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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 hand weave 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.

The weavers at El Jorongo use both the backstrap loom and the centuries old wooden loom. Both of these looms are operated entirely by hand using the techniques passed down over many generations.

Each piece created is unique as the exact dye tones and use of colors within any one design are never repeated.

 

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Doña Margarita demonstrates warping and weaving on a back strap loom.

 

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warping colonial loom

 

colonial wooden loom

Jose Servin and family warping one of the centuries old wooden standing looms used to hand weave rugs, blankets and jackets at El Jorongo in Pátzcuaro. Michoacán, Mexico.

 

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.

 

 

 

Ruth Aguilar uses both plants and anilines to dye the skeins of wool. Red onions, beets, cóngara, coffee, alfalfa, ruda, fitoláca, thyme, hibiscus, lichen, moss, avocado leaves and skins and poinsettias were used to dye the colors for this rug woven by Maria Eugenia Servin on a natural black background.

 

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Wool and Washing

At El Jorongo we use two different qualities of wool to handknit 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 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 incredibly soft and fine that even babies and many people who are "allergic"to normal wool can wear sweaters knit from the Merino wool with pleasure.

We recommend that Merino wool hand knits be dry cleaned. They may be hand washed by those with experience in washing fine wool sweaters in cool/cold water using any brand of hair shampoo (this is softer on the wool than detergents), rinse thoroughly in cool/cold water, roll moderately tightly in a towel so that the sweater is completely covered (this is very important as an unprotected sweater will stretch), put the roll into the washer around the agitator and use the "Spin"cycle only to get out the excess water, take the sweater out of the towel, and lay flat to dry turning as needed. It will take about 24 hours to dry. Wool sweaters should never be soaked, machine washed, or put in the dryer as that will result in shrinkage and felting.

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 knits should 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. Then roll in a towel per the instructions above and use the same "Spin" technique to get out the excess water. 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 Merino wool and Criollo 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.

 

The many tones of hand dyed skeins of wool at El Jorongo.

 

 

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El Jorongo. El Arte de la Lana®
Av. L. Cárdenas #521, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, 61600 México.
Tel/Fax: 011-52-434-342-0924 from outside Mexico.
Tel/Fax: 01-434-342-0924 within Mexico.
E-mail: info@eljorongo.com
 
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