Tierra Wools first opened the doors to its workshop and retail outlet in the historic T.D. Burns Mercantile building in Los Ojos, New Mexico in July of 1983. Its roots, however, were planted much earlier.
Tierra Wools really began as the “wool committee” of Ganados del Valle, a then-fledgling grassroots community non-profit organization whose mission was “empowering rural people to create sustainable economies by building on cultural and agricultural resources. Maria Varela, Antonio Manzanares, Gumercindo Salazar and the founding members of Ganados del Valle provided crucial support, particularly in the early years, to help build Tierra Wools into a thriving organization.
Besides early financial backing through grants and donations and the assistance in the development of the weavers’ management skills, one of the early decisions of Ganados del Valle that proved integral to the success of Tierra Wools was the hiring of Rachel Brown as a consultant. Rachel was a renowned weaver and author of The Spinning, Weaving and Dyeing Book. She spent years in the neighboring city of Taos, working at various weaving enterprises. She traveled 70 miles over the mountains from Taos once a week for about three years to teach our first members the finer points of the weaving process: How to choose available local wool, and how to transform it into beautiful handmade goods. Besides her focus on using available resources, Rachel also had a knack for helping people develop as artists. She always believed that there is an artist in everyone, and other than basic product development guidance and some gentle advice, she insisted that all the weavers trust their own sense of color and design.
Many of the weavers of Tierra Wools were descendants of Spanish settlers in the Rio Grande Valley, with ancestors dating back as early as the 16th century and latter waves of settlers from Spain and Mexico. Sheep-raising was the economic mainstay of these early settlers, and the textiles produced by them were called “Rio Grande Blankets.” This weaving style was influenced by a mix of Spanish, Mexican and Native American designs, and is characterized by the use of stripes and bands, Saltillo diamonds (diamond pattern usually located in the center of the weaving), and Vallero stars (six-pointed stars). These weavings were produced on a “walking loom,” a loom that the weaver stands in front of and uses his or her feet to manipulate the warp.
Some of the original member-owners of Tierra Wools were Angie Serrano, Johanna Terrazas, Molly Manzanares, Maria Elena Garcia Russom, Sophia DeYapp, Norma Martinez, Carla Terrazas, and Karen Casías. Later owners included Tina Ulibarri, Lupe Valdez, Antonio Manzanares and Robin Collier.
Tierra Wools has provided training and experience in business management and the art of weaving to a number of people over the years. By developing new skills and participating in a successful business, members and employees (and their children) have developed self-esteem and been empowered to take leadership in their home and in the community. In addition, most of the money earned by Tierra Wools re-circulates into the local economy.
As Tierra Wools grew, it became clear that a more standardized and efficient way to teach new weavers was needed. Rachel Brown and Maria Varela, working with the early members, created the Tierra Wools Weaving, Spinning & Dyeing Curriculum, which is still in use in our classes today. Over the years, Tierra Wools has added a Weaving School and Guest House and revived the natural dyeing of local, organically raised wool yarns. By using local wool, training and hiring local people, and continuing to weave in the Rio Grande weaving tradition of our ancestors, we have carried on the still important early mission of Tierra Wools and Ganados del Valle.