Oaxaca, Mexico: Source for Natural Dye Textiles

It’s an ongoing discovery. Finding the weavers who work with natural dyes. They live and work in humble homes or grander casas, on back alleys, dirt streets, cobbled avenues, main highways, hillsides and flat-lands. Their studios are filled with the aroma and sights of natural materials — stinky indigo dye vats, wood burning fires, prickly pear nopal cactus studded with insects that yield intense red.

All photos © Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

JuanaGutierrez TreeMoss

In this photo, above left, dyer/weaver Juana prepares ground cochineal on the traditional metate, grinding the dried insect by hand until it is a fine powder, ready to make a dye bath for wool that will be used for rugs. Above right, tree moss waits for the dye pot.

That’s why I’ve organized one-day natural dye textile study tours to explore this artisanal process.

ArturoRebozo2 CochinealIndigoYarn

Above left, ikat rebozo with natural dyes of wild marigold, cochineal and indigo from San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Right, wool on the loom.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

You know how committed I am to the artisans who work with natural dyes. It is a laborious and vertical process — winding the yarn, preparing the dye baths, dyeing the yarn, then weaving it. To create textiles using natural dyes takes time and is a many-step process. I believe the people who work this way deserve special attention and support.

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

They start with the natural wool that comes from the mountains surrounding the Oaxaca valley. The best wool is hand-spun for strength and has no additives, like nylon or polyester, to lower cost.

IMG_6963 IndigoDyePot

Then, indigo and cochineal is bought from local Oaxaca sources. Both are expensive, now about 1,800 MXN pesos per kilo. Synthetic dyes are a fraction of this cost and only requires one-step to produce colored yarn.

DryPomegranates FedericoNuez

Other dye sources are wild marigold, pecan leaves and shells, pomegranate fruit, tree moss, eucalyptus bark, black zapote fruit and much more.  The wool needs to be washed of lanolin and mordanted to absorb and fix the natural dye so it will not fade. To get a full range of color, local weavers and dyers use over dyes, too.

IndigoPericoneOverdye Yellow2Green

When the yarns are colored they are then ready to weave. Depending on size and material density, a piece can take from one week to several months.

CochinealHands2 ArturoRebozo1

It takes a special person who understands quality of materials and finished product to work this way. The process is organic, sustainable and environmentally sound.

CochinealHand SteamyDyePot

8 responses to “Oaxaca, Mexico: Source for Natural Dye Textiles

  1. Hello,

    I am currently researching natural dyers for the purpose of scaling my business. I create luxury bedding and lingerie. I do all of the dying in house now but beginning the process of trying to outsource some of that to the right artisans who can match colors and achieve a custom pallette.

    If you can help me that would be amazing.

    • Do you speak Spanish? Elizabeth.
      Would you come to Oaxaca to start your own business relationships?
      Have you figure out how to compensate the dyers?
      If you come, I can make introductions and then you would handle your own business arrangements.

  2. hello! I would love to work with weavers in Oaxaca who use natural dyes to create pillows or larger weavings with my designs on them. I was hoping to go to Oaxaca at some point but eager to get this going sooner! Is there any way to communicate online with weavers in Oaxaca to work on projects like this? I would love to support the people who are working with naturally dyed yarns!

    • Most weavers here who use natural dyes do not do business via the internet without meeting prospective clients first, understanding design needs and pricing custom orders. When you are ready to come, I’m glad to work with you to make introductions.

  3. We are looking for a source for indigo in mexico. Do you sell indigo? In what form – leaf? powder? What is the cost? We live in San Miguel de Allende Gto. Thank you!!

    • I’m sorry, I don’t sell indigo. Please see my blog post about Santiago Niltapec on the coast of Oaxaca where indigo is cultivated. You can contact the Museo Textil de Oaxaca to see if they sell indigo. They may, or you can buy directly from the family that produces it.

  4. Hello! I am weaver too in Sydney Australia. How would I be able to get in touch with weavers who use natural dyes or an association in Oaxaca? Do they communicate via email or through an association at all? Thank you Karina

    • Karina, there is not an association. Do you want to buy yarn? Surely there are natural dye wool sources closer to home for you. If you are planning a trip to Oaxaca, I suggest you register for a one-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I offer to introduce you to some of the weavers.

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