Zapotec rugs are hand make by the indigenous Indians of Southwest Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. Many of the Zapotec rugs are woven in the Central Valley in the small village of Teotitlán. Their weaving traditions dates back thousands of years; amazing! The Teotitlán Zapotec Indians are proud
that their rugs and sarapes are considered the finest woven textiles in all of Mexico during the last few hundred years.

Before Cortés came to Mexico, the Zapotec weavers used cotton fibers and back- strap tension type looms, (some are still used today). The Spaniards saw Teotitlán’s weaving skill as something to exploit. So they introduced fixed frame petal looms and sheep’s wool. This subjugation brought profits to the Spanish, but also improved and modernized the Zapotec’s textiles. The weavers could now work faster and make larger weavings of higher performing wool fibers.

The Spanish introduced both churro and merino sheep to Mexico for meat and wool fleece. The churro sheep were more tolerant to the Mexican climate. The merino fleece need much more processing to remove lanolin than churro fleece. This save on water usage, which is sometimes in limited supply, plus the useable yield from churro sheep is higher.

The spinning wheel was also introduced by the Spanish. Both hand spin and machine spun yarns are used in Zapotec rugs, but hand spun wool is considered to be of higher value.

The Zapotec were weaving textiles long before synthetic dyes were invented so they were using natural dyes and mordants to make colorfast yarns. Undyed wool is sometimes used for the natural colors of gray, ivory, tan and brown. The apothecary use several indigenous plants, insects, and
minerals. This makes an impressive range of colors, the vegetal dyes, pigments and mordants come from tree bark, nut shells, alfalfa leaves, moss, lichen, sweet acacia pods, pomegranates, bougainvillea flowers, indigo, jute leaves, lime, wood ashes, alum and of course, cochineal.

Cochineal, with it’s beautiful red color, has a very high value. The indigenous people of Central and South America used cochineal as a pigment for illustrations, drawings, maps and manuscripts. Cochineal was used as a dye for textiles as early as the second century B.C.E. At times its value
was as high as silver or gold. It’s use spread from the Americas to the rest of the world. It is used in Zapotec rugs to this day.

There is a very wide range of both quality and design in Zapotec rugs. Many are made for the tourist trade where a “bargain” price may be the main concern. Low price comes at the cost of low quality workmanship and materials. Here you will find synthetic dyes and fibers like acrylic. On the other hand. Some Zapotec rugs are fine, high quality weavings made from hand spun wool with local, natural dyes. Many beautiful designs and colors are found in Zapotec rugs. Some ancient designs are taken from ceramic vessels, wood carvings, ancient glyphs, clay stamps, traditional ‘sarape’ wearing blankets and the Zouch Nuttall codex.

The upscale Zapotec rugs are as good as any other culture’s high-end rugs. So why are Navajo rugs considered better or “real” and Zapotec rugs as lesser or “fake”? Part of it is from the U.S. influence. After all, Navajo rugs are made in the United States. Navajo weaving has been known as
superior before 1780, but only their neighboring tribes, the Apache, Ute, and Pueblos traded for Navajo wearing blankets and thereafter white settlers and Mexicans had a blanket or two plus a few saddle blankets. In 1889 Jake Gold published a catalog of curios and Navajo blankets plus some
Mexican rugs from New Mexico USA. In 1896 Clinton Neal Cotton published his mail order catalog for Navajo rugs and blankets to customers beyond the four corners region, focusing on the eastern United States. Now Navajo rugs were popular coast to coast and becoming more valuable. Zapotec
weaving have a history that goes back in time before the Navajo weavings, many times more. But again, most trade was with other indigenous tribes. Tourism for the Zapotec did not start growing until the Pan- American highway came in 1948. An increase in Zapotec rugs into the U.S. market was
just getting started in the 1960’s, and didn’t take off until the late 1970’s. So the Navajo rugs have a 80+ year head start. But you watch, Zapotec rugs are going to become much more popular and valuable.


1. Always inspect and pretest. Document and photograph. Note all pre-existing damage.

2. Plan on color bleeding. Look for pre-existing color migration. Test all colors for crocking and
bleeding. Look and test for ink on dark colors and side cords. Quote for DyeFix.

3. Inspected for damage. Quote for repairs.

4. Have release of liability form signed.

5. Work quickly. Wash Zapotec rugs fast and efficiently.

Cleaning Procedures:

1. Dust rug. Air dust or vacuum only.

2. Treat entire rug, front and back with DyeFix for Wool solution. Work in with hand brush give at
least 10 minute dwell time, more if possible. Do not apply Dyefix if there is pre-existing color

3. Treat entire rug, front and back, with AntiDye solution. Apply heavily. Work in with hand brush.

4. Rinse to remove any loose dyes, rinse lightly and quickly, unless color is moving off rug.
Reapply AntiDye solution if colors are migrating and continue to rinse.

5. Apply Navajo Rug Cleaner solution to entire rug, front and back. Work in with hand brush.

6. Rinse both sides. No squeegees. Rinse until water runs clear, if color still migrates, apply
more AntiDye solution and rinse again. Repeat if necessary.

7. Extract, ring out, roll, or centrifuge to remove excess water. If using centrifuge, make sure to
completely cover with absorbent cotton towels or quilts to prevent dye transfer (tattooing) onto

8. Speed dry. Because dyes can possibly migrate during drying, flat dry on cotton towels, or quilts.
Place on top of two or more layers of cotton material, add two or more layers of cotton material on
top of rug, with air flow (without blowing off the cotton material). Use heat, dehumidification, or
other method to speed drying.


Zapotec Weavers of Teotitlán by Andra Fischgrund Stanton.

C.N. Cotton and his Navajo Blankets by Lester L. Williams, M.D.

The coloration of wool and other keratin fibers by David M. Lewis and John A. Rippon.

Navajo weaving it’s technique and it’s history by Charles Avery Amsden.

Chimayò weaving the transformation of a tradition by Helen R. Lucero and Suzanne Baizerman.