Category Archives: Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop Day 3: Rainbows and Overdyes

Rhiannon and instructor Elsa at the end of the three-day workshop

Rhiannon and instructor Elsa at the end of the three-day workshop. Indigo hands!

The third and last day of the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop brings together all the preparation of the first two days in a culminating extravaganza of rich, deep color.

The beauty of natural dyes: deep, rich color, a rainbow to weave with

The beauty of natural dyes: deep, rich color, a rainbow to weave with

The movement toward using natural dyes is taking hold around the world. It is an environmentally healthy process that is non-toxic and sustainable. Here in Oaxaca more weavers are using natural dyes for their beauty and because it’s what eco-minded textile lovers want.

Rhiannon's shibori scarf comes out of the indigo dye bath

Rhiannon’s shibori scarf comes out of the indigo dye bath

On this last day, we prepare the indigo dye bath to color cotton and wool blue. We also use the indigo for overdyeing. This gives us a rainbow of colors.

As the color oxydizes, it changes from yellow to green to blue -- magic

As the color oxidizes, it changes from yellow to green to blue — magic

Elsa shows the film about the small village on the southern coast of Oaxaca, Santiago Niltepec, where two families remain who preserve the ancient tradition of growing the indigo plant and making it into dye material.  All the indigo that Elsa uses is native to Oaxaca.

Rhiannon's blue shibori scarf dries on the clothesline

Rhiannon’s blue shibori scarf dries on the clothesline

Cochineal gives us red, orange purple and pink depending on the color of the wool, the number of dips in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid or base to modify the color.

Rhiannon wears her finished indigo shibori scarf

Rhiannon wears her finished indigo shibori scarf

When cochineal is overdyed with indigo, the wool becomes deep purple or lavender or mauve, depending on the strength of the dye bath and the natural wool color.

Cochineal and variation to purple with indigo overdye

Cochineal red and with and indigo overdye, royal purple

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Pomegranate (granada) before its overdyed.

Pomegranate (granada) dye on grey and white wool

Wild marigold (pericone) changes from yellow to green with indigo overdye

Pomegranate (granada) changes from sand yellow to green with indigo overdye

We loved this purple and bright fuchsia made with brazil wood (grey and white wool)

We love this purple and bright fuchsia made with brazil wood (grey and white wool)

Shibori cotton -- sewing into cloth for dye resist

My project, making a shibori cotton textile — sewing into cloth for dye resist

My project after immersion in the indigo dye bath

My project after immersion in the indigo dye bath

My project after taking out the threads to reveal the dye resist design

My project after taking out the threads to reveal the dye resist design

Rhiannon's samples: mahogany dyed shibori gets an indigo overdye

Rhiannon’s samples: mahogany dyed shibori gets an indigo overdye (top sample)

Another sample: mahogany with an overdye of ferrous oxide (rusty nails)

Another sample: mahogany with an overdye of ferrous oxide

Rhiannon made these tassels for a jewelry project and dyed the tips with cochineal

Rhiannon made these silk-steel tassels, dyed tips with cochineal, for jewelry project

Elsa dyed this cotton shirt with mahogany

Elsa dyed this cotton shirt with mahogany — color deepens in direct sun

Cochineal in an acide dye bath -- brilliant color

Cochineal in an acid dye bath — brilliant scarlet

Pericone before dipping into the indigo

Wild marigold (pericone) before dipping into the indigo

What the mahogany dipped in indigo sampler looks like when removed from the dye bath

Mahogany dipped in indigo sampler after removal from the dye bath

At the end of the day, dye formulas with color swatches for each dye and overdye

At the end of the day, dye formulas with color swatches for each example

And a memorable learning experience that is both rewarding and fun.

Hanging the yarn samples to dry, labeling them for the recipe cards

Hanging the yarn samples to dry, labeling them for the recipe cards

Natural dye workshop is on a rooftop terrace overlooking Oaxaca's historic center

Natural dye workshop is on a rooftop terrace in Oaxaca’s historic center

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops from Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop Day 2: Cochineal Red and More

Taking this Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop is a study in color creativity. On this second day of three, we prepare cochineal, the parasitic insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus paddle. The chemical interaction between the female bug and the cactus juice produces carminic acid.

Cochineal dyed wool, ready for the weaver's loom

Cochineal dyed cotton, ready for the weaver’s loom

This is the most intense and color-fast red in the natural world.

When the Spanish came to Oaxaca in 1521 they were amazed to see the deep red used to dye feathers and to paint codices, human bodies or plaster temple walls.

Lava stone mortar and pestle used only to crush dried cochineal

Lava stone mortar and pestle used only to crush dried cochineal

They called it grana cochineal, naming it a grain not an insect to disguise its origin. The Spanish kept cochineal a secret for hundreds of years, holding the world monopoly on its production and distribution. It was the third most valuable export commodity after gold and silver.

Rhiannon and Elsa strain the cochineal concentrate for the dye pot

Rhiannon and Elsa strain the cochineal concentrate for the dye pot

Today, natural carminic acid colors cosmetics such as lipstick, and foods and beverages like Campari, fruit juices, jello and even meat.

Dyeing wool samples with cochineal and acid (lime juice)

Dyeing wool samples with cochineal and acid (lime juice)

Cochineal is expensive, about $125 USD or 1,800 pesos for a kilo. It can’t be wasted. That’s why Elsa grinds her dried bugs that she buys from El Tlapanochestli Cochineal Farm. You can buy packages of dried bugs for dyeing at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca gift shop.

Skeins dyed with pomegranate (granada) hang to dry

Skeins dyed with pomegranate (granada) and wild marigold  hang to dry

She grinds them to a very fine powder in a molcajete. This is a lava stone mortar and pestle. It must be very fine powder to dissolve completely in the dye bath. The finer the powder the less waste there will be.

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath -- turns cochineal bright orange

Squeezing fresh lime juice for the acid dye bath — turns cochineal bright orange

Hand process includes squeezing fresh lime juice to make an acid dye bath

Skein of wool dyed with wild marigold (pericone) leaves, stems and flowers

There is so much preparation even before the dyeing process begins. It’s no wonder textiles made with natural dyes cost so much! First, there is the investment in stainless steel and enamel dye pots, much more expensive than iron or aluminum, but essential so the pot chemistry doesn’t change the dye color.

Rhiannon preps a shibori scarf while waiting for cochineal dye bath

Rhiannon preps a shibori scarf while waiting for cochineal dye bath to finish

Then, you have to make your recipes. What color red do you want? Deep fuchsia, orange, hot pink, magenta? Your recipe will vary depending on color intensity. You may add more water, more lime juice (acid) or baking soda (neutral).

Dyeing sample cloth with brazil wood

Dyeing sample cloth with brazil wood

Next, you’ll wash your fiber in soapy water to open up the fibers to clean it and accept the mordant. You rinse the fibers several time to take out the soap and then hang it to dry.

Rhiannon and Elsa hold finished shibori -- to be dyed with indigo

Rhiannon and Elsa hold finished shibori — to be dyed with indigo

You will leave the cleaned fiber (we used wool) in the mordant overnight. This helps the wool absorb the dye.

On this second day, with the wool ready, we prepare the cochineal and then select the white and grey skeins to dye.

Mahogany (caoba) bark makes a beautiful peach dye

Mahogany (caoba) bark makes a beautiful peach dye

In addition, on this second day we also experiment dyeing with caoba (mahogany) and palo de Brazil (brazil wood).

Shibori is dye resist technique. Here, marbles and rubber bands make designs.

Shibori is dye resist technique. Here, marbles and rubber bands make the design.

The cochineal dye pot is ready at 90 degrees centigrade. It takes an hour to cook the skeins so they absorb the right amount of color. During this time, we prepare wild marigold, mahogany, brazil wood, and pomegranate. Most of these skeins will be over dyed on Day Three to yield 32 different colors.

It’s no wonder the Spanish loved this color! Red on white and grey wool.

I write about natural dyes because Oaxaca has a long tradition of using colors derived from the natural world. I also want to encourage Oaxaca visitors to seek out and support artisans who work in natural dyes.

We determine color by weight of fiber (WOF) to amount of dye -- chemistry!

We determine color by weight of fiber (WOF) to amount of dye — chemistry!

I hope readers will better understand the labor involved to make textiles using this technique. Yes, the textile will cost more. Perhaps you agree that its subtle beauty will be worth it.

Pomegranate dye bath

Wool in a pomegranate dye bath

 

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop, Day One: Prep to Make 32 Colors

For three days I am immersed in natural dyes with Elsa Sanchez Diaz who teaches our Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. We make 32 different colors starting with a base of gray and white natural wool.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

The natural plant and vegetable materials we dye with include palo de brazil (Brazilwood), nogal (walnut), cochineal (the red insect found on the prickly pear cactus paddle), caoba (mahogany bark), palo de aguila (alderwood bark),  palo de mora (fustic), pericone (wild marigold), granada (pomegranate) and añil (indigo).

Indigo plant from Oaxaca's coast.

Indigo plant from Oaxaca’s coast.

Using a combination of base dyes and over-dyes, we make color variations of red, purple, orange, pink, yellow, green and blue.  Based on the wool color and number of dips into the dye bath, the color will be light or intense.

Rhiannon uses the mortar and pestle to grind cochineal to a fine powder. Elsa is happy with her results.

Rhiannon uses the mortar and pestle to grind cochineal to a fine powder. Elsa is happy with her results.

For the complete three-day workshop, the first day is mostly preparation of the materials, starting with making the skeins of yarn.  We learn about the history of natural dyes in Mexico, how the pre-Hispanic indigenous people used the dyes, and the symbols of the colors.

(We also offer One and Two-Day Dye Workshops)

Pomegranate seeds and brazilwood for dye baths.

Pomegranate seeds and brazilwood for dye baths.

To understand the entire dye process, Elsa says that it is important to begin with all the basic preparation steps. This is a time-consuming process and to be a natural dyer one must have patience. This is something we learn in Mexico daily.

Mahogany gives a peach color that is stunning.

Mahogany gives a peach color that is stunning and grey when over-dyed with iron.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs.

On the street below the rooftop terrace where we work sheltered from the sun at the outdoor dye studio, I hear the sound of a high-pitched whistle. It’s the knife sharpener, Elsa says. Other street sounds signal the coming of the gas man and tortilla vendor.

Pericone or wild marigold dyed on white and grey churro wool

Pericone or wild marigold dyed on white and grey churro wool

Elsa says even when she uses the same recipes, the color will vary slightly each time.  This is handmade, after all! Color intensity depends on the pH of the water, the dryness, age or freshness of the plants and fruits, and the natural shade of the wool. This is chemistry, for sure.

Straining the cochineal dye concentrate to eliminate bug debris

Straining the cochineal dye concentrate to eliminate bug debris

Plus, when there are natural tannic acids in some materials like mahogany, indigo, fustic and pomegranate, the color is stronger.

Fine powder yields the most intensity. More muscle, please!

Fine powder yields the most intensity. More muscle, please!

Day One is a complete introduction to the two most frequently used dyes, pericone and pomegranate, and getting into the mindset of natural dyes, says our participant Rhiannon, a textile and jewelry designer from Canada. But, you don’t have to be experienced or a professional to learn … and have fun with color.

Breaking the tough Brazilwood. Smallest pieces give strongest color.

Breaking the tough Brazilwood. Smallest pieces give strongest color.

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop.  We can schedule your experience when you come to Oaxaca.

Indigo dyed wool drying on the rooftop terrace.

Indigo dyed wool drying on the rooftop terrace.

Photo Essay: Oaxaca Color, Dye Pots and People

Framboyan tree in full bloom, Oaxaca in May

Flamboyant tree in full bloom, Oaxaca, Mexico in May

I don’t think you can make a dye from the flower of the Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant tree, but I want to open this blog post with a photo of this dazzler that is now in full bloom all over Oaxaca. Walk under it, look up. It is an umbrella of fire ombre.

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

This photo of the immature Zapote Negro fruit is floating in a dye bath at the workshop studio of Porifiro Gutierrez. It will color wool a soft gray brown. Juana Gutierrez tells me the color derived is the same whether the black persimmon pulp is ripe or not.

Alfredo at the spinning wheel

Alfredo at the spinning wheel 

Alfredo Hernandez Orozco works with both naturally dyed and synthetic fibers to make home goods and women’s clothing —  dresses, blouses, shawls and short ponchos (quechemitls). He is also experimenting with bamboo silk and palm.

Wheel of an old loom, still in use after years of repair

Wheel of an old loom, still in use after years of repair

Alfredo works at the four-harness, flying shuttle pedal loom that once belonged to his grandfather. It is more than 70 years old.

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven by Alfredo

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven by Alfredo

Nina, a textile researcher who asked me to introduce her to weavers who work in natural dyes, bought this quechquemitl that incorporates cotton threads dyed with cochineal and palo de aguila (mahogany wood bark).

Whole pomegranate, skin, seeds and all, makes a green dye on wool

Whole pomegranate, skin, seeds and all, makes a green dye on wool

Dye expert Elsa Sanchez Diaz

Elsa Sanchez Diaz is a knowledge resource for natural dyes

My friend Elsa Sanchez Diaz colors the cotton threads with natural dyes that Alfredo uses to weave the naturally dyed garments he sells at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

Elsa and Nina with Federico and Dolores in their studio

Elsa and Nina with Federico and Dolores in their studio

Of course you recognize it! Cochineal!

Of course you recognize it! Cochineal!

Above, a hank of wool dyed with wild marigold (pericone) gets a second dye bath with cochineal to give it a bright red-orange color.

Veronica, Alfredo's wife, sews and embroiders the woven cloth

Veronica, Alfredo’s wife, sews and embroiders the woven cloth

Indigo Blue with a hank of pomegranate dyed wool, too

Indigo Blue with a hank of pomegranate dyed wool, too

One of the joys of visiting artisan studios to show visitors the natural dye textile and weaving process is that I always see and learn something new each time.

One-Day Natural Dye Textile and Weaving Study Tour

Dolores and Federico work together to dye the yarn to prepare it for weaving

Dolores and Federico work together to dye the yarn 

It’s not always easy to tell if weavers use natural dyes in the products they make. One way is to look at their hands! Look at their dye pots! Are they enamel or stainless steel? Are there large quantities of dye stuffs around waiting for the next dye bath?

Wild marigold removed from the dye bath

Wild marigold removed from the dye bath

Wool soaking in the color from wild marigold

Wool soaking in the color from wild marigold

And, for the last photo, I have to include one more of Veronica. I love her smile.

Experimenting with my new 75mm portrait lens

Experimenting with my new Zuiko 75mm portrait lens Olympus mirrorless camera

 

 

 

The Dyeing Life: Values and Commitment to Family, Art

This is a short three-minute video from the New York Times that I have to share with you. In 1994, I was in a Maio village in China, a 9-hour bus ride from the Sichuan capital of Chengdu. Not only does this video remind me of that visit, it retells how important it is to carry forward ancient traditions of dying cloth with natural materials. It is about more than the beauty of the textile, it is about honoring values, traditions and cultural art forms wherever we find them: Mexico, China, India or elsewhere. It is about how to recalibrate by understanding how important the natural world is to our total well-being.