The natural dyes are obtained from:
The cochineal bug is a beetlelike insect and parasite that lives in a symbiotic fashion with the nopal cacti (or prickly pear), feeding on the abundant sap of the thick round leaves. It has the external appearance of a white velvet-like mold.
The process of extracting the dye is very similar to that
of making tea. After being ground-down and added to water it's then heated
to extract the color and then combined with either alum or another mordant
which acts as a fixer. The resulting distinctive tones can range from
red to purple depending on the acidity or the alkalinity of the mixture.
To many people the most exciting thing about any piece of textile is
its colour, and certainly in studying hand-made textiles the development
and application of dyestuffs is one of the most interesting aspects. Until
the latter half of the nineteenth century, with the exception of a few
mineral colours, all dyes were vegetable or animal in origin. Colouring
matter was extracted from the roots and stems, leaves, berries and flowers
of various dye-plants, and from certain insects and shellfish by an elaborate
series of processes used, with little basic change, from hundreds of years
before the Christian era, through the Middle Ages, until the rationalization
of chemistry in the eighteenth century. These natural dyes, with very
few exceptions, are not substantive (that is to say they have very little
or no colouring power in themselves), but must be used in conjunction
with mordants - or 'drugs', as they were often called. Commonly, large
stocks of alum were handled by Mediterranean traders for many years. A
mordant, usually a metallic salt, has an affinity for both the colouring
matter and the fibre and in combining with the dye in the fibre it forms
an insoluble precipitate.
ON THE BLOOD OF THE PRICKLY PEAR
The color of cochineal is called nocheztli, which means blood of the
prickly pear. For some strains of these fruits are host to a certain worm,
called cochineal, whose blood is bright red. Such is the most refined
dye of this land. That which is already processed and formed into cakes
is called 'solid' or 'fine'; "this is sold in the markets to painters
and dye-masters," reported Fray Bernadino de Sahagun with regard
to this most eminent of pre-Hispanic dyes. At that time, dozens of communities
were expected to contribute five, twenty or forty bundles or sacks of
cochineal every eighty days. Barbo Dahlgren has calculated that the total
of 65 sacks, at 150 pounds each, could weigh 9750 pounds. These communities
were located in the Mixtec provinces of Tlachquaico, Tlaxiaco and Coaixtlahuaca,
in the upper Mixteca region, and in the Zapotec province of Coyoloapan
and Cuilapan, in the Valley of Oaxaca.
THE INIGMA OF MAYA BLUE AND INDIGO
Evidence of the pre-Hispanic use of indigo, known in Nahuatl as xiuhquilitl or "blue herb", has been considerably reinforced during the last decade. Maya Blue, a turquoise pigment, is now thought to consist almost certainly of indigo extract blended with clay called atapulguita. It is found on murals as well as vessels, and was used to paint textiles in places such as La Garraga and Chiptic, in Chiapas. There are also indications of its presence on fabrics found in caves at Ejutla(Oaxaca), as well as in La Garrafa, where an antique child's huipil was discovered.
We know that hundreds of Indigoferas, or indigo-bearing plant species,
exist throughout the world, especially in southern India and North Africa,
the home of Indigofera tinctoria. Researcher Dean Arnold contends that
the American strains originated in, and spread from, an area between Guerrero
and Michoacan, including the State of Mexico, Morelos and Oaxaca; later
they reached Central and South America. Among the fifty-odd native American
species the most significant are Indigofera suffruticosa and Indigofera
guatemalensis. The task of identification and historical accuracy are
complicated by the fact that soon after the Conquest, the Spaniards introduced
Indigofera tinctoria, which displaced or decimated the native strains.
Marta Turok, Artes de Mexico, "Textiles de Oaxaca", Número 35, 1996, Translated by Lorna Scott Fox, Transcribed onto the web without permission (pending)
Natural dyes are very laborious to process, not only with respect to the colors but also how well the mordant or fixer is mixed in. Usually lime juice, or sometimes the leaves and bark of a tropical tree called bejuco are used.
Natural dyes went out of style in the 1920's when chemical dyes were introduced. However, due to the beautiful subtle tones that no chemical can reproduce, natural dyes are now well and truly back in vogue. There is a large variety of plant, animal and mineral sources available today. Among these are lichen, twigs, berries, flowers, pecan bark, walnut husks(tans and browns), huisache seed husks(black), alfalfa and purul leaves(both give green), and "guaje" husks(reddish brown). The brown dye that comes from pecan shells is also made this way.
"This red we get from the cochineal comes from a little insect that lives on the nopal cactus. The color of most natural dyes is soft, but by adding lime juice to the cochineal, we can get a brilliant red. We use three different plants to get the yellows, and each one gives four different shades from successive dyes. We use several different parts of the pecan tree to get our browns, including the roots, the leaves, and the shells."
Using secret combinations, recipes and mixtures the weavers can conjure up an astounding array of colours and textures. These colors are the deep, vibrant tones of nature and are very long-lasting.
More info about these in-depth group workshops from their website.
Also, Rebecca Severeide from Portland, Oregon leads all-inclusive tour groups to Oaxaca. For more details see VacationsToDyeFor.com
If you are interested in learning more from Demetrio, he offers classes, workshops and demonstrations.