Dye from Murex Snails Colors Ancient Cloth Blue and Purple

Writing from Santa Fe, NM: I’m staying at the house of my textile designer friend Norma Cross, who creates felted fiber clothing using natural dyes, wool, silk, and cotton.

An array of natural dyes, including caracol and indigo, used to weave cloth

I brought with me a shirt made on the Oaxaca coast with threads colored purple from the caracol purpura dye. That led her to send me this article about the Phoenician history of harvesting the purple snail and dyeing religious and political garments with snail ink.

Linking Ancient Snails to Common Threads in Israel Today

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

This process is still in practice today in Oaxaca, Mexico, along the Pacific Coast. The murex snail is now extinct in Morocco where the Phoenicians plied the waters during the Roman Empire. It is extinct now in most places around the world. There is a revival in Israel where the natural blue color is being used for religious garments as it once was in the 8th century.


Preservation of the snail and it’s priceless ink is alive and well in Oaxaca. Yet, the risk of extinction is high because of poaching. I hear that the resort hotels in Huatulco make a special cocktail using the purple snail. They buy the dye from people who illegally harvest it. And, people are unconscious consumers!

On our Textile Tour of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, starting January 11, 2019, we will see some glorious handwoven cotton fabrics where the supplementary weft and embroidered threads of the joinery use the rare purple dye. The pieces are created in two neighboring villages, San Juan Colorado and Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit artisans and see how they prepare the native cloth.

I hope you can join us.

Questions? Please contact me.

 

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