Tierra Wools: The color and texture of tradition

By Deonne Kahler
Posted 4/30/08

Tierra Wools is keeping centuries of tradition alive by creating beautiful woven works of art by hand. The artisans of Tierra Wools own the company and purchase wool from locals and other small suppliers, and then spin, dye and weave high quality, …

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Tierra Wools: The color and texture of tradition

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Tierra Wools is keeping centuries of tradition alive by creating beautiful woven works of art by hand. The artisans of Tierra Wools own the company and purchase wool from locals and other small suppliers, and then spin, dye and weave high quality, one-of-a-kind traditional and contemporary original pieces for exhibition and sale. The workshop and store are located in Los Ojos, a tiny village just south of Chama and about 75 miles west of Taos. A visit to this special place is well worth the drive.

The weavers specialize in the Río Grande style, which was influenced by Spanish, Mexican and American Indian designs, and features stripes and bands, saltillo diamonds and Vallero stars. These elegant patterns get woven into rugs, tapestries, blankets and pillows, vests and jackets, ruanas and rebozos, tablemats, runners and throws.

Sophia DeYapp, master weaver and director of Tierra Wool’s new School of Río Grande Weaving Traditions, has been with the workshop for 21 years. For a decade Tierra Wools has taught classes in the history of weaving and the craft of dyeing, spinning and weaving with great success, but in fitting with their mission of giving even more opportunity to the public the member-owners of Tierra Wools decided it was time to form a separate nonprofit school.

With its new status the school will be able to offer scholarships and reduced class fees to young students in need, as well as further its mission of providing training and experience in both business management and the art of weaving. The school plans to continue to support multigenerational activities that strengthen weaving’s role in cultural preservation and human and economic development in local communities.

“It’s so important for us to educate the public to carry on these traditions, and the best way to do that is with our youth,” DeYapp said. “Even if they leave and go to college, they won’t forget the culture.”

Many of the Tierra Wools weavers come from a long line of artisans, including DeYapp’s mother-in-law, a fifth-generation weaver, who was the first woman in her family to master the craft. DeYapp explained that women had traditionally taken care of the sheep, washed the wool and spun the yarn, but weren’t allowed to dye or weave. “The men did all the creative work, but we women are rebelling!” she said.

Her mother-in-law ended up apprenticing at Tierra Wools, and then introduced DeYapp to the history and craft of the art form. DeYapp said she’d always been fascinated with weaving, but it wasn’t until her mother-in-law encouraged her to apprentice at Tierra Wools herself that she became hooked. That was 21 years ago, and she’s been weaving ever since. DeYapp has a 10-year-old daughter who is anxious to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and will begin studying at Tierra Wools this summer.

“Once you get into it you don’t want to do anything else,” DeYapp said. “I tried things like knitting and crocheting but I just wasn’t interested in those. Weaving was it for me; it’s addictive. It’s the most satisfying thing to create a one-of-a-kind piece, and every single piece includes the history of the person who wove it.”

She said mastering the equipment isn’t too difficult, and that even though it involves a bit of coordination, once you get the rhythm down, it’s easy. Your arms and feet are continuously moving — she compared it to operating a stair stepper machine — and said it’s as if you’re dancing with your loom.

Whether your desire is to learn to weave or you simply want to purchase these beautiful textiles, we’re lucky to have a place like Tierra Wools. The products are gorgeous — a welcome addition to any home or wardrobe, and every purchase supports the local economy as well as centuries of tradition.

“We could go commercial but we don’t want to, because then we’d lose all the history,” DeYapp said.

INFOBOX

Don’t miss Tierra Wools’ 15th Annual Spring Harvest Festival Saturday (April 26) from 1 to 4 p.m. on Main Street in Los Ojos. Witness sheep shearing, spinning, natural dyeing and weaving demonstrations by both local and guest artists. There will also be live music and product discounts. Bring the family and watch as centuries of traditions unfold all around.

At a glance:

Tierra Wools

91 Main St., Los Ojos

(888) 709-0979

www.handweavers.com

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