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#EarthDay: Natural Dyes and the Alchemy of Handcrafts

04/04/2017

Dye made with cochineal was, along with silver, one of the most valued and most exported materials of Mexico’s colonial period. As time passed, synthetic dyes came to displace natural dyes. We consider the return to these millenary practices a new luxury, as it is a sustainable method done at a small scale and in search of balance with the environment.

The range of colors given by cochineal goes from pale pink to glowing fucsia, with blood red along the middle. In Hueyapan, Puebla, the group of dye artisans called Mujeres Conservando Raíces (women preserving our roots) grows the cochineal on a farm and dyes fabric with these and other natural extracts, taken from various plants, as shown by Rosa Hernández Lucas:

Above: The resources used by the community for the artisanal process of Indigo natural dye in Hueyapan, Puebla: indigo stone, tepesquite, and plants from the Tepozán region which are also used for natural medicine purposes

Pecan is the dye we use the most. It gives a brown color in many tones, dye bath after bath: with this first bath it’s a dark brown, almost black, but by the last bath it’s a light beige. Cempazuchitl flowers give several shades of yellow; green comes from Tezuath, a plant that grows in this region. We also use the bark of the Varangola tree that gives a copper color and the cochineal that gives us red. Indigo is bought from a man who brings it from Oaxaca.

Part of what we have done in our workshops with the artisans was to create a visual game, using the Japanese folding technique of Shibori. The result is a pattern in which the presence of the dye appears in a camouflage of colors.

Photos taken with iPhone 7 Plus.