A Cochineal Dye Workshop

Rocio's scarves

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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.

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from left: Irene (me),  Rocio, Robin

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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

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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. 

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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

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

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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

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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!

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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!

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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!”

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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

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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!

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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!

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