Tag Archives: Cochineal

Teotitlan del Valle Weaver Recognized by Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian

Norma’s Note: Weaver Porfirio Gutierrez called to tell me about his recognition from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  He asked if I would share the news. Congratulations to Porfirio and to all the outstanding weavers of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — many of whom deserve recognition and are unsung cultural heroes. I’m happy to share this with you.


My name is Porfirio Gutiérrez and I am a weaver from Teotitlán del Valle. We follow your blog and refer many friends who want to learn more about Oaxaca. I am writing because I thought you might find my recent award from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to be newsworthy. Once a year candidates for their Artist Leadership Program are selected. I am proud to announce that I have been chosen for 2016. Below is more information about how I became a participant and what this means to our village.

Porfirio on loom #1

Like many people in our village, my family has descended from generations of Zapotec weavers going back as far as anyone can remember. As you know, Teotitlán has been known for its fine weaving since pre-Columbian times. In spite of our long-standing reputation for fine work, the economic downturn and other factors have hurt our livelihood and threaten the existence of our traditional art.

Dying Indigo

In our town, other components of our Zapotec legacy are about to vanish forever. My parents speak Zapoteco, my siblings and I speak Zapoteco and Spanish, but our children speak mostly Spanish. The same pattern is true with our art; my parents spin, dye and weave. My siblings and I have these skills to some degree, but most of us have had to find outside work in other fields to sustain our families.

The youth in our village may never know the all of arts of their ancestors unless they are shown by the remaining masters who are still practicing our ancient techniques. In an effort to sustain our Zapotec art of weaving, I proposed to the NMAI to bring together experts with a group of interested people in our village for a workshop on traditional plant and cochineal dyes.


We are very fortunate that the NMAI wants to support our efforts and is going to help us with a 4-day training program. During this workshop students will see where dye plants grow in the wild, learn how to make them into dyes, and explore color combinations. NMAI will come to Teotitlán to oversee the program and make professional video that will be posted on their website.

The Smithsonian’s NMAI Artist Leadership Program is truly an important step towards sustaining Zapotec culture and our traditional art form. Their video will give a glimpse into life in Oaxaca. Please visit our website for more information.

Travel for Texture and Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop

Natalie and her mother Olga traveled north from Guatemala, through Chiapas and came to Oaxaca to take a natural dye workshop with Taller Teñido Natural. We scheduled a two-day program for them to go deep into Oaxaca’s traditions for using natural plant materials, including indigo, fustic and wild marigold plus the cochineal bug to create glorious color.

Natalie is a textile designer from Washington, D.C. and writes the blog Travel for Texture.  Here is her post A Wooly Mexican Rainbow about the workshop experience, as well as her travels through Guatemala and southern Mexico.

And her photos are to dye for! During the two days, Natalie and Olga made 18 different colors and went home with formulas and a palette of sampler yarns.


Please contact me to schedule your own customized natural dye workshop for one, two or three days when you are in Oaxaca. It’s a great way to experience the local culture. Cost is based on number of people participating!

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Natural Dye Workshop Yields Glorious, Colorfast Textiles

Working with natural dyes like cochineal that yield red, indigo blue, wild marigold (pericone) and fustic to give us yellow, is like being a pastry chef and following a recipe.  It helps to know a little chemistry or have a willingness to learn.


Indigo dye bath percolating

Eric Chavez Santiago and Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Mexico’s most knowledgeable natural dye experts and our workshop leaders, take us through the steps to use a non-toxic process to mordant wool that we will  use to dye cochineal, fustic and wild marigold.  Wool that we dye with indigo requires no mordant but another set of intricate steps that will guarantee a result of intense blue and its variations. See the green bloom in the photo above. The chemistry here is to allow no oxygen to enter the dye bath. Stirring is a no-no.

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The intense colors we get depend on a number of factors, including the original color of the natural wool, the amount of dye for the recipe, the length of time in the dye bath, the number of dips, how little dye is left in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid (lime juice, for example) or a base (baking soda, alum or ashes).  Eric and Elsa have developed an extraction technique for the cochineal that yields the most intense, concentrated color.  The extract can be saved and refrigerated for later use and then refreshed.

  • 1-Day Workshop: $125 USD
  • 2-Day Workshop: $235 USD
  • 3-Day Workshop: $355 USD

Workshops include all instruction, formulas and dye sampler. The 3-Day Workshop includes making a shibori scarf dyed with indigo.

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In the three-day Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets workshop, we go through the basics and then tackle more advanced dyeing techniques using acids, bases, and over-dyeing.  Over-dyeing is when you first dye your fiber with the base color such as red (cochineal) or yellow (fustic or wild marigold).  The red is then dipped in the indigo dye bath to yield various shades of purple depending on the shade of red.

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This is not a complex process, but requires attention and following the recipes.  By the end of the workshop, participants have color samples with specific formulas/recipes for all the shades from yellow to green to pink to red to orange to purple to blue.

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During the workshop, we also experiment with shibori dye techniques using indigo with 100% cotton fabric.  The resulting pattern depends on how we fold, wrap, package, or tie the fabric.  Some use rubber bands, string, marbles, sticks, and other materials to manipulate the design.

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Everything depends on whether the material is a protein (animal) or cellulose (plant) fiber.  Cochineal only works best with protein fibers that are mordanted in advance.  Indigo is not really a dye but a stain and only coats the surface of the fiber (which you can see through a microscope).  Indigo works well with protein AND cellulose fibers.  And, wow, does it attach to everything it touches!

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Our participants come from throughout the world.  They include novices and experienced fiber artists/dyers.  Several had never been to Oaxaca before.  They have included an English professor,  a faculty member in architecture and interior design, mixed media artists, and two professional weavers.  Everyone comes away with a great experience and more information than they ever dreamed possible.

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We can schedule a workshop to suit your travel schedule. Contact us. 

Color Intensity of Natural Dyes from Oaxaca Sources

Today I changed the banner of the blog to give you a picture of the range of intense colors we got from the natural dye workshop we just completed with Eric Chavez Santiago.  Eric is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable dye masters and his techniques include how to extract the color without wasting it.


We started with three colors only — cochineal, indigo and fustic — red, blue and yellow.  By over-dyeing and using various shades of natural wool, plus the chemistry of using an acid or a base with the color, we were able to get the amazing, rich colors that you see in the banner photo. They are all colorfast.

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I will be writing more about this in the next few days and publishing more photos.  But in the meantime, I wanted you to see what our group accomplished during this three-day workshop.


The next natural dye workshop is in March 2014. Let me know if you want to participate.



Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop: A Gift of Color From Mother Nature

Several months ago Australian home furnishings designer Lauren Bennett contacted me about taking a natural dye workshop in Oaxaca with her business partner Genevieve Fennel.  Lifelong friends with a passion for textiles, they started the Sydney-based company Walter G & Co. almost two years ago, importing textiles from India to market a home decor line for resale to designers and shops.  In India they work primarily with Rajasthan artisans who use indigo, saffron and madder dye.  They wanted to learn more about natural dyeing in Oaxaca with indigo, cochineal, and wild marigold, including how to ensure color stability.  Their goal was to compare techniques and processes between the two regions, become more informed, and better direct their textile business.

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In Oaxaca, there are few more knowledgeable about natural dye chemistry and applications than Eric Chavez Santiago.  As director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Eric works with indigenous artisans to preserve the textile traditions of the state.  He  comes from a family of Zapotec weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, and early in his career developed over 100 recipes for cochineal that his father Federico Chavez Santiago uses to dye the rugs he weaves and sells at Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca city.

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L to R: Tempe, Lauren, Eric, Lara, Genevieve

Lauren and Genevieve arrived this week along with two friends, Lara Zilibowitz and Tempe McMinn.  With Eric as their dye master, they rolled up their sleeves and jumped into washing, dyeing and over-dyeing wool skeins over the two days we were together.

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Eric’s teaching style is both didactic and hands-on.  He carefully explained the history of dyeing in Oaxaca, the differences between dyeing with protein (animal) and plant fibers, types of mordant, issues of toxicity, and small batch vs. production work.  He showed examples of cochineal recipes he developed that are tagged with proportions.  The two-day workshop focused only on dyeing protein fibers like wool, alpaca and silk.

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During the first day of the two-day program, we made a 10%, 20% and 70% cochineal dye bath and then did the same for the wild marigold, which is called pericone here.  You’ll see more of day two of the workshop when we made a indigo dye bath and our blue hands in a later post!

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L to R: Lauren and Genevieve

Eric explained how the pH of the dye bath and the temperature of the water are essential for a successful result.  He also demonstrated how the color of the wool  influences results.  White, beige, gray and brown wool will determine the ultimate color of the fiber when it takes the dye.  Eric shared his recipes and we were on our way dyeing skeins that he had mordanted in preparation. DyeWorkshop-10 c Norma Hawthorne DyeWorkshop-18 c Norma Hawthorne

Lauren, Genevieve, Lara and Tempe all said that Eric’s explanations and demonstrations are easy to understand and they loved being able to fully participate — hands-on.  Plus, they said, he speaks great English, so the learning experience was wonderful.  Eric offers a step-by-step approach with intermittent review of concepts so no one is left behind if the chemistry becomes a bit complicated.  He loves sharing Oaxaca’s dyeing traditions and wants people to be as excited about natural dyeing as he is.

Stay tuned!  We are planning more dye workshops. If you want a customized workshop especially for a group of people, please let me know and we will try to make it happen!

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Cochineal is native to Oaxaca and the state of Puebla.  It was tribute paid by the Zapotecs to the Aztecs.  After the conquest, the Spanish took it to Peru, which is now the largest producer of cochineal.  Cochineal is colorfast if mordanted properly.  It is very precious and costs about 1,500 pesos for a kilogram of dried bugs — that’s about $60 USD a pound.

Yellow is the least stable color to achieve, says Eric.  Without proper mordanting, it can degrade the fibers and fade. Wild marigold, native to Oaxaca, yields a strong, stable color.  Today, we worked with cochineal and pericone to get about 20 different shades based on the wool color, strength of the dye bath, and the process called overdyeing.

Next post:  indigo, king of blue, color of royalty (along with purple, which we will talk more about, too.)