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PREPARING NATURAL DYES

SEE OUR OVERVIEW VIDEO ON NATURAL ZAPOTEC DYES

SEE VIDEO ON USING POTASSIUM ALUM AS A MORDANT

SEE VIDEO ON COCHINEAL

SEE VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES

Each dye requires its own unique method for bringing out the colors. Some herbs like tarragon, pecan leaves, sapote negro, and tree moss must be boiled in water and then the yarn is soaked for different amounts of time depending on the desired color. Other colors necessitate many steps and sometimes more than one ingredient to achieve a good dye. Below is a list of dyes used by Porfirio's family, notes on their preparation and the colors they produce. There are links to videos on some of the dyes.

THE USE OF CHEMICAL DYES - THE END OF AN ANCIENT ART FORM

Over the years, over 95% of the weavers in Teotitlán who once used traditional natural dyes have turned to using cheaper, more convenient chemical dyes. Their younger generations do not know how to gather or use traditional natural dyes. This seriously threatens the survival of our ancestral Zapotec art form. To read about some simple tests to detect real natural dyes, CLICK HERE.

Committed to the preservation of the family's ancient traditions, Porfirio Gutiérrez migrated to California to find an audience that would appreciate this art and help to sustain it with sales. Porfirio has been exhibiting, giving educational lectures, demonstrations and workshops on natural dyeing and Zapotec weaving. See THE ARTISTS for more information or email us and request to be added to our mailing list.

MORE VIDEOS COMING SOON:
- Demonstrations on 7 Plant Dyes and Cochineal
- Testing to Detect Natural Dyes vs. Chemical Dyes
PHOTO NAME OF DYE COLOR COMMENTS
oak wood Splintered oak logs can be soaked in room temperature water for a couple of days or boiled for 2 to 3 hours to produce a dye. Yarn color will be a light yellow.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES (including OAK WOOD)
indigo or anil Indigo is one of the more complicated dyes to prepare. Dehydrated indigo cake is usually bought from growers in the Istmo region of Oaxaca. From this state, it takes a minimum of 3 days to prepare before it is ready to dye yarn. Steps include grinding the cake into powder on the metate, then adding it and muitle leaves to filtered wood ash water. All steps must be carefully monitored for Ph and other factors.
tarragon Mexican tarragon is collected in the springtime when it is in bloom. It can be dried and used later throughout the year. Color can range from a brilliant yellow to a light butter creme depending on how long the yarn is left in the dye.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES (including TARRAGON)
sapote negro Sapote Negro is the fruit of a tree that is often found in local gardens. When ripe, it has a mild sweetness and dark mushy flesh. When using it for dyeing, it can be green on the outside and white inside. The fruits are sliced up and boiled with yarn which turns a rich brown.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES (including SAPOTE NEGRO)
cochineal Cochineal is a parasitic insect that lives on nopal cactus. It is a very laborious process to cultivate and harvest cochineal for use in dyeing. While some weavers have a small amount of the live bugs, it usually is purchased from a professional grower. The insects look like white spots when alive and grey pellets the size of a small BB when dead. Before adding them to boiling water, they are ground to a fine powder on the metate.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON COCHINEAL
pomegranate Pomegranate is another plant that grows in many weaver's gardens. The entire fruit is used, often with the sweet pips removed. It must be dried before boiling with yarn. Colors range from black to yellow.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES (including POMEGRANATE)
tree moss Tree moss is found on the wild trees in the foothills around the village. It is often plucked off with lichen that also grows on the trees. When boiled with yarn, it imparts a yellow.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON FIVE PLANT DYES (including TREE MOSS)
marush Marush is another flowering shrub that is common in the family garden. When boiled in water for 30 to 45 minutes with the yarn, it produces several shades of a fresh green.
pecan leaves The pecan tree is indigenous to Mexico. Its leaves and nut shells can produce several pleasing shades of brown. Photo at left shows pecan leaves.
COLOR COMBINATIONS
cochineal with iron oxide After dyeing yarn with cochineal, a deeper ox blood red or maroon can be obtained by a secondary boiling of the cochineal dye and the freshly dyed yarn in an iron pot. The iron oxidizes and adds a dark rusty layer to the red.
cochineal with tarragon Yarn that has been dyed yellow with tarragon will turn a brilliant red-orange when secondarily dipped into cochineal dye. Photo at far left shows grinding the dried cochineal insect to powder on the metate.
cochineal with lemon Another variation on dyeing with cochineal is to add citrus juice and boil it again briefly. The acid in the juice bleaches the cochineal. This is often used as a test to determine if real cochineal has been used in a weaving.
indigo with tarragon Yarn that has been dyed with indigo and tarragon will turn a variety of shades of green. Photo shows indigo being ground to powder on the metate.
OTHER
potassium alum
used to prep yarn for dyeing
Potassium alum is a natural mordant (fixative) found in the mountains of Mexico. The family buys it at their public market. Before dyeing yarn, it is first boiled in a solution of this mineral and water. This preliminary bath helps the color to be more permanent in the yarn once it is dyed.
SEE OUR SHORT VIDEO ON USING POTASSIUM ALUM
wood ash water
used to prepare indigo
Ash is collected from wood fires (far left photo). The ash is soaked in water and then filtered through a basket (near left photo). The resulting water is highly alkaline, the pH needed to be used in preparing indigo.
muitle
used as a catalyst with indigo
Muitle is often grown in the gardens of dyers in Teotitlán. It is added to the indigo and water and allowed to sit for 3 days before the next step. This helps to de-oxygenate the water and promote release of the color.
natural wool While not a natural dye or mineral, sheep wool comes in many colors ranging from white, grays and black to deep browns, tans, and creams. Only cleaning, washing and carding are necessary before spinning and weaving.
MORE ON CHURRO SHEEP AND THEIR WOOL
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