A very different world!

June 26th, 2014

Versión en español

Women carrying baskets on their heads while crossing the mountains and the river. Gorgeous shining stones, lightning bugs and green mountains… This is how my life looks like this days!

A whole different world from the one I’m used to.

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View from the mountains

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Fulgencia weaving on her backstrap loom

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the view from Fulgencia’s house

Fulgencia’s house

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Fulgencia

I’ve been living at Fulgencia’s for the last few days and it has been a great experience for me. Life begins at 5:00 a.m., when the women go to the “Molino”, to grind “maíz” (corn). Then they start preparing “tortillas”,.  They call this procedure: “tortear”. Twice a day, every day this is their life.

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Tortillas on the wood stove

 

 

Actually they tried to teach me how to “tortear”. But apparentely I’m not very good at it! I hope I’ll get better with practice. It was amazing for me to see this, cause even though I’m mexican, I’m from the city , and I wasn’t familiar with this process.

 

 

 

 

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Fulgencia preparing the tortillas

The first day

Let me tell you the story of how we carried things from Elvira’s to Fulgencia’s house. I thought we would have to ask for a pick up or something, because we are talking about 5 women and pounds and pounds of yarn, plus extra materials.  But instead they decided to do it their way! Carrying the yarn and stuff on baskets on their heads. I was so impressed!

We walked for half an hour like that, crossing through the mountains and  across a river. I was having trouble doing that without any baskets on my head! Imagine them!

They look gorgeous wearing their “cortes” (traditional skirts) and the baskets on their heads, walking in the most gracious way.I understood that the clothes they use fit perfectly in their everyday lives.  Somehow crossing  the many rivers is easier when you are wearing a “corte”.

This is the only picture I have for now:

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Elvira and Gilberta carrying supplies on their heads

Languages

They are always speaking in “Achí” (Mayan dialect), and that has been challenging for me, because most of the time I don’t undestand anything they are saying!

It’s easier for me to communicate with children and men, I guess because they speak spanish all the time when they go to school or to work. And I think the women are not used to speaking spanish, since when they are together as a group, they don’t need to.    That just surprises me , I wouldn’t have thought it would be like that!

I know that in other houses they only speak spanish, but we’ll discover that later.  For now my whole world is in “Achi”.

 

The family

Let me tell you about Fulgencia’s family. They are very kind and loving people, and I’ve been able to see how close they are as a family.

Fulgencia and her husband have three children: two boys (14 and 18), and a girl (16).

Her  husband works in Guatemala City, which is hours away, so he only comes home on weekends. The entire family is always involved with whatever a family member is doing.  The other day,  we were winding  yarn to be dyed and the oldest boy was very excited to be helping us.

Her husband also helped us all weekend long, giving us his ideas on how to solve various problems that arose. It is so encouraging to see the whole family involved in every aspect of each other’s lives.

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Fulgencia’s daughter preparing “tamales”

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Fulgencia’s son helping with the yarn

Sons of Corn

It’s amazing to see how their life is! So far away from technology and so close to nature. To the essence of things! They know the process of everything they eat and do.

And this week I could really appreciate this by following the process of corn!      After all, mayas call themselves “Los hijos del maíz” (the Sons of Corn)

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Maíz (corn)

 

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View from the top

Coming next week

We’ll start dyeing at Elvira’s house next week, and then I’ll be probably moving to Bertha’s house.        Don’t miss out on my new stories!

The beginning of the adventure…

June 19th, 2014

Versión en español

Arrival to Guatemala

“This is going to be much more of an adventure than you thought it would be….”

It was the first thing Deborah told me when she picked me at the airport last Sunday morning.

The reason? Actually, I didn’t have a place to stay for my next two months in San Rafael. Normally, I was supposed to be staying in an empty house next to Elvira’s. It was her uncle’s house.

But for some reason I couldn’t stay there anymore.

I was shocked!  So we were just hoping for the best, hoping we would be able to find something when we arrive.

I stayed in Guatemala City for two days, meeting people, learning how to wind balls, how to measure them, and other interesting things in the “Mayan Hands” office.  It was great!

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View from Deborah’s house

On the road!

On Tuesday morning, Deborah and I left Guatemala City. It was an entertaining 4 hours drive.

I was just so impressed by how the landscape changed compared to last time I was here. The rainy season has arrived, so now everything is just like so GREEN! Breathtaking!

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Rabinal from the distance

Miracles

I was a little bit nervous… I really had no clue of how I would be spending my time and where I would be living the next couple of months. We had some clues of people who could be able to help us find a place for me to stay. So when we arrived to Rabinal we started looking.

But imagine our surprise when we found out that the women from San Rafael already had the answer! Gilberta told us that the women, the five of them, would be taking turns to host me, which means I will be staying a week or more with each one of them, at their home.

I’m just very excited! I’m going to be able to really meet the women, and see how they live. I can’t think of a better way to spend these two months!

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San Rafael, Guatemala

 Dance and color!

There’s a festival going on right now in Rabinal, so we had the chance to see a lot of traditional dances, kids performing with traditional costumes and masks, a Mayan ceremony, a parade, and of course we drank the traditional beverage called “chilate” (made out of corn and chocolate)

Colors are everywhere! And it’s just amazing to see the mix between the Mayan traditions and the catholic ones.

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Rabinal

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Kids wearing traditional costumes

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Mayan ceremony

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Women selling “chilate” (traditional beverage)

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Parade

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parade

At the end of the ceremony, the queen of the festival said some words in Achí ( a Mayan dialect) and in Spanish. With reverence,she said:                                                                                                                                                                           “Corazón del cielo, Corazón de la tierra” (Heart of heaven, heart of earth)

What a wonderful phrase I think!

I can’t find a better phrase to start my journey with.

Coming next!

Tomorrow I will be going to Fulgencia’s house. She will be the first one to receive me. I can’t wait to get there and tell you more about my adventures…

Don’t miss the next post next week.                                                                                                                                                                  Until next time!

 

My first trip to Guatemala!

June 13th, 2014

Versión en español

 Arrival in Guatemala!

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Guatemala’s view form the plane

So I ended up going to Guatemala last March to work for a few days with the women of San Rafael and help them with the Natural Dye Project.

Deborah Chandler received Donna Brown, Diane de Souza and me in Guatemala City. I had never met them! I arrived to Guatemala, just trusting and excited to meet new people. interested in the same things I am interested in!  Naturally dyeing and community support.

 

San Rafael

Deborah took us to San Rafael, a small settlement four hours away from the capital! We spent four days with the women. Our main goal was to try  to figure out why they weren’t achieving the bright, vibrant natural dye colors they should, on the cotton yarns they were using.

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On our way from Rabinal to San Rafael

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Elvira’s house, where we did the dying last march

The Natural Dyes Project

It’s important to mention that this Natural Dye Project started a year ago, when Donna Brown and Catharine Ellis traveled as volunteers to Guatemala in order to teach these women the process of natural dyeing so that they could support their income as weavers. They sell their handwoven products to Mayan Hands, at a fair market price. Deborah Chandler, who lives in Guatemala City and is very involved with the Mayan Hands organization, made this possible.

Mayan Hands is a fair trade organization founded in 1989. They work with over 150 women in eight Guatemalan communities.

Brenda Rosenbaum, a Guatemalan/American woman is in charge of it. They will help these women sell cotton yarn kits in the USA. More about that interesting project in a later blog, so stay tuned as I report from the field.

Catharine and Donna taught the women in San Rafael how to dye with natural dyes last year. The idea is to sell cotton yarn to increase their income. Which is less than one dollar per day.

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Dying yarn

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San Rafael, Guatemala. Small settlement 15 min away from Rabinal

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yarn dyed with cochineal

Troubleshooting!

We went to Guatemala this year, because they were having trouble;  the colors were very pale. After having a lot of theories about why they weren’t getting the right colors, we finally were able to solve the mystery!. The mystery? We discovered that they were using baking soda, instead of soda ash !!! In English we can’t really see how they made that mistake, but in Spanish the words are very similar:  carbonato de sodio (soda ash)/ bicarbonato de sodio (baking soda)

So that was the main problem! They weren’t mordanting with the proper product!

Those days were a success, we got the beautiful natural dye colors and then I could see that the women were now very interested in the project!

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yarn dyed last march: cochineal,indigo,osage orange,pomegranate, madder, pomegranate/osage orange+indigo for greens.

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Dying yarn with cochineal

I can communicate with them in Spanish (even if their first language is Achí, a Mayan dialect) And that’s how I ended up with this Natural Dye Project (Tintes Naturales)

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All together at the end of the workshop!

If you want to hear more about this first trip to Guatemala, you can visit the Dyeing2weave blog written by  Diane DeSouza. You’ll find amazing photos and stories!

My trip to the United States

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Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

It’s also important to mention that last month, I went to the WARP (Weave A Real Peace) conference in St. Louis, Missouri. I then spent almost three weeks with Catharine Ellis. She invited me to her beautiful home in Asheville, N.C. We spent that time testing natural dye formulas and learning more about natural dyes so that I could be ready to pass this information onto the women in San Rafael!

 

She taught me a lot!! And it was an amazing experience!! Catharine was great and I enjoyed meeting a lot of interesting people!

Preparing myself.. the last preparations!

So here I am for now, in Mexico City, my hometown, preparing for my journey. I’ll be in Guatemala next week. Sharing my experiences and adventures with you!

So don’t forget to register to receive notice of whenever I post a blog, so you too can be part of  my adventure!

I’m sure I will be learning a lot from these women and from this experience, and I hope I will be able to help them too.

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Sunset in San Rafael

Until next time, Adios!

 

My New Adventure in Guatemala!!!

June 11th, 2014

Come Along with Me

I would like to invite you to come along with me on my new adventure in Guatemala…!!!

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My name is Rocío Mena, and I will be spending the next two months in San Rafael, Guatemala, helping a community of Mayan women dye cotton yarn with natural dyes.

 

 

 My Love of Natural Dyes

Natural dyes are my passion! And for me, they represent magic on earth!

Seeing the process that transforms a plant into a dye color, observing the alchemy that takes place in an indigo vat or the way a cloth turns from green to blue when in contact with oxygen! Those are the things I enjoy the most.

“Alchemy is a rainbow which bridges the gulf between the earthly and the heavenly realms,between matter and spirit. Like the rainbow, it seems close enough to grasp, but it will retreat if you pursue it solely so that you may find a pot of gold…”                       – Stanislas Klossowski de Rola –

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Oxygenating indigo leaves to make the pigment

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Organic Indigo vat (banana)

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Eco-dye

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cochineal: different colors, different mordants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Silk scarve dyed with: weld+indigo+myrobolan/iron stamp

A Dream Come True!

But let me tell you a little bit more about myself and how I ended up doing this…

I’m originally from Mexico City, where I studied fashion design, and then I continued a Master’s degree in Lyon, France. I was studying in Lyon for a year and a half, and then instead of doing an internship in a Fashion Brand in Paris, I decided to go south.I went to a very small, charming town called Lauris, located between Avignon and Aix-en- Provence.

I stayed there for almost 6 months! Learning about Natural Dyes at a Natural Dye Organization called Couleur Garance

Being there was a dream come true!!

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Castle and gardens situated in Lauris

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Sunflowers

I learned a lot about natural dyes, and I had the chance to meet and learn from Michel García, a natural dye expert, recognized worldwide.

Michel Garcia has released 3 DVD’s, you can find them at Natural Dye workshop. The newest one is “Colors of Provence”.

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Lauris association and boutique

I was supposed to do a fashion internship! But it was amazing how I ended up involved with chemistry and botanic. I was in contact with the dye plants in the botanical garden, and I could really see the process that goes from the plant to the color in the cloth. That was very important for me, because it made me realize that sometimes we don’t know where things come from, or how they are made.

Living and growing in the city keeps us away from the essence of things.

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Lauris, France

There are some interesting videos , one is called “La route du Pastel” and the other  Michel Garcia talking about the gardens in Lauris  (these two videos are in French but well worth watching!).

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My view of Lauris, France

The Natural Dye Project

A year later, I met Catharine Ellis and Annalisa Jensen, back in the Natural Dye Symposium in Lauris. They told me about a Natural Dye Project in Guatemala, and that they needed someone who could speak Spanish and work with the women involved, to help get consistant natural dye colors dyebath after dyebath so that these yarns could be sold to weavers in the United States.

I was very interested in it, and after talking to Catharine only about five minutes. I ended up joining them in Guatemala last March 2014. It’s amazing how we meet people, and how the universe sends us opportunities where we couldn’t ever imagine they would be!

More to come!

Coming next….My initial visit to Guatemala and what I learned.

Please be sure to register to receive my blogs so you won’t miss out on any of my new adventures in Guatemala with The Natural Dye Project.

Rocío Mena