For a full week participants from Mexico and the U.S. learned the basics of organic dyeing at my outdoor workshop at el Charco Botanical Garden and Preserve in San Miguel de Allende. The location was gorgeous and spacious, and the staff at el Charco helped with every aspect of the workshop.
The first days we studied how to prepare the wool for dyeing and making dye baths with materials from local trees, flowers, husks of nuts, and ground seeds. We obtained skeins of yellows, browns and greens from these dyes, and then we experimented with other types of cloth and silks.
Then the students learned how to dye with the bug, cochineal, which produces many shades of brilliant red, maroon, pink, and purple and if mixed will also produce many shades of orange. The students took turns grinding the cochineal in the “molcajete” –an ancient kind of mortar and pestle-and then dyeing the wool.
For the final days of the workshop we set up an indigo vat and began dyeing with indigo! We obtained gorgeous shades of emerald green that, before our eyes, changed to blue when exposed to oxygen. Then the students used some of our yellow yarn and obtained beautiful greens! One student, a renaissance artist, tied up his dyed yellow fabric before submerging it in the indigo vat and obtained a beautifully mottled green fabric.
Thanks to el Charco for designing the diplomas which the students received on Friday afternoon.
I am looking forward to teaching the next workshop at el Charco in February 2013. I plan to do three weekends of organic dyes with a focus on indigo, which is the most time consuming of all the natural dyeing processes. But for now I am heading back to my Zapotec village, Teotitlan del Valle, in Oaxaca to meet with a group of tourists in my home to show them the basics of dyeing and weaving. Then we will celebrate the Day of the Dead-“Dia de los Muertos” !
Day of the Dead, celebrated November 1 & 2 in Mexico, was originally celebrated for an entire month. This pre-Colombian festival welcomes back the dead to celebrate with the living each year. The children are welcomed back on November 1st and the adults on November 2nd. We think the origin of Day of the Dead was a celebration to honor an Aztec goddess, Mictecacihuatl.
Many people make sand or sawdust “tapetes” in the cemeterys streets and park around Day of the Dead. The photo above is a sand “tapete” outside of the old cemetery in Oaxaca. Some of these tapetes are very elaborate and three dimensional.
Thousands of Mexicans and tourists visit the cemeteries in Oaxaca during the celebration of Day of the Dead. The families stay at the gravesite, eating and drinking through the night, and often hire Mariachi bands to play music. This is not so unusual for us because we have music at funerals as well. In my town we visit other families especially those families who have recently lost a member. We eat a special bread called “Pan de Muerto” (Bread of the Dead) which is similar to Challah bread.
In Mexico we often have an altar in our homes to honor our family members but for Day of the Dead we build more altars in cemeteries, parks, pedestrian walks, and in many other public places. These are decorated with figurines, candles, photos, food, skulls and other sculptures made of sugar, drinks and other things for the departed. And always we decorate with marigold, which in Mexico is called “cempaxúchitl”. This is an Aztec (Nahuatl) word. I don’t speak Nahuatl-it is very different from my language Zapotec-so I checked with Daniel Kaufman, a Nahuatl speaker from the Endangered Language Alliance and found that Cempaxúchitl means “20 flowers” (cempohualli – twenty, xochitl – flower). And he said the “x should be a sh sound as in ship”. Thanks to Mr. Kaufman for his help!
I can use cultivated marigold and wild marigold to make yellow dyes. The photos from my workshop at “el Charco” in San Miguel de Allende show yellow yarns dyed with wild marigold. The wild marigold is much smaller than the cultivated marigold. Both yield a beautiful yellow yarn.