons this luscious fiber, the women who feed and tend the indigo vats to concoct this color dye, the sisters who warp the loom and paint the yarns, who finish the thick fringe. I am only the weaver, he says, humbly. The cloth is a creation of our community; most of them are women.
Moises, another way of saying Moses, is working with the grandmothers, I later learned. Working with all in that town who care about their craft, their tradition, their language in cloth. Who care about renaissance. The rebirth of their pride.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker