Monday, December 19, 2016

Cochineal dyeing in Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the highlights from my trip to Oaxaca, Mexico was being able to take a two day one-on-one natural dyeing workshop with the family of master dyers at Porfirio Gutierrez Studio in Teotitlan, Oaxaca, Mexico. I had met Porfirio earlier in 2016 at the cochineal exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California and therefore very interested to learn to make red dye from the cochineal bug.  So I was excited when I entered the outdoor work area and spotted the cochineal infested prickly pear cactus paddles hanging from racks.  

I learned that after a few months, the bugs are scraped off of the cactus.  A colander is used to sprinkle the powdery babies on to new cactus paddles where they attach and feed.  After two months, the males get wings and fly away to find mates after which they die.  The remainder of the bugs on the cactus are female which hatch new babies. In the colander remain the female bugs which are then dried in the sun and later ground with a metate grinding stone to reveal the red dye source.

Cochineal before grinding 
Here's a crushed cochineal bug in my hand

Josephina is using a metate to grind the bugs
Josephina's young daughter Maria Louisa already knows how to use the metate to grind the bugs

Several vats were heated up to prepare for the dyeing process.  The wool was first washed and then most of it was mordanted in alum.  A nixtamatic (corn grinder) was used to grind the alum.  We dissolved the alum (15% to the weight of wool, i.e. 150 grams of alum for 1 kilo of wool) in a bit of hot water and then added more water.  The wool was added to the pot, simmered for 1-2 hours, taken off the heat where the wool sat in the covered vat overnight.

Alum + cochineal = purple red

Alum + yellow + cochineal = brighter red

YELLOW:  We made a yellow dye by boiling pericon (tarragon) equal to 15% of the weight of wool for 1 hour (100 degrees C) to extract the color.  Then remove the plants, add the pre-mordanted wool, simmer for an hour or so.  Remove from heat, cover and remain in the pot overnight.      

RED:  We put the cochineal bugs (15% of the weight of wool) in a small mesh bag tied at the top and added boiling water to dissolve the bugs so that the shells would not touch the wool. Add this to the pot of boiling water, add the wool, boil one hour.  Remove from the heat and let the wool remain in a covered pot overnight. 


After the dyeing, there is a lot of washing in 3-4 different vats.  Ring out each time and then hang it to dry.  

Here's a video of me and Juana washing the dyed wool.  And as she said, "mucho travajo, poco dinero" - "lots of work and little money"!
IMG_6292 from Beth Marx on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Natural Dyeing Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

 Earlier this year the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California hosted an outstanding exhibit called "The Red that Colored the World".  This exhibit told the cochineal story from the precious bug juice used by dyers and painters for centuries to find the color source to rival the best reds of nature and its use in art from Mexico to Europe to the US and beyond.  The exhibit highlighted over 100 objects including textiles, paintings and clothing dyed using cochineal to reveal reds expressing spirit, symbolism and sustenance for life.

As part of the cochineal exhibit, select featured weavers and dyers had been invited to the Bowers Museum Exhibit Hall to display and sell their woven wares all of which included beautifully dyed reds from the cochineal bugs.  I stopped to talk and admire the rugs made by Porfirio Gutierrez and his family from Oaxaca, Mexico who are one of the few remaining families to keep alive the Zapotec tradition of natural dyeing. I  took his business card never dreaming that within the year, I would be in Oaxaca taking a two day one-on-one workshop with his family. What an amazing, unforgettable and excellent learning experience with the most wonderful, gracious family.  

For more on cochineal dyeing, CLICK HERE 
Beth and Antonio with a rug natural dyed and woven by Antonio and family at Porfiro Gutierrez Studios in Oaxaca.  It's called "Caminar de la Serpiente" (Serpent's Path).  It was woven with over 16 different naturally dyed wools including:  Cochineal, Zapote negro, musgo (tree moss), pericon (tarragon), marush and indigo. 

Wool hanks naturally dyed by Juana and family at Porfirio Gutierrez Weavers
Porfirio Gutierrez Studios feature a family of master dyers and weavers located in Teotitlan, Oaxaca.  In the Zapotec tradition, they painstakingly prepare and then use bugs, plants and flowers to dye the wool hanks prior to weaving.  

I arranged for my workshops with Porfirio Gutierrez before I left home in California for my Mexican adventure.  I stayed in Oaxaca City for five days and took a taxi 45 minutes each way for my two day workshop with the Gutierrez family in Teotitlan.  As the taxi drove through the small town, I noticed that most homes had large looms on their covered decks. Teotitlan is the rug weaving center in the state of Oaxaca.

Juana and her daughter Josefina cooked me and the family a traditional, delicious breakfast and lunch and I even got to try chapulines, the traditional fried grasshoppers.  Fried with garlic, chili and lime, they were surprisingly good.   

The view from the roof of Porfirio Gutierrez Stuidio
The looms at Porfirio Gutierrez Studio
Master weaver Antonio takes several weeks to weave a gorgeous rug using naturally dyed wool.

Cacti with the cochineal bugs hang in the background
Juana with wool dyed in indigo
My terrific instructors.  All instruction was in Spanish with English translation.

In the forground is marush, the orange flowers are used for a green/yellow dye.  On the right, hang the prickly pear cacti harvesting the cochineal bugs.

Dyeing wool in metal vets heated by fire burning logs

Me with Portfirio's mom and dad who stopped by to wind the wool.

I was put to work dyeing, washing and wringing out the cochineal dyed wool

Wringing out the wool is hard work!

Me with Juana who dyed all the wool for this rug woven by her husband Antonio.  I couldn't resist buying this rug with over 16 naturally dyed colors.

Zapotec woman with flowers