Workshop To Dye For: Cochineal, Indigo, Wild Marigold

It is a 10-hour day working together to dye the merino wool roving we are using for our Felted Fashion Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Long, but satisfying.   Our textile dye master is Eric Chavez Santiago who is also the education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.   The colors we get are magnificent.

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We gather first to talk about the history of cochineal and indigo, where it is grown now, how it is prepared for dyeing, and the chemistry of natural dye mixing.  Eric uses a mordant on the wool first before dyeing with  cochineal and wild marigold, called pericone here, to fix the color.  The pericone is gathered from the countryside.  Indigo, which comes from the coast of Oaxaca, needs no mordanting.

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First, we remove the merino wool roving from the mordant bath, squeeze it, and make 2 lb. bundles.  All hands together!  A great team building experience for our first day together, one of the participants says later. The dye formula is calculated based upon the weight of the fiber.

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After calculating the weight of fiber, Eric measures the cochineal, dilutes it and adds it to the warm water, which must be held at a specific temperature.  Bella brought a digital thermometer from the U.S.A. that goes between centigrade and fahrenheit to translate the heat for us.

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We carefully immerse the wool into the dye bath to insure an evenly saturated color.

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We are in the home of the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.  They only work with natural dyes, an important ingredient for sustainability that achieves glorious color.  Eric’s mother, Dolores Santiago Arrellanas, gives us a hand to check the color of the wool.  And we stir, and stir some more.

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Next, we move on to preparing indigo.  It’s a family affair, and Eric’s dad Federico Chavez Sosa, also checks out the dye baths, while youngest brother Omar helps move the giant dye pots, which must be either enamel coated or stainless steel.

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Eric adds the powdered indigo to a glass jar filled with marbles.  He shakes the jar to disburse the dye particles and oxygenate it.  He then pours this carefully into the dye pot and stirs from the center.

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Your fingers can’t do anything else but turn blue.  Eric says that indigo is not really a dye, but rather is a stain that coats the surface of the fiber rather than saturating it.

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We use the indigo to over dye some of the cochineal and pericone to get various shades of red, coral, pink, and green.  And we leave some of the pericone and cochineal in its original color.

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After removing the dyed roving from the pots, we rinse and then begin separating the fibers to fluff them.  This makes it easier to pull apart later to start the felting process.

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Lunch is delivered by La Tierra Antigua Restaurant — host Carina Santiago makes delicious tacos dorados with guacamole and fresh fruit. We are finished by 7 p.m. after starting at 9:30 a.m. and walk back to our bed and breakfast completely satisfied with the day.   

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