Tag Archives: indigo

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.

Color Culture: Oaxaca at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Oaxaca and Mexico is well-represented at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a knock-your-socks-off bazaar of many of the world’s best artisans.

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Interspersed among the over 150 exhibitors are some of Oaxaca’s best artisans, too. Selection to participate is very competitive. Preference seems to be given to collectives and cooperatives that further the economic, cultural and social development of at-risk folk art.

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Here are the groups from Oaxaca who came this year. We are proud of their accomplishments. They did very well and the income from sales are significant in sustaining and developing their personal lives, culture and craft.

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  • Macrina Mateo, Silvia Garcia Mateo, Silvia Medina Hernandez from San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, who are part of the ceramics cooperative Innovando la Tradicion
  • Flor de Xochistlahuaca weaving cooperative represented by Margarita Garcia de Jesus and Antonia Brigida Guerrero Santa Ana, working in natural dyes and indigenous cotton
  • Jose Garcia Antonio and family from San Antonino Castillo Velasquez, Ocotlan, who make life-size primitive clay figures
  • Odilon Merino Morales brings Amuzgos textiles hand-woven on the backstrap loom, many using natural dyes, all with expressive designs


Last Thursday I went to a discussion about color at Collected Works Bookstore given by textile design instructor Barbara Arlen. She talked about the psychology of color, how we choose it for fashion, home decor, mood, political importance, emotional well-being and comfort, and what we think looks good on us.

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I’m moving toward indigo, the deep, intense blue derived from a plant, compressed, dried, ground and then made into a dye bath. This is a change for me and at the folk art market I was in search of indigo from Mexico, India, Africa. This seems to be the hot color this year, although it fits into the cool zone. Wear it with hot red beads.

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Here in Santa Fe, like in Mexico, colors tend to be hot as a reflection of the environment. What works here doesn’t make it in New York or Detroit. Barbara talks about how New Yorkers prefer black and gray, the color of business, solemnity, seriousness and sophistication.

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I am in New Mexico, the land of carefree fun, heat and brilliance with a deep Native American tradition of color. Red, coral, orange, turquoise, lime green, deep blue, pure gold, primary colors prevail here. Red, the color of passion, excitement, and yes, even sex, is predominant. Purple, the color of royalty, which came from the rare caracol purpura seashell.

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Barbara Arlen says that color has to do with craftsmanship, faux vs. real, as in clothing, handbags and yes, even food. Slow food vs. fast food, the difference between flash cooked goodness where food is still close to its original fresh goodness and commercial food with chemical additives that give off a gray or brown or overcooked look.

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Her discussion was an excellent introduction to folk art market shopping, where your bank account could be decimated within minutes. She asked us to pay attention to color hues, values and intensity.

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She asked us to stretch to try a different color than we are used to wearing. Barbara recommended that we look at Style.Com and Vogue UK to keep up with current textile and fashion colors.

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Always, she says, choose what makes you feel good. So, I did! And my friends Sheri and Sara did, too.

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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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Indigo Dye Workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Making a shibori scarf using indigo dye was a highlight of the Penland School of Crafts visit to Oaxaca.

Penland Indigo WorkshopWe settled into the workshop studio of the Chavez Santiago family to hear about the planting, cultivation and preparation of indigo on the coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec.

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Some people called it tie dye, but we know better since the technique was originally developed in Japan.  Lots of ways to make designs and patterns in the cloth that will resist the dye that coats its surface. PenlandBest91-60

It is a long seven month process to grow the indigo plant.  It needs the right soil and climate plus the knowledge of how to extract the blue color from the plant so that it becomes a stable and strong dye.

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The Museo Textil de Oaxaca now has an excellent exhibit and video that explains the fermentation, dye extraction and drying process.  What you end up with is a hard chunk of material that looks like coal.  It’s then ground into a powder and carefully added to a water bath so that the oxygen molecules are not activated.

PenlandBest91-56After we use rubber bands, string, marbles, beans, nuts, and just simple folding to create the pattern, we tie a string to the cotton cloth to submerge it gently into the dye bath.  It stays there for about twenty minutes.  Those who used the folding technique wrapped their cloth around styrofoam cylinders.

PenlandBest91-58 PenlandBest91-65 PenlandBest91-51 I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

PenlandBest91-69 PenlandBest91-64Art making in Oaxaca comes in many forms and varieties.  Making indigo scarves is just one way to participate hands-on in all that Oaxaca has to offer.

PenlandBest91-71 PenlandBest91-68 PenlandBest91-62At the end of the workshop we enjoyed a tapestry weaving demonstration with Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas who operate Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca city. Its amazing to see how they color all their wool with natural dyes and use the color together to make extraordinary, vibrant carpets.



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.