The Artisan Rug Process
Formulating the colors at the dye pot represents the most distinctive nuance of Escalante Rugs. At the start of a new design each of the families that takes on a project experiment with our colorist for one week developing test trials for the new palette. During the past ten years over 1000 proprietary formulas have been developed. From this array of shades, we fine tune formulas that will be appropriate for the new design.
At the Dye Pot
The Swiss-made Lanaset dye powders are commercially produced in 12 basic primary and secondary colors. The shades that set apart Escalante Rugs are precise blends of three to seven of these dye powders. We arrive at luminous yet earthy compliments in our palettes, often with fifteen or more colors in any one design.
The master weaver typically spends two days per week dying skeins of bundled yarn in the dye shed adjacent to his home. Precisely measured dye powders, a fuel efficient wood burning stove designed by Escalante, and extended boiling sessions, insure brilliant clarity and color fastness.
The “Abrash” of hand dying refers to a sophisticated variation in depth and color, almost a 3-D effect in Escalante Rugs. Unlike industrial dying of hundreds of pounds of yarn at once, the Zapotec weaver’s dye pot can only handle up to six pounds of yarn. Depending on the amount of acetic acid and water temperature at the time of immersion, he can regulate the degree of abrash in his yarns.
Spinning the Yarn
Escalante Rugs are woven from five unique varieties of 100 percent wool yarns. Deep in the craft’s tradition are local hand-spun yarns made with pre-Hispanic drop spindle method of spinning. The process can often take more time than actually weaving a rug.
Because each skein of drop-spindle spun wool comes from an individual sheep’s fleece, there are slight differences in natural shades, which when dyed results in the variegated textures of the finished rug. This drop-spindle spun yarn is preferred in about 40 percent of our designs including the “Mariachi”, the “Tees Miel”, and the “Midday Maynard Dixon”, among others.
Another 40 percent of our designs use an imported Angora wool blend that absorbs dye more evenly with a richer tone, than the hand-spun wools. Using long fiber wool, these rugs have a smoother hand than the knobby feel of the hand-spun pieces.
The most luxurious of Escalante Rugs are woven with 100 percent Lincoln wool. This most durable, lustrous and dense of all wool fiber, Lincoln yarns add unsurpassed quality to each rug. When held in the hands, the yarn of these Lincoln wool rugs feels silky. The dyes are very luminous and the extra weight of the textile is pronounced.
On the Loom
Young men, women, and older men work the smaller looms for rugs up to three feet in width. For works of five feet and wider, a strong highly skilled weaver is required to maintain all the yarn tensions and pack down firmly the dyed weft yarns as they are passed between the underlying warp threads.
A complex design like the Tees Miel will have 40 bobbins of colored yarns simultaneously advancing on the loom. Each pass of the bobbin requires four operations of the foot pedals and the comb & hammer. There are 1,000 passes of the yarn per inch in the Tees Miel, or 4,000 operations of the loom. The six and one half feet by ten foot version takes three months to weave, with more than 400,000 hand and foot processes.
Finishing the Rug
When cut off the loom the rug spends a few days on the broad table where the family uses tweezers and scissors to remove the burrs in the wool and snip off loose ends of yarn. For ease of vacuuming, rugs less than five feet wide have their fringe meticulously sewn back into the body of the weaving, referred to as a “Clean Finish”.
Rugs over five feet wide are finished with a unique braided cord that is integrally woven into the ends of the large rug. This signature element of Escalante Rugs, an innovation of Dean’s, protects the border for generations of use.
Additionally all Escalante Rugs come with braided corner grips for assured handling of the weaving.