A Cochineal Dye Workshop

Rocio's scarves


aDid you know that you can get a beautiful natural dyed RED from bugs? Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) grows on cacti of the Opuntia family (prickly pear cactus) and is native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico.


from left: Irene (me),  Rocio, Robin




Recently, Cotton Clouds sponsored a Cochineal Dye Workshop at Meridian Jacobs Farm with owner, Robin Lynde. Rocío Mena Guitterez (our gal from The Natural Dye Project: see her blogs) came from Mexico City to share her knowledge of the process of turning dead bugs into RED! aaa

a samples3


First we tried our hand at stamping fabric with varying concentrations of mordants and then immersing them in the cochineal dye bath.  Note that the background on these remain white because the fabric was not pre-mordanted prior to stamping and when immersed in the bath only the stamped areas took the dye. 



Cochineal is grown on farms in Oaxaca, Mexico. The males are separated from the females and discarded since it is only the females that give the red dye. (No one could figure out how they knew male from female!) aaa

a bugs 2


Lots of tiny Cochineal bugs are ready for us to grind up into a fine red powder. a




ground bugs2 Traditionally, a mortar and pestle is used to turn the dried cochineal bugs into a fine powder, but these modern-day gals resorted to their handy coffee grinder to do the trick in a flash! aaaa




boiling bugs Once the water is hot, the fine powder goes into the pot along with a few natural chemicals and is simmered for about an hour.  Although we were all anxious to get our cotton and silk scarves into the dye bath, we took a lunch break and patiently waited for the magic to begin!




liquid cochineal

Ah, pure gold, but this time it’s pure RED!    The bath is strained, removing any residue cochineal powder. We goofed, and dropped the strainer and cloth and had to start all over again, but the results was well worth the extra labor!





dyed fabric

Now the fun of dyeing our pre-mordanted silk and cotton scarves, that Rocio provided, is about to begin!  We were so anxious to see the results that we started to pull the fabric out of the dyepot, but Rocío kept warning, “No, no, no!  You have to wait!”



Now the fun of dyeing our pre-mordanted silk and cotton scarves, that Rocio provided, is about to begin! Into the dyepot goes our stamp-designed cotton scarves. We were so anxious to see the results that we kept lifting them out of the pot.  “No, no, no!” said Rocio, “leave them in the pot!” a a aa a

At the end of the day, we were all very happy cochineal dyers!        Thanks Rocío!

happy dyers



Friendship Towel with Tintes Naturales Kit

If you don’t have time to dye your own cochineal yarns, order our Friendship Towel with Tintes Naturales kit to make towels, vests, jackets, baby blanket and more!  The cotton yarns are dyed with cochineal, osage orange, madder and indigo!

Guatemalan Weaving Adventure

Mayan Handsmayan hands collage tour

Guatemalan Fair Trade Weaving Adventures

January 20-30, 2016

Host, guide, and translator Deborah Chandler, author:

Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives
Learning to Weave and Guatemalan Woven Wealth


To register: Mayan Hands Tour Registration Form

 What You Will Do

MH2– Meet Mayan Hands weavers In their homes and communities

– Try your hand at backstrap weaving

– Shop the world-famous Chichicastenango market

– Visit Mayan sites and museums, including Museo Ixchel, named for the goddess of weaving.

– Savor delicious traditional Guatemalan foods

-Explore Guatemalan Highlands, beautiful Lake Atitlan and the colonial city of Antigua.

 Click HERE for complete itinerary.

What You Will FindMH6

Experience the natural beauty of Guatemala and immerse yourself in Mayan culture, ancient and contemporary, in the homes of weavers, in extraordinary markets and museums and in your connections with Guatemala’s greatest treasure, her people.

You will return home with your spirit renewed and hope restored.  Plus of course, a suitcase of gorgeous handwoven fabrics!

The DetailsMH 1

– Trip cost of $1895 includes all lodging (double occupancy), most meals, local transportation, translation, entrance fees and $400 donation to Mayan Hands (with tax deduction receipt). Airfare and personal expenses not included.

– Discounts available for Mayan Hands supporters. Contact us for details.

Guatemala banner

For more information and trip itinerary click here  or email Deborah Chandler at weavingfutures2012@gmail.com

Sharing stories and dreams

Sharing stories and dreams

It’s been a long time since I last wrote…

Since I left Guatemala….Oooh those wonderful days!!!


I came back to my home in Mexico City and I continued with my different natural dye projects, always inspired by my Mayan friends.

But magic always appears in my life in such wonderful ways. I’ve always thought that everything happens for a reason, and that the people we meet, and the things we do are no coincidence. Life works in mysterious ways.

All the wonderful women I met in the “Tintes Naturales Project” (the Guatemalan and the American) have made a difference in my life, and I will always carry them in my heart.

Helped by my American friends, I will be travelling to the U.S. in a few days.

I will be talking at this years WARP (Weave a Real peace) meeting in San Francisco. I will have the opportunity to share my experience during my days in Guatemala and to talk about the Importance of textiles in this country.

I will be giving cochineal workshops as well. Irene Schmoller and Robin Lynde organized a cochineal workshop at the Meridian Jacobs Farm in Vacaville, California.  Donna Brown organized another in the Denver area at Recycled Lamb, Golden, Colorado.

Cochineal Dye Workshop Meridian Jacobs2

I’ll be teaching a Cochineal Workshop in California and Colorado 

Plus a slide show presentation of my experiences with the women of San Rafael, Guatemala.


In the Bay Area?  Come hear my presentation on

“The Importance of Textiles to Grassroot Economies in Guatemala”

I trust this will help the women from Guatemala sell more kits!

This Project has helped them to earn a fair wage for the first time.  At the end of 2014 they have earned twice the money (in just 3 months) that they normally do just by weaving the whole year.

They are now selling 3 different types of Friendship Towel kits for both rigid heddle and 4-shaft looms! Now you can even weave vests, jackets and baby blankets!! Cotton Clouds will have these kits at the WARP Annual Meeting May 29-31, 2015.  Also available online at Cotton Clouds.


Friendship Vest by Lois Weaver


Friendship jacket by Lois Weaver

baby blanket

Friendship Baby Blanket by Robin Lynde









So I hope to see some of you there!

May our paths cross one day, so we can share stories and be part of the same dream for a moment… a fragment of time in this awkward and wonderful world.


The beginning of the end…


The beginning of the end…

This journey is almost finished…


The river in San Rafael

I left San Rafael yesterday, it was a sad goodbye but I leave with my heart full of joy and great memories !

The women prepared us a great meal! They prepared a soup with turkey in it, and some tamalitos (made of corn).

Deborah, Julo and Damaris were there, and we all celebrated at Gilberta’s house.


Women cooking


Deborah, Damaris and Julio

It was a busy day, the women arrived at Gilberta’s at 6 in the morning to start cooking. They were all smiling and making jokes, as they always do!


preparing “tamalitos”


women cooking


Berta and Elvira preparing tamalitos

The women gave me a gift! A beautiful black huipil!

They are so nice, I was very moved…


Abelina teaching me how to do some weaving techniques

They also helped me set up the warp on my backstrap loom, so I could be able to weave on it at my home back in Mexico.


Abelina setting up the warp


Me, weaving!

At the beginning of the day we were all very happy, Deborah and Julio arrived at 11am, but as the hours passed we started to feel sad. I couldn’t believe I was leaving that day!


Eating and having a good time at Gilberta’s

But the hours passed quickly and by 3 in the afternoon, we had to go.

We all had tears in our eyes… it was a very moving goodbye!

But I know it’s not a goodbye.. it’s just a see you later!



Mishel, Karen and me




The women and me (and the Handwoven magazine)


The women and me… the goodbye!!

I’m in Guatemala City right now… feeling kind of strange!

I spent 2 months living with these women and I got used to everything. Things like making tortillas, seeing women carrying stuff on their heads, or walking in the mountains became normal to me.

It’s amazing how we get used to things!

And here I am.. back in the city, where normal things like taking a shower with hot water seem amazing to me!

It was a great experience! One I will never forget.

Our paths cross for a few months, weeks, days, hours…. Seconds! But I will carry these women and their families in my heart for life.


Berta, Elvira, Fulgencia, Abelina and Gilberta (from left to right)

I learned great lessons and meeting these women with great souls, so connected to nature, will make me a different person.

And I hope you will carry  a little bit of these women in your heart too…

This week Deborah will take me to visit some other places in Guatemala, and I’ll be finally going back to my home in Mexico City on Saturday.

So I say “wiila wiib” (goodbye) to you for now….

This is the END of this adventure… but I’m surely the BEGINNING of more!

 “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nim-

Wiila wiib’

Rocío Mena


Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

August 16th, 2014

versión en español

Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

 “Thread is sacred! He knows, and he feels…”


View form Gilberta’s house

That’s what the women told me, when some of the threads we dyed with cochineal were full of knots, just after we finished washing them.

We were all trying to fix them, and while doing this, they told me:

 “ Threads know…they always know when we are in a hurry or when we are not happy. That is why we need to be in a good mood while working with them.

Right now, the thread is mocking us, because we were desperate to go, and now we are full of knots.

 When we are not happy, is better no to continue weaving or working, because the thread can feel it, and it gets difficult to continue.

 When we are weaving and we are in a hurry, it takes us more time to finish! And when we are weaving without any pressure or bad emotion, everything flows and we finish very quickly.”




Fulgencia working with threads

All this time, I was very impressed with their ability to untie knots. They do it in such an easy way! Flowing, like dancing with the thread!

Unlike me, sometimes I can  spend  a lot of time trying to untie a knot, without any luck.

Now I understand it! They are like having a conversation with the threads…. And they have a natural skill to work with them!

That’s the way they interact with the world and with nature! Flowing with life…


Abelina weaving on the backstrap loom

A couple of weeks ago they told me a similar thing about corn.

They say that is better to eat the corn they have planted. Because that way it has more “ uk’ux” , more HEART!

That’s how the old wise mayan men call it.


Elote (corn)

They say you can feel the connection with corn, because you saw the plant grow and you worked the ground.

It’s like having a connection with all living and non living things! They feel and they listen …and LIFE talks to them in amazing ways.

I eat “Elote” (corn) in Mexico, but I buy it on the stores… This week I ate “ elote” here , they brought it from one of their fields. It was coming fresh right from the field to my hands.

And it’s amazing to tell you… it feels different…!

I would like to think that maybe I felt the corn’s “uk’ux”(heart).


Elote (corn)

Gilberta’s House

I just moved to Gilberta’s, she has finished her house! Unfortunately I will be staying here only for 6 days! (instead of 13, as I did with the other women).


Gilberta’s brand new house



There’s no electricity yet! So we are using candles. It’s a different experience, and I think is ideal to spend my last days here this way… More connected to everything and without any technology.


Gilberta’s house by night… no electricity!



This is my last week here in San Rafael! I can’t believe it.. time passes so quickly!

I’m leaving on Monday.. and it’s sad to think about it.

We have been dyeing this week, in order to make a review, and see if they have any questions!

But I think they are more than ready to continue on their own!


yarn dyed with cochineal and madder

So don’t miss my last post next week! We’ll be having a goodbye party on Monday!

Deborah and Julio (From Mayan Hands) are coming!

Wiila wiib ‘










Hearts working together!

If you want to read the whole story, from the beginning! Click here

August 7th, 2014

versión en español

Hearts working together!

This last week was crazy!

We have been dyeing , winding and packing to get more kits ready.

We were expecting the Handwoven magazine article until september, but for some reason we don’t understand, the article came out earlier.


Women winding balls at Elvira’s house


Some of the packages ready to go!

So that’s why we only had some kits ready. But we have been working a lot to send more kits as soon as possible!  We finished 117 kits yersterday! Now we just need to wait for them to arrive to the U.S.!!!!


Abelina carrying the yarn and boxes form one place to another.


Kits ready to go! Women smiling, the work is finished!



Women packing the kits


Elvira and Berta packing kits

 The Friendship towel kits

This project started like 5 years ago, and since then,  a lot of volunteers have been working to make this possible.

Catharine Ellis and Donna Brown came down here last year to teach the women more about Natural Dyes, and then last march Donna Brown came back for a week with Diane de Souza and me.

The towels were designed by Sarah H. Jackson.

Irene Schmoller from Cotton Clouds is helping to sell the kits without any profits at all.

There’s also all the Mayan Hands team in the U.S (Anne Kelly and Mary Joan), in Guatemala city (Julio Cardona), and Brenda Rosenbaum, the founder of Mayan Hands.

And of course Deborah Chandler, this couldn’t have been posible without her.

All this people working together to make this Project succeed!

Featured in Sept/Oct 2014 Handwoven

Featured in Sept/Oct 2014 Handwoven

The kit includes 11 balls dyed with different Natural Dyed colors: Dark cochineal, light cochineal, osage orange, natural, madder, light indigo, dark indigo and osage orange+indigo (green).

It also includes the instructions on how to weave 4 beautiful towels.


Kits ready to go!


Kit seen from the back, you can appreciate all the different colors!


Friendship towel kit



But of course we couldn’t be talking about this Project and the Friendship towels without this 5 incredible women: Fulgencia, Berta, Abelina, Elvira and Gilberta.

They had faith in this Project since the beginning, and they have continued working hard, even if they didn’t have any profit on the beginnning.

This last week we discovered I should have been spending 13 days instead of 12 on each women’s house. So I returned one more day with each one of the women.

Just like a perfect review for you to meet them:


IMG_4295She’s the mother of three children: Chente (18), Glenda (16) and the youngest one (13).

They all go to school but the boys need to work some days by night, making bread. Glenda has   a Mayan Hands scholarship. Her husband works in Guatemala city, and he only comes home every two weekends.

They have a beautiful house on the other side of the river. It’s called Chisaliá.

I could describe Fulgencia as a joyful woman! She is very responsable, she always arrives on time and she really pays attention to the details. His husband is very good at fixing things, so they also fix bicycles and different things.

The children are always helping their mother. They all like winding balls! Glenda has learned how to weave from her mother, it’s amazing to see how the knowledge passes from one generation to another. Between them, they only speak in “achi” (mayan dialect), but they spoke to me in Spanish.

Fulencia & Family

Fulencia & Family



She’s is a single woman, she decided not to get married, so he lives with their parents and youngest sisters.

She takes care of her nephew, he’s one year old.

She is very funny and  smart!

It’s easier for me to communicate with her! In this house they speak achí, but also a lot of spanish. She has two younger sisters living in that house. Miriam is 16 and she’s in highschool and Irma must be like 23, she’s studying at the universtiy to become a professor. We really got along well!

They live on the mountains, far away. To go to town we needed to walk like 30-35 minutes and then take a pick up. That’s the same for Fulgencia and Abelina.  They have hens and chickens to sell, as well as pigs.


Berta’s family and me



She is Berta’s sister, she lives just next door. She has 4 children. Three girls: Mishel (8 ), Karen (14) , Leyli (19) and one boy: Edwin ( 16).

Leyli has a Mayan Hands scholarship.

I got along very well with those girls, specially Mishel! Abelina’s husband also works in Guatemala city, he spends some time in here and some time in the city.

In this house they only speak in spanish!!

Abelina is always smiling and making jokes.

She is also very good at math, and she is kind of the secretary of the group. She is charge of writing everything down on a notebook. (all the dyeing procedures)



Abelina’s family and me




Elvira lives closer to town. To go to town you only need to get a pick up ( you don’t need to walk between the mountains).

She has 2 boys: Misael (12) and the oldest one ( 14).

Her husband left to the U.S eight years algo , but she barely hears from him. She’s alone to do all the tasks, because she doesn’t have any girls, to help her cook or clean.

She wakes up very early in the morning to milk the cow, and then she makes cheese to sell. Her parents leave very close to her, like 10 minutes away.

She’s always very busy feeding the ducks, hens, pigs, and taking care of her children. We dye at her house, this is the place where we have been dyeing since the beginning!




I haven’t lived with her yet. Maybe this weekend!

She’s finishing her house!!! She will have a new house to live! Exciting! So we are waiting for her to finish it, so that I could go spend my last days with her.

She is a very joyful and active woman!

She is the leader of the weavers, she started the Weaving Project like 12 years ago.

She has one daughter! She’s already and adult.


They are all very honest, kind and responsable women!! and they all want to improve their income, so their children could have a better way of life.

And of course, they all get along very well! They are very good friends.

This was a longer post, but it was worthed, for you to be able to get closer to this women.  Next week I’ll be going to Gilberta’s…

I only have a week and a half left!


Don’t miss my last stories!

Wilaa wiib’



The four cardinal points

If you want to read the whole story, from the beginning! Click here.

July 30th, 2014

versión en español

The four cardinal points

For Mayas, the four cardinal points are sacred! They refer to them, and they bless them in a lot of ceremonies!

To me they represent their love to mother earth and nature.

This week, I changed my direction too, I’m staying on the other side of the mountains and closer to town. at Elvira’s house, the place where we have been dyeing since the beginning.


Elvira’s corn field


Corn field

Last Thursday we started our day by watching the MAIWA Documentary “Blue Alchemy, Stories of Indigo”. It’s a great film, and it shows stories from all different parts of the world.

I made the translation for them, and they were really touched by the part filmed in Mexico, where they could see an indigenous community dying with Indigo. The women of this community in Mexico make a cross before dying with indigo, just like a blessing, over the pot.

They really liked that, because to them the cross represents the four cardinal points. So now each time we start an indigo vat, we make a cross and we bless the cardinal points.


Indigo vat

By watching this movie they could really understand where Indigo comes from and how people from other cultures and other parts of the world dye.


Women reading the books

They are very interested in Natural Dyes, I’ve showed them some books and they really want to learn more about them.

They are even asking for some seeds to plant!

Everyday life

After watching the movie, we started dyieing. And we didn’t stop! Not even on Saturday or Sunday!

We dyed aproximately 70 pounds of yarn!


Dyed yarn


Cochineal, osage orange and madder


Yarn at Elvira’s house

We had some problems…

I decided to grind the dried avocados pits on the coffee machine, but it didn’t work out! And I broke it!

Fortunately, I found out that in the same place they grind corn everyday, they have a coffee grinder. So we went there and they grind it for us! Problema solved!

But we did have to grind the cochineal by hand…


Abelina and Fulgencia grinding the cochineal (red cochineal hands)

 It’s really amazing how hard they work and how they do everything with a smile on their mouths!  Always laughing and making jokes!   That’s really something to learn from them.

They never stop, when they are not dyeing, winding balls or weaving, they are taking care of their animals (cows,ducks,hens,pigs), or working on their fields. Plus the normal housework because they all have kids and they need to take care of them.

Good quality is very important to them! and they pay a lot of attention to that.

They told me the other day: “Quality is very important because we want our clients to be happy with the product. If it’s not good enough, we need to find a solution and get better”


Women packing the kits

Their persistence is incredible!

 Coming next…

We’ll keep up winding balls and making packages !

The kits are already out there! And they are selling like crazy!

Friendship Towel photo from HW

Example of the towels you can make with this kits

You can find them  by clicking here  or in this address:



Don’t miss my next days here! I will be moving to Gilberta’s and lots of new adventures.

Wilaa wiib’ (good bye in achi)