- 30 min drive to Alejandra’s farm
- A tour of the farm and it’s animals
- An introduction on the origin and process of Alexandra’s dyes
- A look at the measuring and ratio for dyeing inside the barn
- A deminstration of dyeing on the fire
- Methods of indigo dyeing
We visited Alehandra’s farm on April 27th. It was a very peaceful experience to explore and to see the lovely animals of the farm. In addition to the two varieties of cattle with calves, there were turkeys, chickens, a cat, a guard dog, several breeds of sheep, one unneutered ram, and a guardian llama. We also experimented with traditional dyeing along with a variety of dye types and materials.
At first, Alejandra introduced us to the different types of dye. These included; cochineal, indigo, marigold, and longwood. She said that each of the three latter dyes could make eight different colors. Marigold, she said, is very important to indigenous people in Mexico. It can also be used for tea, everyday medicinal uses, and ceremonial uses on Day of the Dead. Marigolds give off certain kinds of chemicals that keep insects from the garden, so not only works as a dye, but can also be used to protect the rest of someone’s dyeing garden. She said indigo was from her hometown. It takes a lot of labor and a really long time to be harvested and processed. Fermentation is necessary to achieve the pigment, and afterward it must be combined with either iron, fructose, or lime to be used as a mordant. Dyeing can take up to three days or even a week, depending on the complexities of the dying process. Cochineal is from the Kermes family of bugs, and a large number of these bugs is needed in order to obtain the desired amount of dye.
|Dye type||Materials||Dye color||Dye smell|
|Longwood||Tree shavings||Deep purple||Nutty cedar|
|Indigo||Indigo plant leaves||Cool blue||Grassy|
|Merigold||Flowerheads||Warm yellow||Strong Chamomile|
|Cochineal||Mashed up bugs||Bright red||No smell|
After learning about the dye materials, we went to the shed to learn about the amounts of dye needed to create the desired effect of a good solid color. For marigolds, it’s necessary to have a ratio of 200g of fiber to 100g of marigolds. These marigolds are dried out on the rack in order to be ready for dyeing. They grow their blooms all year long and can be harvested multiple times until the frost. Marigold is the easiest of the plants to use for dye, and the whole plant can be used, including the stems. Alejandra then measured out the Logwood which required 50g per 200 g of fiber. The Logwood needs a lot less plant material to produce a rich color, potentially because it’s a denser material than the marigold. Each set of plant materials was wrapped up in a cheese cloth bundle in order to be easily removed from the boiling water. She said that traditionally, dyers kept the materials floating in the water without a filter, but this method is more efficient to use.
The next step was to place two pots over a fire with boiling water. The Logwood and marigold bundles were then placed in the boiling vats. Next Anne and Luisa placed the yarn from Alejandra’s farm in the boiling substance.The undyed yarn began as half white and half and half gray in order to see the difference in the shade of the results. These steeped for about an hour before they were taken out. The result was a lovely dark purple for the Logwood and a warm sunshine yellow for the marigold. There was a slight difference in the coloring for the two yarn types for each, but from far away they both looked a monotone color (especially the Logwood).
In the hour while we waited for the boiling dyes to steep, we experimented with the indigo, which was waiting in a plastic bucket beside the fires. Before we dipped anything into the vat, we prepped it in an alkaline solution. Once the material was fully submerged and wrung out from that solution, it was time to dip it in the indigo. People wear gloves to keep their hands from being dyed blue as well. The material was kept in the indigo for five seconds before taking it out. When it emerged, the material, be it yarn or wool, oxidized first, turning a pale green, then deepening and becoming the traditional blue. We began with yarn, and then moved on to raw fiber, but that activity soon escalated into some people experimenting with dyeing chunks of their hair on their heads, their shoelaces, and on one occasion, someone’s shorts. In the end we had a very successful time seeing with our own eyes the variety of ways dyes can take shape on fibers and experimenting with the results.