Tixinda. Purple Snail Dye. Caracol Púrpura. On the Oaxaca Coast.

Tixinda is the Mixtec word for the purple snail, also known as caracol púrpura in Spanish. It produces a rich purple dye used for ceremonial clothing in the Oaxaca coast village of Pinotepa de Don Luis. The weavers here make beautiful garments on the back strap loom using touches of this rare dye in the supplementary weft designs they create representing ancient symbols important to their culture.

Today we visited 83 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, who has been dyeing native cotton with tixinda since he was a boy. His son Rafael is following in his footsteps, searching the tide pools along the rocky coast for the illusive snail that is now almost extinct.

This is one reason why the huipiles and blusas are more costly. Another is that it usually takes two months to make a huipil. First the cotton is cleaned, hand-spun, then dyed. Usually they use natural dyes like indigo, cochineal, jicara gourd, wild marigold, mahogany bark, and other plants. Then, the loom is prepared with complementary warp threads.

After a delicious lunch of chiles rellenos in the dirt floor courtyard of the humble family home, we had an opportunity to talk, learn, and understand the traditional culture and weaving process. And, then there was the chance to look at the beautiful work and buy if we wished.

Rafa kept a skein of snail dye in the refrigerator in preparation of our visit and we saw the oxidization process as the color of the cotton changed from yellow to green to blue then to purple when exposed to the sunlight.

It was a magical day.

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