Alternative Lifestyle

Tapetes de Lana, raising sheep and taking care of New Mexico.

Some folks are hard to get on the phone. Carla Gomez, Founder of Tapetes de Lana and the Mora Valley Spinning Mill, was busy last month shearing her sheep at her ranch, part of the unusual life she first chose in 1972 when she moved to Mora, a rural county in northern New Mexico with a population density of approximately one person per square mile.

We were calling Carla to talk about Tapetes de Lana, a 501C3 she founded in 1998, which seeks alternative sources of income for men and women in and around Mora.  Mora is unusual in the Southwest because its people define themselves more in terms of belonging to a village or a pueblo as opposed to belonging to Native American, Spanish or Anglo ethnicities. When the rest of the state Americanized after the arrival of the railroads, isolated Northern New Mexico continued speaking Spanish and “living Spanish.” Which means that crafts like weaving survived here in unique ways, and Tapetes de Lana builds on that tradition.

Carla Gomez was born in Santa Fe and is a sixteenth-generation New Mexican. Her maternal grandfather was a weaver and a shepherd. Among other things, he restored old Navajo and Spanish rugs, which is very challenging because colors had to be dyed to match the passing of time. Her grandfather also made hand woven ties, a popular item at the time.

Gomez has been a weaver since she can remember. When she was growing up in Santa Fe there was a lot of racism.  It was not considered cool to speak Spanish or practice any of the old traditional crafts. While her friends went on to college to study conventional careers, Carla longed for the land and the life of her ancestors: “I wanted to raise animals.  I wanted to be in nature connected to the quality of all things, I wanted to weave with my own yarn.”
Asked about what makes her own weaving special, Carla answers, “I believe weaving is interconnected. All cultures have influenced each other from the beginning of man. Rio Grande Textiles originally were simple band and stripe designs that were later influenced by the intricate Saltillo Serapes of Mexico. My designs have Rio Grande and Saltillo Serape influence, but they also have a bold and simple interpretation, which is like my personal point of view, sort of like magnifying history.”

With a vision to add value to traditional rural lifestyles, Tapetes de Lana began with both training and commercial components. Thanks to a grant from the US Department of Agriculture, Carla was able to purchase an old mercantile center that includes a hotel, a theater and an old historic adobe house, which will be part of the long-term project. The spinning mill, built in 2006, and funded through the New Mexico economic development administration, is a 10,000 square feet facility which is 100 percent industrial. Both the NGO and the mill complement each other in the vision to innovate and add value to traditional rural practices so that shepherds and ranchers can stay on their land. The vision for the mill includes custom spinning, dying and marketing. They also weave, knit and felt the yarns to create other marketable products.

“Yarn will be a major focus and hopefully with the woven, knit and felted projects we can provide other economic opportunities along with demonstrating the quality and value of the yarns produced in the mill. The adjacent gallery, which now has an Espresso bar and has become a destination for people driving by or taking day trips, carries local textiles, pottery, painting and wood work…I want the mill to continue to provide employment and to produce beautiful yarn. My dream is that small ranchers and farmers keep their herds of sheep as carriers of their economic and cultural prosperity,” says Carla Gomez.

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