Tag Archives: natural dyes

Oaxaca, Mexico: Source for Natural Dye Textiles

It’s an ongoing discovery. Finding the weavers who work with natural dyes. They live and work in humble homes or grander casas, on back alleys, dirt streets, cobbled avenues, main highways, hillsides and flat-lands. Their studios are filled with the aroma and sights of natural materials — stinky indigo dye vats, wood burning fires, prickly pear nopal cactus studded with insects that yield intense red.

All photos © Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

JuanaGutierrez TreeMoss

In this photo, above left, dyer/weaver Juana prepares ground cochineal on the traditional metate, grinding the dried insect by hand until it is a fine powder, ready to make a dye bath for wool that will be used for rugs. Above right, tree moss waits for the dye pot.

That’s why I’ve organized one-day natural dye textile study tours to explore this artisanal process.

ArturoRebozo2 CochinealIndigoYarn

Above left, ikat rebozo with natural dyes of wild marigold, cochineal and indigo from San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Right, wool on the loom.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

You know how committed I am to the artisans who work with natural dyes. It is a laborious and vertical process — winding the yarn, preparing the dye baths, dyeing the yarn, then weaving it. To create textiles using natural dyes takes time and is a many-step process. I believe the people who work this way deserve special attention and support.

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

They start with the natural wool that comes from the mountains surrounding the Oaxaca valley. The best wool is hand-spun for strength and has no additives, like nylon or polyester, to lower cost.

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Then, indigo and cochineal is bought from local Oaxaca sources. Both are expensive, now about 1,800 MXN pesos per kilo. Synthetic dyes are a fraction of this cost and only requires one-step to produce colored yarn.

DryPomegranates FedericoNuez

Other dye sources are wild marigold, pecan leaves and shells, pomegranate fruit, tree moss, eucalyptus bark, black zapote fruit and much more.  The wool needs to be washed of lanolin and mordanted to absorb and fix the natural dye so it will not fade. To get a full range of color, local weavers and dyers use over dyes, too.

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When the yarns are colored they are then ready to weave. Depending on size and material density, a piece can take from one week to several months.

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It takes a special person who understands quality of materials and finished product to work this way. The process is organic, sustainable and environmentally sound.

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Open Studio with Visiting India Artists, January 30, 6-8 PM

Textile artist Nidhi Khurana and artist/painter Ruchin Soni are wrapping up their three-month Oaxaca residency, sponsored by the Mexican government as part of a Mexico-India cultural exchange program.

Nidhi

Both are well-known in Delhi, India, for their innovative approach to large format art installations. Nidhi came here to experiment with natural dyes, and especially cochineal which is not sourced in India. She dyed cloth that is becoming textile maps of Oaxaca.

Ruchin completed a larger-than-life wall art mural on the highway to Ocotlan, portraits, sketches, and woodcut prints. Their tiny apartment in Oaxaca served as laboratory and design space, too.

Ruchin

They are leaving Oaxaca in early February. We hope you have a chance to drop by to see their work and wish them good journeys.  Gracias, Maria Crespo for opening your space for this exhibition.

 

I had the pleasure of mentoring Nidhi and Ruchin during their stay, helping Nidhi complete her competitive application to the Mexican government, and introducing her to textile artists and artisans to make her experience more complete. They arrived at the time my mom was dying, so my sincerest thanks to friends Martha Sorensen and Hayley Samuel for stepping in for me during my absence from Oaxaca to make key introductions.

Travel Oaxaca’s Cochineal Trail–Natural Dye Textiles One-Day Study Tours

In this new program, we take you along Oaxaca’s Cochineal Trail to introduce you to weavers 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.

Schedule your dates directly with Norma Schafer.

You reserve for the dates you prefer. This  is designed as a private program. You are welcome to organize your own small group.  We will do our best to match your travel schedule with our availability.

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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.

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.

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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.

Master weaver from Teotitlan del Valle makes perfect curves with natural dyes

Master weaver from Teotitlan del Valle makes perfect curves with natural dyes

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

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.

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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 on prickly pear cactus paddle Striking design in cochineal, indigo, pericone, and natural wool

During this one-day outing, we will visit four or five 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.

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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.

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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
  • 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
  • Receive a Resource Guide and Glossary to take with you
  • 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.

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.

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
  • 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 a personal collection of more than 100 textiles made with natural dyes
  • Consultant to textile designers, wholesalers and retailers who want to include sustainable, organic textiles in their body of work and inventory
  • 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

Note: From time-to-time, we will invite other distinguished and knowledgeable natural dye experts to join us or to substitute for Norma to lead the study tour, based upon schedules and availability. If Norma is not available on the date(s) you request, we will give you the option to take the study tour with another qualified leader.

Pricing for a 7-8 hour day. Customized programs on request.  The rate constititutes the time you arrive to and depart from Teotitlan del Valle.

  • 1 or 2 people, $200 USD flat rate total, includes lunch
  • 3 to 4 people, $90 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • 5 to 8 people, $70 USD per person total, includes lunch
  • For larger groups, please contact us for special pricing

Includes transportation from/to Oaxaca city to our meeting place in Teotitlan del Valle, and lunch. Please let us know if you need vegetarian options. We will pre-order a tasting menu that includes a fresh fruit drink (agua fresca). 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 50% deposit with PayPal (we will send an invoice) to reserve with the balance due on the day of the tour in USD or MXN pesos (at the current conversion rate). The PayPal amount billed will be based on the number of people you reserve for.

If you decide to cancel up to 30 days before the study tour, we will refund 50% of your deposit. If you reduce the number of people in your party with 30 days notice, we will pro-rate the deposit and offer a 50% refund for the number of cancelations.

After 30 days before your scheduled study tour, your deposit is not refundable. 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 of notice to schedule a workshop on the dates you choose.

Indigo Dye Bath 4

The one, two or three-day workshops 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.

Penland Indigo Workshop

If you choose to take a one day workshop, you will work only with indigo dye. If you choose two days, it will include indigo, cochineal and wild marigold or fustic. If you choose three days, it will include the first two days, plus additional plant materials and over-dyeing to get a range of colors from red, yellow, orange, tan, purple and green.  Cost is $125 per person per day.

Day 1:  Make an indigo dye bath. Understand the properties of dyeing with indigo, including oxygenation and color intensity. Make a shibori scarf, yarn samples and a get the recipes for working in wool, cotton and silk.

Cost:  $125 per person, Day 1. Includes all instruction and material. Does not include lunch or snacks.

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Day 2:  Make a cochineal dye bath and a wild marigold or fustic dye bath. Understand the properties and cultural history of these natural dyes. Create color samples and record recipes so you can dye your own yarn or cloth.

Cost: $125 per person, Day 2. Includes all instruction and material. Does not include lunch or snacks.

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Day 3: Use the indigo, cochineal and wild marigold/fustic dyes to make over-dyed yarns that will yield a full rainbow of colors including purples, greens, pinks and oranges.

Cost: $125 per person, Day 3. Includes all instruction and material. Does not include lunch or snacks. 

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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.
  • We give directions to the workshop upon registration.

About Your Instructor: The workshop instructor is a knowledgeable expert in the natural dye process and materials. She provides dyed 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

If you make your reservation within 30-days of the scheduled workshop, 100% of the workshop fee is due and payable in advance. We will send you an invoice by PayPal. Cancellations made within 30-days of the workshop date are not refundable.

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If you make a reservation anytime in the 11-months before the workshop start date, a 50% deposit is due and payable to secure the date. The balance is due 30-days before the workshop date. If you need to cancel, please notify us by email at least 30-days before the workshop start date to receive a 50% refund of your deposit. After that, refunds are not possible.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

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Oaxaca Weaving Workshops: Dancing on the Loom

Schedule a 4-day tapestry weaving workshop with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator during your Oaxaca vacation. You do not need experience to take part.  The per person price is the same whether you take a private workshop or there is a group of up to four people. We welcome people who want to come and learn with a master weaver who has worked the craft for over 40 years.

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All levels are accepted — beginners with little or no experience, intermediate and advanced weavers.

The Oaxaca Weaving Workshops: Dancing on the Loom is held in the famous rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, which is about 40-minutes outside the city of Oaxaca in the Tlacolula Valley.

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Here is what we offer:

Weaving Workshop: Intensive beginner to intermediate level 4-day workshop is $585 USD per person.  This includes all wool and 5 hours of supervised instruction daily, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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At the end of the workshop you will have completed a tapestry sampler about the size of a pillow cover or small wall-hanging, 18″ x 24″.  If you choose to bring and execute your own design, it should be simple enough to complete in this 4-day time frame.

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You will work with wool that is dyed with all natural materials, including indigo, cochineal, wild marigold, nuts and other plant materials. This is a sustainable process and you will see how natural dyes are prepared, too. If you wish, you may purchase naturally dyed yarns to take home with you.

Weaving

Note: The workshop fee does not include transportation, lodging or meals. We will refer you to local families who operate posadas and B&Bs out of their homes here in the village. You will make and pay for your own lodging arrangements, that cost from $25-45 USD per night. Meals are about $6 USD for breakfast and $10 USD for lunch/dinner.

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Reservations and Cancellations

To reserve your weaving workshop for the dates you choose, please contact us.

We require a 50% deposit to secure your reservation. The balance is due 30 days before your workshop date. If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email at least 30 days before the workshop start date to receive a 50% refund of your deposit. After that, refunds are not possible.

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