In Central Mexico, a common way to decorate altars, graves and public spaces on the Day of the Dead is by making traditional sawdust carpets, called tapetes, which means carpet or rug.

People make tapetes on the Day of the Dead in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.
People make tapetes on the Day of the Dead in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.

Tapetes are sometimes created on the street and can span the length of a block or more. But they are also built in much smaller sizes to decorate an altar or a grave on the Day of the Dead. 

Detail of a sawdust carpet in Chapala, Mexico.
Detail of a sawdust carpet in Chapala, Mexico.

Tapetes are made primarily from sawdust that’s dyed in a variety of colors. But people will add other objects such as flowers (usually marigolds), seeds, salt, ash and various materials.

These photos depict the process of how the sawdust is prepared here in Ajijic before the Day of the Dead.

First the sawdust is sifted through a wire mesh.
First the sawdust is sifted through a wire mesh.
Any type of wood taken from a wood shop floor will do.
Any type of wood taken from a wood shop floor will do.
The mesh catches the largest wood chips.
The mesh catches the largest wood chips.
People's hands push the smaller bits of saw dust through the mesh.
People's hands push the smaller bits of saw dust through the mesh.
Until all the small chips fall to a tarp below.
Until all the small chips fall to a tarp below.
This dog enjoyed helping.
This dog enjoyed helping.
It can take a half an hour to sift a significant amount of sawdust before it's ready to be dyed.
It can take a half an hour to sift a significant amount of sawdust before it's ready to be dyed.
And there's a lot of bending over and patience involved.
And there's a lot of bending over and patience involved.
And in Ajijic, it's a communal effort done to decorate for the Day of the Dead and preserve the town's traditions.
And in Ajijic, it's a communal effort done to decorate for the Day of the Dead and preserve the town's traditions.
Once the sawdust has been sifted, it's time to start dying it.
Once the sawdust has been sifted, it's time to start dying it.
There are some traditional colors used during the Day of the Dead, such as purple. Here, black is being added to a batch of sawdust.
There are some traditional colors used during the Day of the Dead, such as purple. Here, black is being added to a batch of sawdust.
Next comes the water, enough to wet the dye and mix it completely with the sawdust.
Next comes the water, enough to wet the dye and mix it completely with the sawdust.
Using your hands is probably the easiest way to mix everything together.
Using your hands is probably the easiest way to mix everything together.
Even if it stains your hands for a day or two.
Even if it stains your hands for a day or two.
Mixing the dye with the sawdust.
Mixing the dye with the sawdust.
Any sort of dye can be used.
Any sort of dye can be used.
A person's hands stained with magenta dye.
A person's hands stained with magenta dye.
The finished sawdust after it's been colored.
The finished sawdust after it's been colored.
One way of creating patterns in the tapetes is to use a pre-cut stencil.
One way of creating patterns in the tapetes is to use a pre-cut stencil.
The sawdust is pushed into the cut-out areas of the stencil and patted down with the hands.
The sawdust is pushed into the cut-out areas of the stencil and patted down with the hands.
Day of the Dead Tapetes
Other materials, such as salt, are also added to the carpets. Salt is used when the color white is needed.
Other materials, such as salt, are also added to the carpets. Salt is used when the color white is needed.
A boy makes a line of skulls on a tapete on the Day of the Dead in Ajijic.
A boy makes a line of skulls on a tapete on the Day of the Dead in Ajijic.
Kids start a tapete on the Ajijic plaza, using chalk to first layout the design.
Kids start a tapete on the Ajijic plaza, using chalk to first layout the design.
Common design elements include crosses, flowers, skulls, la catrina calavera, blocks of colors, swirls and repeating patterns.
Common design elements include crosses, flowers, skulls, la catrina calavera, blocks of colors, swirls and repeating patterns.
A girl creates a tapete at the plaza in Ajijic.
A girl creates a tapete at the plaza in Ajijic.
Seeds, such as these kernels of corn, as sometimes employed in the designs.
Seeds, such as these kernels of corn, as sometimes employed in the designs.
Pinto beans create the center of this flower design.
Pinto beans create the center of this flower design.
Broken up leaves were used on this carpet.
Broken up leaves were used on this carpet.
A pair of huarache sandals sits on a carpet of marigold petals.
A pair of huarache sandals sits on a carpet of marigold petals.
The famous catrina calavera image recreated as a tapete using sawdust, black beans and sunflower seeds.
The famous catrina calavera image recreated as a tapete using sawdust, black beans and sunflower seeds.
Once the carpet is done and it's dark, it's time to light up the candles which are often placed around the tapete.
Once the carpet is done and it's dark, it's time to light up the candles which are often placed around the tapete.