The dyeing process

Do you want to know about the dyeing process? Come and learn a little bit more….

I will be giving you a general idea , so you can understand it better and see the work it implies for these amazing women.


Yarn dyed with: cochineal, madder, osage orange and indigo

Dyeing with natural Dyes is a process that goes all the way from the plant to the color on the fiber. The fibers are prepared and then dyed with the different plants and insects.

The synthetic dyes were invented in the 19TH century, but before that, all dyes were natural and all ancient civilizations used different ways and techniques for dyeing.


Today almost all dyes are made out of oil, but natural dyes are emerging again as an alternative. A more ethic and ecological option!

 Dyeing is divided in 3 parts:


*Preparing the bath

* Dyeing

Dyeing with Natural Dyes is an art that requires practice and a lot of knowledge.In Guatemala we were dyeing cotton yarn, which is one of the most complicated fibers to dye. Animal fibers such as silk and wool are much more easier to dye.

Fibers need to be treated with a mordant so the fiber gets ready to receive the colorant.But before talking about mordants, it’s important to make a difference between the Substantive and Adjective dyes.

For the Substantive dyes , there’s no need to use a mordant. So there’s no need of a supplementary process. Example of these are the tannins and of course indigo.

The adjective dyes need to to be treated with a mordant, so they can absorb better the dye.Example of these are all the other dyes such as cochineal. Madder, logwood, osage orange, etc…

For adjective dyes, all fibers (cellulose and protein) need to be treated with a mordant. As I said before, it is easier to dye protein fibers, because they have a a better affinity to dyes.

A good mordanting is the secret for achieving a great dyeing!

Here in Guatemala we are preparing 2 different baths to mordant the yarn:

1. tannin

2. Soda ash+alum

The yarn soaks for 1 hour in these baths, and then the yarn is ready to be dyed.


 *Cochineal for pink


You can see the white insects on the cactus… that’s the cochineal we use for dyeing!

It’s a parasite insect that lives in cactus. It is mostly found in Mexico, Latin america and the Canary islands.








cochineal already dried and ready to use!!


We can only use the females to dye. The insects are picked and then dried.







cochineal smashed on the hand! you can see the red pigment…











*Osage Orange for yellow

osage orangetree

osage orange tree










A small tree or large shrub, typically growing to 8–15 metres.The flavonoid pigments are present in the wood and in the fruit.

osage orange








*Madder for orange

Used for dyeing red and orange colors.


madder plant









madder root use for dyeing…you can see it’s a little bit red!


For dyeing, we use the root of the plant.







*Indigo for blue


indigo foam (process to make the pigment out of the plant)


Dyeing with indigo is a whole different thing! It is a technique that really needs to be mastered.


For starters, indigo is not soluble in water, so we can’t dye the same way as the others.



We need to do an oxidation-reduction reaction in order to prepare an organic vat. We mix a reducing agent , a base and finally the indigo.

This vat needs to be prepared a night before, so it an be ready to dye in the morning.


Organic indigo vat


For me… Indigo is like magic!

The fiber gets out of the vat having a Green color and then when the yarn gets in contact with oxygen it turns blue!!!!!

It’s amazing to see this transformation.




Indigo pigment










Natural dyes is a huge world! Full of interesting facts, and there is always something new to learn!

I hope this introduction can give you a better idea of how this yarn is dyed. And how these amazing mayan women dye cotton yarn !

It requires a lot of effort, work and patience.

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