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


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