The reed is a wild plant that thrives in temperate or tropical zones - humid locales like swamps or river offshoots. Reaching heights of up to four meters, they are surprisingly strong and resilient. All over the world, this dried flora is used for various purposes, ranging from ornamental to ceremonial and even gracing a table at mealtime. In Africa, reeds are used to cut umbilical cords or fashion a smoking pipe. In Eastern Europe, they make an ideal raw material for the paper and chemical industries. In the United States, they are found in wastewater treatment. In Mexico, they lend themselves to medicinal practices, create an earthen barrier that protects crops or acts as a sturdy house wall, produce harmonious musical instruments, or transform into beautiful curtains like those found at the Mercado de Artesanías in Santo Tomás Jalieza, Oaxaca (Gerritsen et al., 2019).
In addition to making rugs, fences, roof tiles, kitchen utensils, beverages (such as atole), and even crosses in burial rites, the humble reed serves the artisans in the Unión de Artesanos de Santo Tomás Jalieza cooperative. By crafting from naturally-grown reed, this same collective known for contributing the beautiful handwoven fabrics to our La Peony Clothing have expanded their handicrafts market, welcoming tourists and the general public to purchase a growing selection that includes wild plant-based items. Reeds also form the weather-resistant curtains protecting both the stalls and artisans from the elements, enabling them to stay open and earn an income even in bad weather.
La Peony Clothing is proud to continue our mission of supporting women artisans by collaborating directly with the collective, helping to fund the production of additional reed curtains that will improve the market’s long-term viability. The artisans follow a proven five-step process to develop these essential reed pieces:
Step 1: Harvest.
Each reed must meet certain conditions in order to be used efficiently. Less tender reeds offer better durability and strength. It is not unusual for collectors to visit several growing areas over three or four days in order to find the right number of reeds for each curtain (in this case, a total of 2,500)
Step 2: Prepare.
Each reed must be treated to ensure a longer-lasting finished product. Using a knife or machete, t he first layer of the reed is “cleaned” (or removed) before the plant is cut to its appropriate size.
Step 3: Assemble.
Holes (“ojuelos”) are made along the reed’s length so that the rope (“pija”) can pass through, holding the finished piece together. S pikes are placed, and then each curtain is assembled to the required size – 12 curtains in total for our project.
Step 4: Drying and adjusting.
After assembly, the curtains are hung to dry completely – a process that can take up to three months. Once dry, the reeds shrink, requiring additional adjustment and tightening before a final check for fit and security.
Step 5: Finishing touches.
This natural material must be protected with varnish to endure through several seasons. Often, attachments - such as a hook and wheelbarrow - are added to allow for easy raising and lowering.