Improving the wool production chain among Chamula indigenous weavers in the Chiapas Highlands




Wool has played an important role in the Chamula culture for centuries and it is a symbol of identity. The Chamula are mainly farmers who live off the land and the women raise their sheep, which provides the raw materials to create traditional wool garments like “tsequil” and “nichoval” for women (skirts and wraps) and “ chuj” for the men (coats). The most skilled women know how to weave the ceremonial wool “huipil” with brocaded designs on it.

The Chiapa sheep were the only ones able to survive and developed characteristics, which allowed them to live in the rocky and steep slopes of the mountains. Because of its important role in the traditional clothing, the sheep has become a sacred animal to the Chamula people, it is small in size and has a unique wool/hair that is greatly valued by the Chamula. The wool is long and like hair and creates a more furry texture when it is woven.

Due to the scarcity of the longhaired sheep, this wool is used exclusively for each family’s clothes, and wool that is of lower quality is used to make items to sell which dooms the amount of sales to become lower as as a consequence to the itchy and not-so-appealing fabric.


The wool is cut, washed and spun by hand using very basic tools such as a pre-hispanic spindles. Once the wool is spun, the women weave the wool on a backstrap loom to create a base fabric which is then washed and beaten to make it a tighter weave. This process creates a fabric that is resistant to the rain and keeps them warm when the temperature drops in the mountains.

Producing wool for rugs; an alternative use of Chiapa Wool

One area in which there is great potential is using the handspun wool for other products; thus preserving the Chamula women´s knowledge of hand spinning wool, and giving them access to employment. The quantity of wool needed to produce rugs however is much more than the women are usually accustomed to working for the production of their own clothing.  Processing wool on the scale needed for rug production, means more income, but at the same time, more challenges with logistics and training from the shearing of the wool through to the spinning and increased time spent doing the very difficult, laborious work of washing and carding the wool by hand.

As the demand for more wool will likely grow significantly with the market expansion, a dire need for developing strategy to optimize the chain supply process whilst maintaining the quality of the wool.

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