How it's made
...with love from Oaxaca
The artisans are talented designers. Their culture, life experiences, and the natural world around them become beautiful patterns that are reflected in the bags. Many of those patterns are Zapotec designs, others are more contemporary and even abstract interpretations. Our Design + Production Manager collaborates closely with them to discuss colors for seasonal lines, together they review the designs and then produce a sample. We offer feedback throughout the design process and choose the best samples to make in MZ bags.
All the wool arrives to our artisan partners in natural shades of white, cream, gray and brown. For some designs these colors are left as-is, but most often the yarn is dyed in small batches to suit the colorful tastes of the weavers, or the color palette of the season. Some weaving families still use natural dyes, the knowledge of which is passed down from generation to generation. These dyes are concocted from a variety of plant, animal, and mineral sources, such as nuts and flowers, cochineal bugs, and indigo. Most of these ingredients are part of their geography, they used to collect them in the fields near their homes, and they vary according to the seasons. Each season has its own color. Other families prefer the more vivid colors produced by aniline dyes. For either method, the yarn is boiled with the dye, a fixative (such as lime juice) is added, and then the skeins of colored yarn are hung to dry in the sun.
When the yarns are dyed, the water in the pot can be reused for at least three batches. The water is boiled by wood fire, and when this cycle has completed, the ashes are used to alter the PH levels in the water so that it can then be used to water the artisans’ gardens and plants.
MZ artisan partners use bi-peddle treadle looms. Preparing the loom to weave is an intensive process unto itself. The cotton warp threads, which run lengthwise across the loom, have to be set to a specific width based on the size of the bag they are making. The yarn is the weft fiber that runs widthwise across the loom and is passed over and under the warp using a wooden shuttle to bring the design to life. A completed woven piece is called a tapete, or woolen tapestry. Most traditionally used as rugs, MZ utilizes these small tapetes to make into bags.
All leftover warp and weft yarns are never thrown away; on the contrary, they are reused for the next round of weaving, even if it means re-dyeing them to achieve specific colorways for new projects.
Sewing + Leatherwork
The next step is to sew the tapetes into the shape of the bag it will become. It is then sent to a dedicated leatherworker in a nearby town who adds the leather handles and base, siding or fringe, depending on the model. The bag is returned to the weaver so they can sew in the zipper and lining and make sure the bag is in perfect condition to ship out.
When leather is cut and used for bag straps and main components, the leftover pieces are used to make the leather MZ tags, the fringe on the fringe bags, and other small components.
Each bag, rug and pillow is a work of art, created with immense love and pride. Our purpose is to preserve the beautiful traditions and superb artistry of the Zapotec people by connecting them with socially conscious consumers around the globe.