Tag Archives: Mexico

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

 

 

 

Women Weavers’ Cooperative Vida Nueva, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part Two

This post continues the narrative about women weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. See Part One for my introduction.

Honoring Mother’s Day: For all women who gave and received life!

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Vida Nueva (“New Life”) Cooperative at the International Folk Art Market

Twenty years ago, Vida Nueva cooperative was founded by six single women from the same extended family group, three of whom where sisters. Some of the women had husbands who never returned to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after migrating out for work. Some had not married. Some were widows. They needed to support their families and weaving had the biggest potential economic reward for their labor.

But, weaving was not women’s work.

Pomegranate dyed wool

Pomegranate dyed wool

The traditional role for women was (and still is, for the most part) to stay at home, keep house, tend the children, cook and raise small animals like chicken, sheep, pigs and goats.

Twenty years ago, weaving and then selling/marketing the product was not a usual role for women, plus it was unheard of to go to the city to develop customers. Most women of the time went barefoot, wore indigenous dress and did not go beyond the family compound expect to daily market. Entering the city was foreign, uncomfortable, intimidating.

Cleaning the finished rug

Cleaning the finished rug

Since the height of the Bracero program, when men migrated to the U.S. as temporary farm workers, and women learned to weave out of economic necessity, the number of women who now weave is substantial.  Today, most women work alongside husband, father or brother, to weave in a family centric enterprise. A few also participate in selling and receive recognition for their contributions.

It took a while for Vida Nueva to get started, but they had the help of a non-governmental agency, Grupo del Apoyo a la Educacion de la Mejor (now defunct). Through donations and business development guidance, Vida Nueva began producing rugs for sale in 2001. Their first clients, arranged by the NGO, were adult Spanish language students who were visiting Oaxaca from the United States.

Take a One-Day Natural Dye Weaving & Textile Study Tour

The cooperative meets regularly, makes decisions together, created a mission statement, a vision, goals and objectives for the organization that includes a marketing plan, and have built distribution markets over time. They also put money aside each year to invest in an annual community project that can benefit everyone in Teotitlan del Valle.

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Not all the rugs woven by Vida Nueva are made with natural dyes. Most are woven with synthetic colors because most buyers don’t want to pay the price for a naturally dyed rug and prefer bright, electric colors. But, the cooperative will do custom orders for naturally dyed rugs and from time-to-time, may have some on-hand.

Today there are 12 cooperative members, two of whom are married. Their clientele has developed by word of mouth over the years, and they also have been invited to participate in shows/sales in the U.S.A. including the International Folk Art Market and the Feria at Lake Chapala, Mexico Arts Show. 

Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative Contact Information

Pastora Gutierrez
Centenario 1
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
estrelladelvalle@hotmail.com

Telephone: 951 524-4250

Some Useful Resources

 

Women Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part One

Recently, I spent the day with a University of Michigan, public policy and economic development researcher, who asked me to introduce her to the Zapotec weaving culture of Teotitlan del Valle. Her expertise is India. Now, she is exploring how India and Mexico intersect and diverge in their support of artisans, particularly weavers.

Handwoven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana.

hand-woven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana Gutierrez

During our almost 10-hour day, we visited with five weaving families who work in natural dyes, two of whom are official cooperatives, registered with the government. One of these cooperatives, Vida Nueva (New Life), is solely woman-operated. Our time with spokeswoman Pastora Gutierrez enlightened my knowledge about how women came to become weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Weaving on the fixed-frame pedal loom is mostly men’s work. The looms are big and heavy. It takes upper body strength to operate them. When the Spanish friars introduced this tapestry loom (along with churro sheep) to New Spain with the conquest, they trained men to use it, just as men traditionally worked this loom in Europe to create textiles for warmth.

Oaxaca tapestry looms turned out blankets, ponchos, sarapes and other articles of functional cloth for insulation used by people and horses.

Started in the early 1940’s, during World War II when men were overseas, the United States Bracero program opened the opportunity for Mexican men to work legally as temporary, seasonal agricultural laborers. From 1948 to 1964, more than 200,000 Mexican worked in U.S. agriculture each year.

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Talk to anyone in Teotitlan del Valle and you will meet someone who participated in this program or has a relative who did. I am told the impact on Teotitlan del Valle was huge and saw the exodus of many of its young and middle-age men. They worked in the fields and orchards of America to earn a living to support their families.

Many men didn’t return.

This is when most women learned to weave.

Young women, who always did the cleaning, carding and spinning of sheep wool, learned to dress the loom and weave tapestries. Many began producing sellable textiles by age 11. Mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces and cousins came together to make this a family endeavor until the men returned, much like the sewing bee in small town USA. The making and selling of textiles remained closely within the family group.

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

By the mid-1970’s, Teotitlan del Valle weaving shifted from blankets and clothing to ornamental floor rugs, brought on by the market demand of Santa Fe interior design style. Importers developed relationships with village weavers who became exporters. Many were men who had learned a little English working in the Bracero program and had returned to the family and village infrastructure.

Resources

Book: Zapotec Women by Lynn Stephen, Duke University Press