Tag Archives: Cochineal

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

 

 

 

Travel Oaxaca’s Natural Dye Textiles + Weaving Trail: One-Day Study Tour

We introduce you to weavers of wool, cotton and silk who work with organic natural dyes. This one-day educational study tour gives you in-depth knowledge about the artisanal process for making hand-woven cloth using sustainable technologies. We visit home studios and workshops to meet some of Oaxaca’s outstanding weavers in this curated day trip. See the real indigo, cochineal and wild marigold dye process. Meet artisans who create beautiful rugs and clothing.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.

Full day rate of $300 USD is for one or two people. $150 per person for each additional person.

You reserve for the dates you prefer. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We match your travel schedule with our availability.

Pricing is for a full day, starting at 9 a.m. and ending around 6 p.m. Customized programs on request. The rate is based on the time we pick you up and return you to your Oaxaca hotel. Please provide us with hotel/lodging address and phone number.

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Oaxaca has many talented weavers working on different types of looms: the two-harness pedal loom, the flying shuttle loom and the back-strap loom. They create many different types of cloth from wool, cotton and silk – to use, wear and walk on.

Wool Coch Red Bobbins62K

The yarns or threads can be hand-woven and made into tapestry carpets or wall hangings. They might become lighter weight garments such as shawls, ponchos and scarves or fashion accessories and home goods like handbags, travel bags, blankets, throws and pillow covers.

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Natural grey wool and dried cochineal bugs

Most weavers dye their material using pre-mixed commercial dyes. Some buy their yarns pre-dyed. This streamlines and simplifies the production process, making the finished piece less costly. Often, there are wide quality differences.

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from the tapestry loom

A growing number of weavers are going back to their indigenous roots and working in natural dyes. They use a time-consuming process to gather the dye materials, prepare them with tested recipes, dye the yarns and then weave them into cloth. These colors are vibrant and long-lasting. There is a premium for this type of hand work.

Dyeing and then weaving can take weeks and months, depending upon the finished size of the textile and type of weaving process used.

Preparing indigo for the dye pot -- first crush it to powder

Preparing indigo for the dye pot — first crush it to powder

For each visit, we will select artisans who live and work in small villages scattered in the countryside around Oaxaca where families have co-created together for generations to prepare the yarn and weave it.

indigo-dye-pot

Natural dyes we will investigate include plant materials like nuts, wild marigold, fruit (pomegranate, persimmon, zapote negro), wood bark and indigo.

Shades of cochineal -- a full range of color

Shades of cochineal — a full range of color

Another important dye source is cochineal, which is the parasite that feeds on the prickly pear cactus. The Spanish kept the cochineal secret well hidden for over 400 years, calling it grana cochineal or grain, so that English and Italian competitors could not detect its source.

Cochineal dye bath -- the most vibrant red of the natural world

Cochineal dye bath — the most vibrant red of the natural world

During this one-day outing, we will visit four weavers, see complete natural demonstrations of yarns and threads, learn about over-dyeing to get a full rainbow of colors, and savor the beautiful results that master weavers create.

We may not always visit the same weavers on each tour, based on their availability. At each home studio you will see some of the steps that go into the completed process. By the end of the day, you will have gained a fuller understanding of the difference between natural and commercial dyed cloth as well as the various weaving techniques. This will help you become a more educated collector, able to discern nuances in fiber and dye quality.

Ikat wool rebozo colored with pomegranate and cochineal

Ikat wool rebozo colored with zapote negro (black persimmon) and cochineal

More than this, you will learn about the local culture, the family enterprise of weaving, how weavers source their materials, the dedication to keeping this ancient practice alive. You will see how using natural dyes is a small-batch, organic and environmentally sustainable process. And, you will try your hand in the dye pot and at the loom, too, if you like.

Typical Day

  • 9 a.m. — We pick you up in the historic center of Oaxaca city
  • 9:30 a.m. — We meet a flying shuttle loom weaver who designs home goods and clothing, using naturally dyed cloth
  • 11:30 a.m. — We meet two weaving families who work exclusively with natural dyes to make rugs and tapestry wall hangings
  • We enjoy lunch around 2 p.m. at a local comedor that uses all native and natural ingredients
  • 4:00 p.m. — We visit the home studio of a women’s cooperative that makes leather trimmed handbags woven with naturally dyed wool
  • You return to Oaxaca city by 6:00 p.m.

All times are approximate. We reserve the right to alter the schedule based on artisan availability. Please bring water and a snack.

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

During this complete one-day study tour you will:

  • Meet master weavers and their families in their home workshop/studio
  • See the raw materials used for coloring wool, cotton and silk
  • Watch the weaving process and try your hand (and feet) at the fixed frame 2-harness pedal loom and flying shuttle loom — if you wish
  • Discuss the origin of cochineal, its impact on world trade and its many uses today
  • Learn how to tell the difference between dyed fibers – are they natural or chemical?
  • Observe processes for dyeing with indigo, cochineal, wild marigold and other organic materials
  • Understand quality differences and what makes a superior product
  • Discover the meaning of the various designs, some taken from ancient codices
  • Have an opportunity to shop, if you choose, at the source
  • Order a customized size, if you prefer

You are under no obligation to buy.

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

Zapote negro fruit in a dye bath waiting for wool

This is an educational study tour to give you more in-depth knowledge about the weaving and natural dye process. We offer a stipend to the weavers who take part to compensate them for their knowledge, time and materials. This is included in your tour fee.

Weavers do not pay commissions on any purchases made and 100% of any sales go directly to them.

Also consider these educational options:

About Norma Schafer, your study tour leader

Norma Schafer has organized educational programs and workshops in Oaxaca since 2006 through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She is an educator, not a tour guide, and is recognized for her knowledge about textiles and natural dyes.

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Nina wears a quechquemitl woven with cochineal dyed cotton

Norma is living in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, since she retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011. Before that, she made frequent visits each year beginning in 2005. Norma has access to off-the-tourist-path small production family workshops where the “manufacturing” process is vertical and hand-made.

  • Earned the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge
  • Holds the M.S. in business administration from the University of Notre Dame
  • 30-year career in higher education administration and program development
  • Created/produced international award-winning programs at Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Recognized by the International University Continuing Education Association for outstanding educational program development
  • Founder/creator of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC arts workshops/study tours in 2006
  • Contributor to Textile Fiestas of Mexico, with chapters about Teotitlan del Valle and Tenancingo de Degollado
  • Founder/author of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog in 2007
  • Learned to weave and use natural dyes as a graduate student in San Francisco too many years ago to count!
  • Has an extensive personal collection naturally dyed textiles
  • Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
  • International textile conference advisor to Weaving a Real Peace (WARP) organization
  • Consultant on tourism/economic development, State of Guanajuato, Mexico Office of Tourism
  • Embedded in the cultural and social history of Oaxaca’s Zapotec village life

IMG_4423 Dolores with Shadows

Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in the Tlacolula Valley, lunch and honoraria to artisans. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We may pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca) based on group size. Alcoholic beverages are at your own expense.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer. We will do our best to accommodate your requests.

Silk worms dining on mulberry leaves, Oaxaca, Mexico Wool dyed w moss

Reservations and Cancellations

We require a non-refundable 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve. The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for. The 50% balance is due on the day of the tour in cash, either USD or MXN pesos (at the current exchange rate).

We will have made transportation arrangements and secured the dates/times with the weavers, plus paid them a stipend in advance for participating. We have learned, living in Mexico, that it is essential to keep commitments to sustain relationships. Thank you for understanding.

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Folded pedal looms waiting for the next project

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops

Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshops can be scheduled at your convenience whenever you plan to visit Oaxaca. Of course, this depends on instructor availability, too. Ideally, we would like at least two or more weeks advance notice to schedule a workshop on the dates you prefer.

Indigo Dye Bath 4

The one, two or three-day workshops, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, are held in the historic center of Oaxaca city. The location is within a five minute taxi ride from the Zocalo or you can choose to walk 20-minutes to get there.  We send map and directions after you register and pay your deposit.

All workshops include instruction, materials and recipes.

Featuring private and small group workshops. 

Penland Indigo Workshop

 The Complete 3-day Workshop (32 colors)

Day 1–Prep for the Process:  9:00 am to about 2:00 pm — This is a preparation day. You will prepare grey and white wool with a mordant, in order to achieve 30 different colors on Day 2 and Day 3! We will talk about natural dyes in Oaxaca, and make the extract of pericón (wild marigold) and pomegranate.

Day 2–Red, Yellow, Brown: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm — You dye with pomegranate and pericón (wild marigold), then prepare extracts of cochineal (acid and neutral), the insect that produces carminic acid to give an intense, colorfast red.

Day 3–Rainbows & Overdyes: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm — You will prepare an indigo vat, make a shibori scarf design, then dye with indigo to get various shades of blue. With an indigo over-dye, you will get a range of purples and greens to master the color variations.

Private workshop fee is $435 USD for one person. $375 per person for two or more people.

The 2-day Workshop (11 colors)

Day 1: 9:00 am to about 2:00 pm — First you begin to understand the natural dye process by first applying a mordant to the white wool. This takes time, and we wait until the wool is sufficiently “cooked” so that you can prepare it to create 11 different colors. You will then dye with pericon (wild marigold) and pomegranate, and make an extract of cochineal (acid and neutral).

Day 2: 9:00 am to 2:00 pm — You will prepare an indigo dye vat and then use the wool you dyed on Day 1 to make over dyes that will yield purples and greens.

Private workshop fee is $290 for one person. $265 per person for two or more people.

The 1-Day Workshop: Cochineal Only

From 9:00 am to 2:00 pm you will start the mordant process, discuss natural dyes in Oaxaca, start the mordant process, and prepared extracts of cochineal as you change the pH of the dye vat to yield 12 different colors of red.

Private workshop fee is $155 for one person. $135 per person for two or more people.

How to Register and Pay: Send Norma Schafer an email to tell us your preferred dates. We will check about available dates and let you know. Then, you tell us you are ready to register.
  1. We send you a PayPal invoice by email for a 50% deposit
  2. Once we receive the deposit, we confirm and send you directions.
  3. You pay the balance due in cash (US Dollars or Mexican Pesos) on the day of the workshop.

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Notes:

  • Days must be taken in sequence. If there is a group of 4 or more people, we can offer a group price. Please contact me.
  • Lunch is on your own. You can bring a lunch or go out in the neighborhood.
  • Please bring your own drinks and snacks.
  • We give directions to the workshop after you register and pay the workshop fees.

About Your Instructor: The workshop instructor is a knowledgeable expert in the natural dye process and materials. She provides dyed wool and cotton yarns and thread to many of Oaxaca’s famous weavers and textile designers, and she works with textile designers worldwide to offer customized colors that are used in fashion and home goods.

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Reservations and Refund Policy.  We will send you an invoice by PayPal. Cancellations made within 30-days of the workshop date are not refundable. If you cancel more than 30-days in advance we will refund 25% of the registration deposit.

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Please let us know if you have any questions.

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