NATURAL DYES

Display shelf bulging with all shades of naturally dyed cotton hanks ready for backstrap loom weaving
A delicious display of naturally dyed threads

 

Dyeing is generally done by the weaver in her home from locally gathered plants. A few of the natural dyes such as indigo and cochineal come from other regions and are purchased as powders. In 2013, I took a class in natural plant dyeing from Carmen María in San Juan La Laguna using a plant called sacatinta.
The vine sacatinta with orange flowers used to make a lavender colored natural dye
The vine sacatinta which means "to take out tint"

 

I'd had other classes in natural dyeing where the process was long and elaborate but this class was both simple and effective. The steps outlined below are from that workshop.

MATERIALS & SUPPLIES

  • Dye plant - in this case it is a local orange-flowered vine called Sacatinta
  • Mordant - which is the thing that fixes the dye to the substrate (like vinegar is for dyeing easter eggs), in this case, the fresh inner trunk of a banana plant
  • The cotton thread to dye
  • 2 pots of boiling water
  • Bucket of cold water
  • A  very hot stove
Feeding wood into a smoking hot wood fired stove boiling water ready for dye plants
The very hot stove. This type of wood stove is commonly used do do all the family's cooking

 


     

    PROCESS

      1. Prepare the mordant:  Chop up the fresh inner trunk of the banana plant and place it in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes.
        Natural dye process: Chopping the inner trunk of a banana plant to make a mordant
      2. Prepare the dye:  Chop up the Sacatinta plant and likewise place it in a second pot of boiling water for 20 minutes.
        Natural dye process: placing the chopped sacatinta dye into boiling water
      3. Meanwhile, rinse the cotton thread in cold water to remove any chemicals used in manufacture.
        Natural Dye process: rinsing the cotton thread in cold water to remove any manufacturing chemicals
      4. After the 20 minutes of boiling, strain out the banana trunks and put the thread in the mordant water for 5 minutes
      5. Meanwhile, strain the sacatinta out of the boiling water and return this dye water to the heat.Natural Dye process straining plant material from dye water on tiled floor near adobe wall
      6. At the end of the 5 minute mordant bath, place the thread in the dye bath for 5 minutes.
      7. Remove the thread from the dye bath and place it in a bucket of cold water for 5 minutes. 
      8. Place the thread back in the dye bath for an additional 5 minutes.
      9. Rinse.
        Natural Dye process rinsing the sacatinta dyed hank of cotton thread
      10. Bim shala bam - ready to weave when dry.
        The finished hank of sacatinta dyed cotton thread a beautiful lavendar


    Sacatinta by itself creates various shades of blue or violet depending on how many times the dye bath has been used. When combined with other plants startlingly different colors emerge.  

    sacatinta combined with chilca results in a deep olive green shown on this ball of cotton thread
    Sacatinta mixed with the chilca plant produces a deep olive green

     

    Carrots, rabbitbrush, and the bark of avocado tree are just a few of the other plants used to create colors anywhere from deep reds to rich green.  

    orange colored cotton thread dyed with carrots ready to be woven on a backstrap loom
    Carrot colored thread dyed from.... carrots!