To re-establish the use of wool amongst the Huichol.
To promote their traditional weaving skills.
To help satisfy their domestic needs for woollen products and establish a market for hand spun and woven goods.
To establish spinning and weaving of woollen fibre as a profitable activity amongst the Huichol.
To promote the development of skills in spinning, weaving and dyeing of woollen fibres.
This project is currently focussed on Huichol communities. It encompasses the production process from the obtaining of fleeces, the preparation of the fibre, the production of spinning wheels and spinning, dyeing with natural and synthetic dyes, the production of looms, weaving and marketing of the spun and woven goods. The project has three facets:
- Manufacturing in Mexico the optimum equipment required such as spinning wheels, carders and looms.
- Training people to use this equipment and distribution of this equipment.
- The establishment of an infrastructure from the production of the wool to the commercialisation of the spun and woven products. Thus many Huichol women who would like to spin and weave will have the opportunity to learn, to obtain the equipment, and then working from their houses in the Sierra, they will have access to the raw materials, and the opportunity to sell their work at an attractive price. They will be capable of producing woollen articles for their families and will have surplus production to sell in an established market.
Phase 1. BUILDING A WORKSHOP:
Start a production line of spinning wheels starting with a pilot run of 12 spinning wheels. (Completed March ’97 )
Phase 2. TRAINING PROGRAM:
When the spinning wheels are in production, to invite Huichol women who wanted to learn how to spin with a spinning wheel to come and stay at our base at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for a month and learn to spin very well indeed. This would be an excellent opportunity to teach the use of natural dyes and also synthetic dyes to those women who wished to learn. Then they would return to the Sierra and take the spinning wheel as a gift. Food and all costs such as travelling expenses would be paid. (Initiated March ’97 )
Phase 3. WORKING WITH HUICHOL CENTRES:
To look for Huichol Centres that would be interested in participating in the training program and to help them as much as possible. In this way some of the people we teach go on to teach others.
Phase 4. WORKING IN THE SIERRA:
As women return to the Sierra with their spinning wheels, to follow up to make sure that they are able to buy the wool they want, and to purchase from them the things that they make at a good price for them. This would mean :
a) Finding sources of good wool and making sure that it is available.
b) Finding outlets to sell woven produce.
c) Providing feedback and guidance on what sells best and new items that would sell well.
THE ROLE OF THE SPINNING WHEEL:
The Spinning wheel development plan started when Aruna and I realised that the use of wool was disappearing from the Huichol Sierra and that a good spinning wheel could play a key role in an effort was made at re establishing the use of real wool. Since we are both enthusiastic about wool in all its aspects we were very concerned when we discovered what was happening.
We arrived in Puerta Vallarta in June of 1991 where we met a Huichol selling bead work in the street, his name was Rosendo. We rapidly became friends. He invited us to visit his family in the Sierra where we met his stepmother, Silvina, who makes beautiful double cloth pouches with all manner of intricate traditional designs.
We found that she spun her wool with no more than a hand held spindle that she rolled against her leg. This is an extremely slow method of producing wool. Weaving fine designs in double cloth is a highly skilled art that is unavoidably time consuming, but the result is worth the time and effort. Spinning is the skill of drawing wool out in an even constant manner and then twisting it and winding up the twisted yarn. Spinning need not be be done slowly on a spindle, the same result can be obtained when it is produced rapidly with a spinning wheel.
The skill of spinning is in the consistent drawing out of the wool, not in the winding up which is a purely mechanical process. A person who spins using a spinning wheel draws the wool out by hand as before, and controls the twisting, but now the process of twisting the wool and winding it on to a bobbin is mechanised by the use of a simple foot powered treadle machine that leaves both hands free to draw the wool. That is why an efficient spinning wheel can accelerate the process of spinning wool so much without changing the nature of the finished product which remains as “hand spun wool” .
Observing the process by which the Huichol produce pouches of hand spun woollen yarn we saw that the time to make a pouch could be reduced by more than half by the use of an appropriate spinning wheel. We saw that very few Huichol weavers were working with wool, nearly all were using acrylic yarn.
With weaving, as with any other craft where the cost of the input of time and skill is very large compared to the cost of the materials, there is a law that says “For the best returns for his efforts the craftsman must use the best possible materials” just another way of saying ” You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear”. This old English proverb comes from the cloth trade and is especially true of hand weaving which is so labour intensive. In the case of a Huichol woman weaving a pouch the equation would go something like this:
Weaving a pouch from acrylic yarn without using a spinning wheel:
Raw materials………… $2.00 U.S.
Time spent spinning…2 hours ( even acrylic yarn has to be plied)
Time spent weaving… 10 hours
Total time…………………..12 hours
Earning per hour………..$0.5 U.S.
Weaving a pouch from wool using a spinning wheel:
Raw materials………… $1.00 U.S.
Time spent spinning…4 hours ( with a spinning wheel)
Time spent weaving..12hours ( slower because wool is a little more difficult to weave than acrylic yarn. )
Total time…………………..16 hours
Earning per hour……….$1.5 U.S.
In the above example the weaver is earning 3 times as much by using a spinning wheel, and it’s worth noting that $1.5 U.S. currently represents a wage of almost 100 pesos a day which is considered a good pay in the city, and excellent pay for the Sierra.
Thus it was that we saw what a great potential the spinning wheel had for a people such as the Huichol. With that realisation it was very easy to promise Silvina that I would make her a spinning wheel, but that promise, so quick to make, sealed my fate for the next few months.
THE FIRST SIX SPINNING WHEELS
We moved to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a small fishing village 30 kilometres north of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Nayarit. The capital of Nayarit is Tepic, three hours further North. The state government in Nayarit has a department dedicated to the development of the crafts, and since the majority of craftsmen in this state are either Huichol or Cora, this department is mostly concerned with these two ethnic groups. It so happened that the person who ran this department was building his house in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and since this is a very small town, it was inevitable that sooner or later we would meet. When we did meet, he became interested in the spinning wheel idea and asked us to make 5 for his department, and even put down a deposit so that I could buy materials and get started. With local help, I found a wood that steam bent well, and obtained enough of it to make the wheels. The village carpenter lent me his workshop and lathe, and although the equipment was incredibly rough and ready, by dint of extensive improvisation in the space of about 3 months I made the 6 spinning wheels. The sixth wheel I proudly presented to Silvina, the other 5 went to Tepic.
Naturally, we felt very pleased with ourselves to have managed to fulfil our promise, but when we realised how much time and effort and money was involved just in delivering these machines and training their new owners we realised that our work had in reality had only just begun. Making the spinning wheels was just the tip of the iceberg. Handing over a spinning wheel to a Huichol woman is a bit like handing a car over to someone who has never seen one before. There has to be an instructor there with enthusiasm and patience, who can prove that the thing really does work and that it’s worth the effort.
During the next year and a half I was only able to get to the Sierra 4 times, and each time there would be a problem with the wheel. This helped me a lot to improve the design of the wheel, but it made progress intolerably slow.
I had been looking for financial support from one of the NGOs that work in the Sierra. Unfortunately very few people understand how a spinning wheel works, they think that the wool is spun mechanically as on some kind of spinning jenny and that the wool is therefore left without a ‘soul’ or something. All a spinning wheel does is take a lot of the grind out of spinning, the wool is still drawn out by hand, a job that takes a lot of concentration and skill. The wool is still hand spun. I was criticised for wanting to change the indigenous peoples’ traditional way of life, not a criticism that makes much sense to any person who knows that before the Spanish arrived, there were no sheep, not to mention cattle and horses. The colourful Huichol costumes, bead work and yarn paintings which seem to be so much a part of Huichol culture to day, are actually relatively recent developments. They are all based on materials and techniques that the Huichol have adopted and ‘Huicholified’. The only thing that can be considered truly Huichol is the colourful and exuberant expression which is in real danger of being overtaken and overwhelmed by the surrounding Western culture.
EXPERIENCE WITH ADESMO:
ADESMO stands for ‘Associación para el Desarrollo Ecológico de la Sierra Madre Occidental’ , and this organisation run by Juan Negrin and his wife Yvonne focussed their efforts on the Huichol. They started a carpentry workshop and two weaving workshops, one in San Andres (now closed) and one near Santa Caterina (still functioning occasionally). They invited me to teach the carpenters at the carpentry workshop to make spinning wheels and they offered to pay my costs.
I made two month long trips to the carpentry workshop, the first to prepare the carpentry workshop for making spinning wheels, the second to teach each of the four carpenters to make a spinning wheel. Each carpenter succeeded in making himself a fine spinning wheel, but despite my best efforts we were unable even to get to the next step which was to for the carpenters to make a batch of spinning wheels by themselves, much less start showing people how to make the best use of their machines. It was an arduous task fraught with major difficulties, and when ADESMO finally ran out of funds 6 months later this project came to a definitive end.
COMMON PROBLEMS WITH NGO’S:
I have worked with several ‘Non Government Organisations’ while I was living in Central America, ( I was 4 years in Costa Rica and 2 years in Nicaragua ). All had major problems of one type or another.
These are some of the common difficulties that these types of organisation can suffer:
Orientated to the ‘good of the community’, which is excellent, but without accepting that it is the success of the individual worker that will make the project successful. Very few organisations are really aimed at the individual who is going to ask the rather mercenary question : ‘what can I make doing this, will a I be able to feed my family?’ Projects are abandoned when workers can’t make a living, though ideological issues may hold them together for a while and make the break up slower.
The person in charge of these projects sometimes falls into one of the following categories:
a) Sometimes the person in charge is politically orientated and connected, but without the foggiest idea about practical matters (though, unfortunately, he may think he is).
b) Sometimes the person in charge is a young student fresh from university, idealistic and overflowing with good ideas but without the practical experience that it takes to for someone to successfully implement them.
c) Sometimes the person in charge is simply a person employed to do the job and is doing it in a 9 to 5 fashion, without the essential drive and enthusiasm that it takes to get something new off the ground.
The funding can have too many strings attached, or is just too cumbersome. The man in the field knows what is needed and needs to have a free hand to improvise, but whoever is raising the funds has the last word on policy and wants endless paperwork to prove where all the money has gone. If the two roles are not performed by the same person a conflict can exist. Often the fund raiser is looking for impressive results and photographs and fame. The man in the field may be looking for more lasting effects.
We have seen too much hard work offered in vain. Being aware of these pitfalls, we are looking for an approach that would lead us to a more successful outcome.
After having lived in Mexico for almost 3 years doing a variety of things but always orientated towards the Spinning Wheel Project we decided to build a solid base for ourselves from which we could act with a larger degree of independence. We started a company called Hikuri Impresiones S.A. de C.V.
Our first initiative was to print T shirts. Working with a small group of very good Huichol artists we chose a number of their pictures and Aruna, who is a very good graphic artist, separated each of them by hand into 8 colours. I made an eight colour printing machine and a gas powered drying unit, and we started printing T shirts.
For each shirt we sold we paid a commission to the artist, later on we bought the copyrights outright of some of the less used pictures. Initially Aruna and I were living and working in a house lent to us by a friend. We did everything, buying a few T shirts at a time, printing them, and taking them into Puerto Vallarta to sell. A year later we were able to rent a larger building and not long after, employ a person to help us print. Now, four years later, we a are a group of 14 people busy printing T shirts and textiles in general, starting from computer designed graphics and on to camera work, screen making, and with three printing machines we producing a wide variety of custom work apart from the Huichol designs which we have always printed. Our intention was to build a solid financial base from which we could finance the Spinning Wheel development. However, although we were able to grow reasonably rapidly, that was at the cost of re investing everything we made back into the company, and at least up till last year, that is to say, after three years of hard work, our little company was still walking a financial tight rope with nothing extra that we could put into the spinning wheels. It was at this point, in January 1996, that Club Regina offered to help us by paying for the first 12 spinning wheels in advance, at $2000 pesos each ($250 US ) that is a total of $24,000 pesos.
Club Regina sells time share, and one of the ways they attract customers is with theme shops. They opened ‘The Huichol Collection’ on the water front in Puerto Vallarta as a combination Huichol museum and shop. Later they opened two more theme shops, one in Cancun and the other in Cabo San Lucas. In relation to these shops they wanted to publicise a project that would help the Huichol help themselves. For this reason they were interested in the Spinning Wheel Development Plan.
BUILDING A WORKSHOP:
When we received the money we at once set to work. We started by pouring the concrete for the carpentry workshop, then as construction proceeded I began making the larger machines, the shaper, the circular saw bench, and the lathe. All these I made extremely solidly, with an ample power supply, and above all, the capacity to work with a high degree of precision.
However, with the building, the buying of electric motors and other basic pieces of equipment, we spent the $24,000 in little over a month. From then on we could only proceed as our T shirt company made more money. Also, since at that time I was running the printing workshop and doing the computer graphics, I was limited in how many hours per day I could put into the spinning wheels so I worked evenings and weekends to make the new equipment.
The good thing was that we had had plenty of experience in the field with the spinning wheels, and I had evolved the Mark IV version, even more robust and easy to use. The difficulty was the cost of the equipment and the time it was taking. We needed to think in terms of producing many spinning wheels in series so as to keep the cost down, not just 12 spinning wheels. To produce consistent quality we needed not only industrial grade machinery, but also a series of cast aluminium moulds, a steel table with 32 clamps, and a whole series of smaller jigs to help make the bobbins, flier units etc. all of which we had not only to invent, make, but also develop and refine. Unfortunately, not every brainchild is an instant success.
We had only one way to go, even though it was painfully slow, and that was complete each task properly and with calm. Each new task to complete loomed up ahead of us like a mountain to climb, but climbing it, instead of reaching the top of course, the next higher mountain became visible.
Needless to say, Club Regina soon became very impatient with this kind of progress. When they ordered T shirts from us, we can fill that order, even if its a big one, in two weeks, but they couldn’t ever understand that we couldn’t produce a dozen spinning wheels after months of apparently hard work. We actually had to print, many, many thousands of T shirts to make the money we were using to proceed with the spinning wheels, and that same process of printing all those shirts was absorbing most of my time.
The most difficult and time consuming job of all for me was producing new T shirt designs, since that was largely my responsibility. There was a surrealistic moment when we got an order for 4 new designs to be created and printed with in a couple of weeks together with a special plea for at least one spinning wheel. In the height of the busy season there were 3 months when there was barely time to sleep yet alone make progress with the spinning wheels.
Nevertheless, we did made progress whenever we could. During the course of just over a year we personally invested almost $200,000 pesos in setting up the spinning wheel manufacturing workshop, including building a little house on the roof for Huichol women to come and live in while they are learning to spin. The first five wheels were completed on May 26, 1997. Once our carpenter had learnt how to use the new equipment, we found a second carpenter to help him. We have no doubt that with two carpenters we can increase the speed of production to an average of one completed spinning wheel every 3 or 4 days. Already we are more concerned with what we are going to do with so many wheels.
THE TRAINING PROGRAM
PROBLEMS THAT CAN OCCUR AND ADVANTAGES OF A TRAINING CENTRE:
From our experience in the Sierra teaching Huichol women to use spinning wheels we have devised the following strategy:
1) Huichol women often don’t speak very good Spanish, some speak none at all. Quite apart from the language problem many are very shy, and completely unable to speak to strangers.
It is important to have a Huichol woman as an instructor.
2) Huichol women nearly always have a lot of family around them which is a tremendous distraction if you are trying to teach somebody something because they all want to see and shout things and poke fun at the poor women who may be trying to work a treadle for the first time in her life, and is struggling to master the co ordination to make the wheel go round, never mind which way round it turns.
Huichol women have a great many things to do in the course of a day, and its difficult to get one person to sit down quietly for any time. They are always off to make tortillas, or to wash the clothes, or fetch the goats, or something.
The best way to teach a Huichol woman how to spin is to invite her to stay somewhere far away from home .
3) Many Huichol live in remote ranchos with only tracks over the mountains between them. Travelling is time consuming and one can never be certain of finding the person at home.
It is better to teach in a training centre where several women can come at one time to learn.
4) It is not enough that a person knows how to spin with a spinning wheel, a person really needs to be at ease and fluent at spinning to be able to make commercial use of her spinning wheel. In practice we find that most people can learn to spin in a week and in two weeks they may feel that they know it all when in fact they don’t, that actually takes about another two weeks. This makes for a total of a month long training period.
5) It is important for the owner of a spinning wheel to know how to look after it, and to learn good rituals of maintenance.
Good rituals of maintenance are best learned by keeping company for a lengthy period of time with someone who can give a good example.
A time period of a month also about the period needed for the person to become familiar with the solutions to problems that can occur with a spinning wheel on the basis that everything that could go wrong, will go wrong within this time.
5) The objective that as many Huichol women as possible should benefit from the spinning wheel presents the problem of how to distribute them to those who will benefit most. One cannot sell them because very few Huichol women have enough money to buy a spinning wheel, especially when it is something new and they don’t know how to make good use of it.
One cannot just give them away to likely candidates (a) because people are very jealous and (b) because what is easily gained is easily lost, which is to say that the gifts would not be appreciated and used.
For a person to decide to leave home for a month is a big decision, and the spinning wheel is a worthy prize. It is a well balanced affair, and nobody can be jealous because it is an option truly open to all.
With the above aims in view we set up a training centre at our base in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. We built as I described earlier, a Huichol style house on our roof with a kitchen and laundry. We took special care to make the place as cool as possible, with plenty of ventilation and mosquito netting because La Cruz is warmer than the their natural home in the Sierra. ( Generally speaking the Huichol seem to be unperturbed by fleas but mosquitoes drive them mad. )
As soon as the first spinning wheels were ready I drove to the Sierra ( a 1,400 kilometre round trip ) to visit with a Huichol family we have known for many years. Because there are no telephones in the Sierra, they could not know I was coming, but since we had talked often of the plan to come and learn to spin with the spinning wheel they were not surprised to see me. Nevertheless it is a bit precipitative to suddenly arrive and want to leave the next day with the women of the house, especially if there has been no precedent. Fortunately I am trusted sufficiently well, and succeeded in bringing back two Huichol women, Emilia and Alicia. Naturally I had also to bring back their dependent children . Of Emilia’s 8 children, only one was so small that he had to come with his mother. Of Alicia’s three children two had to travel with her.
The next day I drove back with the two women and three children. Once back at base everything started well, but soon we realised that Emilia was suffering from a severe rash, and bad eyesight ( she is 40 years old), and that Alicia had colitis and the children diarrhoea. It took a visit to the optician, a series of visits to the doctor and a small pharmacy of medicines and almost three weeks to cure all these problems. The causes were a mixture of allergies, amoebas and various types of worms.
Meanwhile the spinning proceeded. Emilia already knew how to spin with a spindle very well, and she rapidly learnt to spin with the wheel. Alicia had never spun before, but she picked it up from Emilia, and although she was slower, she was already precise and consistent after spinning about a pound of wool. They both made steady progress, and they also enjoyed their stay on the coast, going for walks to the beach, to the village plaza, and occasionally into Vallarta to go shopping. (We paid them a little so that they could buy something for their families when they returned.)
By the time Emilia had spun enough wool to weave a set of three pouches she was completely fluid with her new machine. We made up the pieces of wood for a back strap loom for her to use, which she then warped up and she started to weave a set of three pouches. She was spinning and weaving alternating these activities. This was very good for Alicia who only knew simple weaving up till then.
Emilia just finished her weaving by the time she was due to go back. I drove her back up to the Sierra with the intention of finding two more students, but by now it was the end of June and well into the rainy season. At this time of year every able bodied Huichol is busy plowing, planting, or weeding the crops, first maize, then beans and squash. I found several women who really wanted to come, but it was impossible for them to leave their families at such a critical time. I hunted everywhere hoping to find someone without obligations, and although I found two ladies with less obligations, apparently there was no one without obligations. Everyone kept telling me ‘December’.
I took Emilia to the Huichol Centre that Susana Valadez has started in Huejuquilla. This is one the first important towns that you come to as you leave the Sierra, and there are always many Huichol passing through. Susana works mostly with beads, but she is interested in working with wool also, although she herself does not know how to spin so I introduced her to Emilia. Emilia has been spinning and weaving all her life and knows important things such as where to buy wool amongst the Tepehuanes who live nearby and who have many sheep. Soon Emilia will teach spinning and weaving at Susana’s place and I left two spinning wheels with Susan for her first students.
At the moment we are looking for our next students who will probably come from the Huichol Cultural Centre in Santiago Ixcuintla run by Mariano Valadez. Meanwhile Alicia is exploring new lines of articles that Huichol can weave which are easier to sell than pouches. At the moment she is making a set of cushion covers which are a fine double weave on the face side, and a simpler weave on the reverse.
I am making a compact frame loom which Alicia will set up to weave cloth for a type of woollen jacket which I feel sure will sell well, also to the Huichol themselves.
SUMMARY OF THE TRAINING PROGRAM:
CONDITIONS OF TRAINING:
1. Huichol women come to learn at a training centre for a period of a month.
2. They can bring their youngest children.
3. They are taught by a skilled Huichol woman.
4. They will receive payment half will be given in advance because they need money for food for their families, and the rest on completion of the course.
5. All costs will be paid, transport, medicine for most common treatments, food, soap, spectacles, etc.
6. Those who prove skilled in the use of the spinning wheel will receive a spinning wheel and two extra bobbins and a set of carders as a gift on leaving.
1. Spinning fast and efficiently. How to produce different types of thread such as strong hard wearing thread for bags etc, and soft open warm types for blankets. Plying efficiently. Skeining. Yarn Count.
2. Preparation of fibre washing methods, oiling, carding. Control of quality of fibre.
3. Use and care of the spinning wheel: Oiling, changing cord, adjusting tension, how to deal with all the problems that may occur.
According to the interest of the student we aim at being able to offer the the following instruction:
4. The production of formerly used traditional items for use in the Sierra, such as blankets and warm jackets, and other items that are aimed at selling to foreigners such as cushion covers, kangaroo pouches etc.
5. Different types of weaving with a back strap loom, (not all Huichol women know their own traditional types of weaving).
6. How to set up a frame loom, and weave with foot powered heddles.
7. Dyeing with natural dyes and use of mordants.
8. Dying with synthetic dyes.
THE FUTURE OF THE SPINNING WHEEL DEVELOPMENT PLAN:
THE HUICHOL CENTRE FOR CULTURAL SURVIVAL AND THE TRADITIONAL ARTS in Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit, was started in 1981 by Susana and Mariano Valadez . Mariano is a well known Huichol artist. It is situated near the tobacco fields where many Huichol go to work.
One of the aims of the centre is to teach Huichol artisans skills, including marketing, to enable them to generate their own income rather than seek employment elsewhere such as in the tobacco fields.
Their view point is that with careful planning the Huichol people can participate and flourish in a technologically advanced society without sacrificing their native traditions.
The centre is also provides extensive health care. Although the centre was created by both Susana and Mariano Valadez, Currently Mariano is running the centre by himself and raises funds by selling bead work made at the centre and by selling his own yarn paintings. He also sells Huichol T shirts that we print.
Soon Mariano will send us two Huichol women to learn how to spin with a spinning wheel and they will start teaching spinning in the Huichol Centre in Santiago de Ixcuintla.
THE HUICHOL CENTRE in Huejuquilla was started more recently by Susana Valadez with the aim of being able to work directly with the Huichol community. This town has a central position with dirt track roads leading up to the largest Huichol communities.
The aims of this centre are similar to those of the Centre in Santiago de Ixcuintla.
Susana specialises in fine bead art and is starting a bee keeping and organic agriculture project. She has two spinning wheels and soon a Huichol woman ( Emilia ) will start teaching at her centre.
LA CASA HUICHOL is in Guadalajara and is run by Rosío Echivarria and Dr. Antonio. Rosío started La Casa Huichol in 1983 as a place where sick Huichol could come. Rocío is a trained nurse who lived 6 years in the Huichol community of San Andres. Now she is well connected to the hospital system in Guadalajara, and she and Dr. Antonio see that the Huichol that come to them receive good medical attention, if necessary in hospital. Many Huichol stay some time with here convalescing, and in this case Rocío encourages them to make some money with craft work. To raise funds Rocío produces and sells a wide variety of artisania, from yarn paintings, bead work, to embroidery of many types. She has won first prize for the quality of her products. She also distributes the Huichol T shirts that we make in Guadalajara. She has at last managed to get funds to build a much larger and better place for all her activities, and her new premises should be opening in September.
Rosío is interested in the spinning wheels but she will not have room for them until her new centre is opened. She will come and visit us in September and we hope to be able to work with her.
Our priority at the moment is to interest other established Huichol centres in participating in the Spinning Wheel Development Plan+. We have had a very positive response. A training centre could probably teach 2 to 8 people a month depending on the accommodation and the time of year because, as explained above, there are certain times of year when the Huichol cannot easily leave the Sierra.
It is still very early to make any estimate as to how many Huichol women we could collectively train in a year.
TEACHING SEMINARS :
We are well aware of our own limitations. Although we are good spinners and we have used natural dyes we know of other people who really are experts in these fields. For this reason we are very much wanting to attract such people to come and give workshops, seminars, or better still courses, depending on how much time they can give. Ideally such a teacher could visit each centre in turn teaching the staff and the students at the same time. In this way the staff at each centre would gradually become more expert, and better able to teach each successive group of students.
LOOMS, CARDERS AND OTHER EQUIPMENT:
We will make looms suitable to weave blankets and other items that are too wide or too slow to weave on a back strap loom. Also we are making carders which we give together with the spinning wheel and two spare bobbins to the women who learn how to spin. We will also make a simple carding machine for use in the training centres which will greatly facilitate the preparation of the wool prior to spinning.
WORKING IN THE SIERRA:
ADESMO built two Weaving workshops in the Sierra Huichol, one near Nuevo Colonia or Tuapuri, The other in San Andres. The one in San Andres has been out of action for several years. The weaving workshop near Nuevo Colonia is run by a Huichol called Cirilo Montoya. Cirilo is an enthusiastic weaver. He started with two large frame looms and for three years was producing plain cotton cloth of a type that is suited for embroidery work that the Huichol use for their costume.
Cirilo went to live for a while with a family of weavers in Michoacan where he learnt about dying fibre and weaving patterns. His ambition became to work with colours so he built an extension onto the weaving workshop to do the dyeing. Unfortunately he was called away by his community to run the school boarding house before he could put the dye house into action. Then, after running the school boarding house for a year, he was made to take it on for a second term of one year because there was no one else to do the job. At last he has become free again to start the weaving workshop but first he needs to repair the building and buy raw materials which is made harder for him since by now he has a family with 2 children. For this reason he left to work in North America and is due to return soon.
Cirilo is planning to start the workshop up again, get the dye house working, and apart from the cotton weaving that he already has had working, he could start weaving wool with looms that I can make in La Cruz. There are various advantages to weaving wool, one is that since the thread is thicker one advances faster, another is that it is much easier to dye, and another is that there is a larger profit margin. (Plain cotton cloth is made so fast and efficiently on huge machines that it is very difficult to compete with a hand operated loom.)
There are several important functions the weaving workshop could perform:
Weaving cotton cloth for embroidery.
Weaving patterned woollen cloth for blankets and warm jackets.
Being a place where women can come and spin to produce thread for the looms.
Being a store of raw wool to supply the weavers.
Being a shop to sell spinning and weaving supplies including spinning wheels to the women of the community.
I see Cirilo’s Weaving workshop as an important step in establishing a weaving community in the Sierra. Once it is working it may be possible to start up the weaving workshop in San Andres.
The indigenous people that lives to the West of the Huichol are the Tepehuanes. They live mostly in the state of Durango in a region that is much more rich and fertile. Most of the area is forested and they are famous for rearing sheep. The Huichol are famous for their ‘curanderos’ and Huichol curanderos have, since time immemorial, gone on tours around the Tepehuane territory curing the sick. A Huichol healer can be very well paid. Often he is paid in kind, with cattle, sheep or fleeces. This is the route by which most wool gets to the Huichol. This could be the supply route for bringing wool from the Tepehuanes to the weaving workshop. For example,Cirilo’s father in law is a curandero who has a house in one of the Tepehuane communities, and another house in Nuevo Colonia, and a pick up truck. He is a person in an ideal position to bring wool back with him from his trips to the Tepehuanes.
PURCHASING WOVEN ARTICLES:
Each time I go to the Sierra to return and pick up students I have an opportunity to check on how women who have already got their spinning wheels are progressing and to buy articles that they want to sell. What I purchase in this way I can pass onto Club Regina (who run shop in Puerta Vallarta called Huichol Collection). Since they are paying for the Spinning Wheels, to be able to sell the product of their assistance and so complete the circle, would be a very satisfactory arrangement. My objective is to be able to pay the weavers a sufficiently high price for their products so that they will feel that their effort was worth while and want to continue weaving.
Susana Valadez also makes frequent trips to Huichol communities in the Sierra, and will be able to perform a similar function. She exports a lot of Huichol artwork to North America and she believes the weaving community there could be a good market for naturally dyed hand spun wool.
At present making bead work is an established activity amongst the Huichol, and they never lack initiative to discover sources of beads, the special wax they need, the special needles and so on. And when they have made enough articles to be worth a trip, they travel to ever more distant cities to find new markets for their produce. They have been coming down to Mexico city and Puerto Vallarta for many years now. More recently they are travelling to Cancun and places on the border like Tijuana. Already there are several Huichol who have a home in the U.S.A. from which they sell their artwork for a better price. Once weaving with real wool gets to the point of being an established activity in the same way that bead work already is, then I will no longer need to ensure that the weavers can sell their produce.
The overall speed of progress is a function of monetary funding. For example in the first part of the project we set up a workshop and trained a carpenter to make spinning wheels. This took a long time because the funding was absolutely minimal. All the equipment was made by us, mostly at weekends and so on. Progress could only be made as money and time became available. Overall it took an excruciating 15 months to complete this stage.
If the money had been available to buy the equipment outright, and to pay a specialist to do my job running the printing workshop, we could have been producing spinning wheels in less than 5 months. Apart from the fact that I had no choice, I don’t at all regret having done it the hard way because as a result we have custom made equipment better than we could have bought and a better spinning wheel to show for it, but nevertheless I didn’t foresee that it would take us quite that long. As they say, hind sight is 20/20.
I do very much want to learn from this experience now that we have entered on the second stage of the project and have other people involved. We are promising a lot to the Huichol, and it is going to cost a lot of money to fulfil this promise, and we can only proceed as fast as money comes available, for this reason looking for funds has become an important issue.
One important way for us to raise funds is by selling spinning wheels. Since we have developed such a fine quality wheel, it is likely that we could find a market for it. Also in the long run this should be our best source of finance, however in the short term we have no capital to work with and we are still in the hand to mouth situation that caused us last year to take so long setting up. This is the time when we urgently need funding from other sources, as far as possible with no strings attached. This would speed the project up very considerably by supplying immediate capital to get moving. For this reason we are currently starting a non profit making organisation called ARTLANA A.C.