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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Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

August 16th, 2014

versión en español

Sacred threads, Sacred Lives

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

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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.”

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cochineal

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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).

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Gilberta’s brand new house

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Gilberta

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.

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Gilberta’s house by night… no electricity!

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candles..candles!

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!

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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 ‘

Rocío

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Women winding balls at Elvira’s house

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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.!!!!

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

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

 

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Women packing the kits

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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.

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Kits ready to go!

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

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Friendship towel kit

TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS KITS  click here.

TO ORDER FRIENDSHIP TOWEL KITS  click here.

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:

Fulgencia

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

Berta

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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.

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Berta’s family and me

Abelina

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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)

 

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Abelina’s family and me

Elvira

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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!

 

Gilberta

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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!

 THIS JOURNEY IS ALMOST FINISHED!

Don’t miss my last stories!

Wilaa wiib’

Rocío

 

Dyeing & Moving !

July 10, 2014

versión en español

Dyeing yarn

Watching the depot

Watching the pot

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osage orange

Last week we started dyeing. We walked between 35 to 40 minutes to get to Elvira’s house, we took the regular road, crossing the river and walking in the middle of nature. The women carrying all sort of different things on their heads, from packages to plants.

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On our way back to Fulgencia´s house

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On our way back to Fulgencia’s house

The dyeing was great! We dyed 25 pounds of yarn using indigo, osage orange, cochineal and madder.

Keeping their eye on it all the time

Keeping their eye on it all the time

It was a new experience for me, being in charge and making so many decisions.

I wasn’t used to it! But I’ve learned a lot and I hope to get better!

So many things to plan ahead!

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Indigo vat

Cochineal coming out of the depot.

Cochineal coming out of the depot.

The first day we forgot the balance at Fulgencia’s house. And that was very problematic, because we are doing everything by foot.

We also had an issue with soap. We were using a neutral soap, and that’s not easy to find here.

When we arrived at Elvira’s we found out they had run out of soap, so we tried to buy more, but for some reason we couldn’t find more of the same neutral soap.

Elvira lives in San Rafael, so we were far away from Rabinal (the biggest town nearby.

Yarn dyed with cochineal, indigo and osage orange. What a beautiful rainbow of color!

Well, that’s how our first day dyeing started! But thankfully at the end everything turned out to be ok.

I really want to thank Diane, Donna and Catharine for answering my questions, and specially to Deborah for helping me and making this communication possible.

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cochineal

Moving to Bertha’s

On Monday I moved to Bertha’s, I started my day by taking a bath on the river and weaving on the back stripe loom. (I started my back strap weaving lessons with Fulgencia).

Abelina and Bertha carrying my luggage and stuff

Abelina and Bertha carrying my luggage and stuff

Abelina and Bertha carrying my luggage and stuff

In the afternoon, Bertha and Abelina arrived and we moved everything to Bertha’s.

At his point I thought I couldn’t be more impressed. But seeing Abelina and Bertha carrying my things on their heads was really impressive.

Two cultures meet: Abelina carrying my luggage

Two cultures meet: Abelina carrying my luggage

Abelina carried my 18kg luggage on her head, while Bertha was carrying my bed on her head too. They crossed the river like that!

Crossing the river of beautiful stones

Crossing the river of beautiful stones carrying my luggage on their heads

 

I really insisted on renting a pick up. But they refuse.

They just kept saying:  “it’s not heavy! It’s nearby!

Coming next…

 My new experience at Bertha’s house, right now I’m still getting use to it.

A new family, and new stories!

We will be doing the next step… counting and winding yarn!

See you soon!

Wilaa Wiim   (good bye in achí)

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!