Tag Archives: natural dyes

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015

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.

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Indigo dye bath percolating

Eric Chavez Santiago, who is one of Mexico’s most knowledgeable natural dye experts and our workshop leader, takes 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 has 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.

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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.

Next Workshop:  March 6-12, 2014

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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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Assisting Eric with the workshop is his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz.  As his partner in life and this workshop, Elsa takes detailed notes about the formulas that Eric is using so that there is a record of the colors achieved.  She also helps the participants to complete their samplers with tagged formula notes at the end of the workshop.

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Our participants come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Northern California, and Kansas.  They include novices and experienced fiber artists/dyers.  Several had never been to Oaxaca before.  One is an English professor, another a faculty member in architecture and interior design, another a mixed media artist, and two professional weavers.  Everyone came away with a great experience and more information than they ever dreamed possible.

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Next Workshop: March 6-12, 2014 

If you can’t attend this workshop, let us know!  We can possibly schedule the next workshop to suit your travel schedule.

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.

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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.

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

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Morocco Journal 2: Marrakech–Oaxaca Connection

After a 24-hour journey from Raleigh, North Carolina to Marrakech, Morocco via Madrid, Spain, I headed out on Day One with my guide Fadil into the labyrinthine Marrakech souq (souk).  I was forewarned. It is easy to get lost. Don’t even think about going in without a guide, advised a U.S. State Department friend who lived in Rabat for years.  I took him seriously.  Opinions vary on this, but I decided to be cautious and get the lay of the land.

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It was early morning after a rainy night.  Only the cobra snake charmer greeted us on Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city’s main square.

Then, we entered the souq.  Except for the minarets, Arabic script, women wearing djellabas, and narrow arched and cobblestone alleys, I could have been in Oaxaca’s Abastos Market where I have often lost my bearings among the tangle of vendors. 

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My priority today was to see the Dyer’s Market.  But, as usual I got sidetracked. Temptations are many.  As in most international markets, craftsmen congregate by trade.  Here, there are sections for jewelry, ceramics, shoes, leather bags, traditional clothing, food and spices, cookware, and even a goat skin auction.

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Marrakech–Oaxaca Connection

Natural dyes.  Here in Morocco, indigo, poppy, saffron, mint, kohl, henna, and other plants and minerals are used to dye wool for rugs and fibers for clothing and shawls.

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Silk of the Agave Cactus.  Just like in Mexico, the agave leaf is soaked and pounded, the fibers separated and spun, and used for weaving and embroidery embellishment.  We call it pita in Oaxaca and sabra in Morocco.  It has the shiny texture of raw silk.

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Fruit of the Agave.  Lo and behold, I’m walking through the market and see a street vendor selling tuna, which is what we call the fruit of the agave cactus.  He peeled the skin and offered the fruit to me and Fadil.  We each got two for 5 Dirham.  That’s about 15 cents each.

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Sesame seed snacks.  The women who balance the baskets on their heads filled with sweet sesame treats on the Oaxaca Zocalo and the souq pushcart vendors have a lot in common.

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Donkeys.  There are beasts of burden in every culture, thankfully. MarocSouq-32

Weaving Techniques. Men weave on the heavy floor loom.  Women weave using a lighter weight vertical loom that looks more like the Navajo loom.  MarocSouq-33

And, then there are the rugs.  Stunning rugs, just like in Oaxaca.  Too many beautiful rugs to choose from.

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Market life for the staples of life.

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Photography: Traditional people do not want their picture taken!

Moorish influences in tile work, craft, food.

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Construction:  Buildings are made of adobe, earth’s raw materials.

Of course, so much here is different, especially in food and beverage.  The whiskey of Morocco is mint tea.  We are getting used to dining without a glass of wine in this alcohol-free Moslem country.  Couscous and tagine are culinary gifts.  The hammam, or sweat bath, and the spa life are integral to the culture.

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Oaxaca Natural Dye Secrets — 3-Day Fiber Arts Textile Workshop with Eric Chavez Santiago

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Natural Dye Workshop (c) Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Roll up your sleeves to learn the secrets of natural dyes. Oaxaca is famous for cochineal and indigo natural dyes, plus many others.

January 2014

          January 10, 11, 12, 2014  (arrive January 9) 

March 2014

March 13, 14, 15 (arrive March 12)

Indigenous Mexican weavers also work with pecan shells and leaves, and yellow fustic — a colorfast wood extract dye, which you will learn to prepare in this workshop.   They also collect moss and wild marigold, pomegranates, tree bark, wild cotton and murex snails to dye textiles, which you will better understand.

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You will:

  • gain an understanding of the properties of natural dye materials
  • learn new methods for extraction
  • discover innovative techniques for mordanting
  • work with the cochineal, nuts, indigo and fustic to dye and over-dye wool
  • achieve a wide range of glorious colors to reproduce at home
  • appreciate natural dye use for a healthier environment
  • take home a labeled sample card for reference
  • maximum 8 people for personal attention

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Your Instructor is Eric Chavez Santiago

Eric is one of the most knowledgeable textile resources in Mexico.  In his professional life, Eric is immersed in Oaxaca’s textile traditions and is affiliated with one of Mexico’s finest cultural arts museums.  A graduate of Oaxaca’s Anahuac University, Eric speaks fluent English, is a talented weaver and dyer, experienced instructor, and makes presentations throughout Mexico and worldwide.  He has developed over 100 shades of cochineal and uses innovative techniques for dyeing with indigo.

Eric has traveled to the United States regularly since 2006 to present Oaxaca’s textile traditions to museums, galleries, and universities, including UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, University of Notre Dame Snite Museum of Art, University of California at Santa Cruz, National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, San Jose, California Quilt and Textile Museum, American Tapestry Alliance, and The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

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Cost and Location

The workshop will be held in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.  It includes 3 nights lodging, 3 breakfasts, 3 dinners, all instruction, materials, samples, workbook and an indigo dyed scarf that you will make yourself.

  •  $595 per person double occupancy with shared bath
  •  $675 per person single occupancy with private bath
  • Trailing spouse option:  Add $155 (food/lodging only, no workshop)
  •  Add-on Zapotec cooking class, Monday, January 13 or Thursday, March 13: $125 per person (includes lodging the night before, dinner, breakfast, lunch, all instruction and recipe booklet)
  • Add-on 4-day tapestry weaving workshop from $895 (includes 4 nights, all breakfasts, dinners, weaving handbook). Click link for schedules.

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Reserve your space with a 50% deposit. The balance is due on December 1, 2013.  The workshop includes:  three days of hands-on instruction, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily for a total of 15 hours, 2 nights lodging, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, all materials and supplies, a natural dye handbook with recipes, and labeled sample cards to take with you.

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Refunds and Cancellations

Please understand that we make arrangements months in advance of the program. Our hosts often require deposits or payments in full to guarantee reservations. If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. No refunds are possible after 45 days before the workshop start date; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before 45 days before the workshop start date,  we will refund 50% of your deposit. We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Ready to Register? Tell Norma at normahawthorne@mac.com Have Questions? Ask Norma at normahawthorne@mac.com  and we will send you a PayPal invoice.

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