The movement toward using natural dyes is taking hold around the world. It is an environmentally healthy process that is non-toxic and sustainable. Here in Oaxaca more weavers are using natural dyes for their beauty and because it’s what eco-minded textile lovers want.
Rhiannon’s shibori scarf comes out of the indigo dye bath
On this last day, we prepare the indigo dye bath to color cotton and wool blue. We also use the indigo for overdyeing. This gives us a rainbow of colors.
As the color oxidizes, it changes from yellow to green to blue — magic
Elsa shows the film about the small village on the southern coast of Oaxaca, Santiago Niltepec, where two families remain who preserve the ancient tradition of growing the indigo plant and making it into dye material. All the indigo that Elsa uses is native to Oaxaca.
Rhiannon’s blue shibori scarf dries on the clothesline
Cochineal gives us red, orange purple and pink depending on the color of the wool, the number of dips in the dye bath, and whether we use an acid or base to modify the color.
Rhiannon wears her finished indigo shibori scarf
When cochineal is overdyed with indigo, the wool becomes deep purple or lavender or mauve, depending on the strength of the dye bath and the natural wool color.
Cochineal red and with and indigo overdye, royal purple
Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips
Pomegranate (granada) dye on grey and white wool
Pomegranate (granada) changes from sand yellow to green with indigo overdye
We love this purple and bright fuchsia made with brazil wood (grey and white wool)
My project, making a shibori cotton textile — sewing into cloth for dye resist
My project after immersion in the indigo dye bath
My project after taking out the threads to reveal the dye resist design
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.
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.
All workshops include instruction, materials and recipes.
The Complete 3-day Workshop (32 colors)
Day 1–Prep for the Process: 9:30 am to about 2:30 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: 9:30 am to 2:30 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: 9:30 am to 2:30 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.
Workshop fee is $375 USD per person. Group rates available.
The 2-day Workshop (11 colors)
Day 1: 9:30 am to about 2:30 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: 9:30 am to 2:30 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.
Workshop fee is $250 per person. Group rates available.
The 1-Day Workshop: Cochineal Only
From 9:30 am to 2:30 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.
Workshop fee is $125 per person. No group rates for this workshop.
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 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
Art 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.
At 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
We can schedule a workshop to suit your travel schedule. Contact us.
Actually, using resist dye technique using indigo to create patterns and designs on cotton is called shibori, tritik, amarra or plangi(depending upon country of origin). It’s not the hippie dippie 60’s tie dye that’s been reincarnated on beach blanket bingo T-shirts. It’s high fashion wearable art. Not long ago, I saw an Eileen Fisher designer label Made in Japan shibori design on a finely woven cotton scarf dyed with indigo at a Nordstrom selling for over $100USD. The technique is universal.
Norma's Indigo Dyed Shibori Napkins -- A Gift for Jacob and Michelle
As frequently as once per month, Eric Chavez Santiago teaches a hands-on indigo dye workshop for people of all ages at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. At a recent workshop, a mother, father and baby sister accompanied a six-year-old who made a fish design on a white cotton T-shirt. Dad was right by his side and the learning was a fun family adventure. Other participants included local artists, university design program students, and visiting tourists.
Indigo can be used to dye cotton, wool, alpaca, silk, linen and the fiber of the agave plant. Some women in Oaxaca villages even use indigo to dye their hair. Dyeing with indigo is all about chemistry. Cellulose fibers such linen, cotton and agave absorb less indigo to get an intense color than do protein fibers of silk and wool. Said another way, it takes less indigo to dye cotton than wool. That’s why, we are using 100% cotton for the workshop. Polyester blends just won’t work because indigo saturates only the surface of the fiber, not it’s core.
Look for Felted Fashion Oaxaca Style, coming in February 2013. It includes dyeing wool roving, silk, and cotton with natural materials and making your fabric into luxurious scarves, blouses, wraps. Contact me to get on the mailing list for complete course description. Instructors are clothing designer Jessica de Haas, Vancouver, B.C., and Eric Chavez Santiago, Oaxaca, Mexico. Limited to 8 participants.
The process is fairly simple. First, we rinse the white fabric (I dyed white, handwoven cotton napkins from the Amuzgo tribe) in clear water to soften it. Then, we squeeze out all the moisture and make our design.
1. To make the shibori design, you can make accordian folds and then tie this together with rubber bands or with string. You can drape cloth over marbles or beans, securing them with string or a rubber band. You can whirl the fabric and then tie it with string or rubber bands.
2. To make the tritik design, you use a needle and thread to create a very specific pattern, folding the cloth and then sewing through it.
3. It probably takes about an hour to make the design. Tie a lead string onto your fabric so you can easily fish it out of the water.
4. Dip the folded and/or sewn fabric into the dye pot for 20 minutes. Be careful to immerse it gently into the solution. Do not stir or disturb in any way. Pull the piece out of the dye pot with the lead string.
5. Hang on a line from the string until the fabric changes from green-yellow to blue, for 15-20 minutes.
6. Repeat two more times.
7. Remove the rubber bands or thread.
8. Rinse well in water. Then, dip in vinegar water for 5 minutes to set the dye, soften the fabric and remove any of the alkaline residual and garlicky odor
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of experience developing and delivering award-winning programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Study tours are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's most stunning artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized, live and work at home where it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited to 12 people for the most personal experience.
Workshops are scheduled according to your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.