Before starting to talk about the Zarape de Saltillo, I will share with you the brief history of the origins of this colorful piece that has become an emblem of Mexico in the world.
The word zarape has its origin in the Nahuatl language: TZALANPEPECHTLI; “Tzalan”: interwoven; “Pepechtli”: thick, padded blanket. This word has undergone some variations over time until reaching Tzalape and later as we know it today zarape. The sound tz in Nahuatl is pronounced as “z”, but in Spanish we pronounce it wrong as “s”, so its correct writing, respecting its Nahuatl origin, is: zarape.
Undoubtedly, the origin of this word was formed by the members of the Nahua community to designate the blankets that the Spaniards brought during the Conquest, and that they spread on the ground to sit or lie down, but also to cover their bodies. They also called these TILMAPEPECHTLI: “padded tilma”, since the blanket used and made by the natives was called TILMATLI: cotton blanket and embroidery that depended on whoever made it. This garment was exclusive to the male, square, 1.12 m on each side, which they put on the back and of which the upper angles that passed through the neck, tied them on the chest or the right shoulder.
In early colonial times, the Hispanic blanket and the tilmatli were fused to form the traditional ZARAPE MEXICANO. So today’s zarape comes from two influences: indigenous and Spanish, (these in turn took influences from the Arabs).
It was identified by the Nahua Indians as “ACOCEMALOTIC-TILMATLI”: “rainbow blanket” due to the variety of colors that make up its design.
A characteristic of the zarapes of Saltillo is to have a lozenge (rhombus) of color and great design in the center. The contrast of the colors, recalls similarity to the Arab, the oriental.
Every year a fair was held in the city of Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila, in which merchants and game fans from the various states of the Mexican Republic met and bought and sold zarapes wholesale. Thanks to this success, inhabitants of the United States and other places were able to acquire the most exclusive zarapes at this fair. Due to the successful position of the zarape at that time, towards the seventeenth century, its elaboration was perfected.
The arrival of the railroad did not help to continue the success of the zarape and due to the restriction of the game of the fair, it finally closed; which exhausted the zarape industry in Saltillo.
The elaboration of a zarape comprises a mixture between indigenous and European utensils and techniques. Next, the essential activities that this elaboration comprises: that are the washing of the wool or cotton, the vareado, the carding, the spinning (“motzahua”): with the help of the malacatl the thread formed from a bundle of wool or cotton, and at the other end, by means of a rotating movement, the thread is formed and it becomes entangled in the “molote“. Then the threads are prepared for weaving (warp), then the loom is prepared (which is usually moved with the feet).
The plot is made (a cloth is formed) and a space is left to make the figures that are made with quills. You can use the tzotzopactli or the tzicuaztli, a kind of comb that tightens and evens the fabric.
The weaver stands inside a frame called a box, and from there he moves each pedal that operates the loom with his feet.
In the second half of the 18th century, the wool and cotton weaving industry acquired considerable development in New Spain. The Saltillo zarape, due to its colors and the quality of its fabric, became a desired garment and its not very cheap price, made it fit among the upper social classes.
Without a doubt, the zarape is an authentic Mexican garment, which has known how to use its mestizo heritage to become an example of artisanal tradition.
It is said that Antonio López de Santa Ana (who was president of Mexico on 6 occasions) gave a zarape to Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas, when they signed the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty; also that the emperors Maximiliano and Carlota sent a Zarape as a gift to Napoleon III.
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