Natural dyeing continues in a few pueblos in Guatemala on cotton fibres, but my research did not turn up any reference on the current use of natural dyes with wool. We did find a local fellow, Pedro Gieron, who has recently taken up natural dyeing (on cotton) and as part of our workshop, we had the opportunity to visit his dye works. Pedro was instrumental in sourcing some of the dyes we used.
With the enthusiastic help of Clara, we set up a very efficient, but simple dye studio. Project Somos does not own a flock (yet!!) so fleece was purchased in Chichicastenango. Our first step was to sort the wool, discarding the heavily soiled parts of the fleeces, followed by 3 washes and then a degreasing process to allow for penetration of dyes. Next, the fleece was mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar, both found readily in Canadian grocery stores. (With a little longer time we probably could have sourced plant mordants as well.)
The collecting, saving and procuring of dye substances started much before our visit. From the Somos kitchens, we used tea leaves, coffee grounds, red onion skins and the soaking water from black beans grown on the Finca. In November, Biden flowers were collected and dried. On our arrival, the Mamas harvested Margarita flowers. From the local market, turmeric root and achiote (annatto seeds) were purchased. Through Pedro, natural indigo powder, Palo de Campeche (logwood), Palo de Pito, Saca Tinta (leaves), and cochineal (bugs) were sourced. Indeed, in the past, cochineal and indigo were important export commodities from Guatemala, although more difficult to source now.
In the next 5 days we were able to produce a full colour wheel, over 10 lbs of dyed fleece and yarn. Some of the local dyes I had never used before, so it was a learning experience for all of us. It was so exciting to see different colours come out of secondary dye baths, and of course to see the magic colour transformation of the indigo dye process. Through over-dyeing some of the primary colours, we were able to achieve additional oranges, greens, purples and neutrals.
To be Continued… Stay tuned for Part 3…