Mosqoy 

1004 North Park

Victoria, BC

V8T 1C6

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Mosqoy 

Ayni Center

Jr. Jose Maria Arguedas, J 13,

Urbanización Santa Mónica

Cusco, Perú

Our main website photo, at the top of this page, was taken by Ashli Akins. 

NATURAL DYES

Quechua textiles are dyed using native plants and other elements of the Andean ecosystem.

The following are some of the key dyes used in these textiles.

We recognize the knowledge of the many Quechua weavers who shared the above information with the following Mosqoy staff and volunteers: Rose Prieto, Sarah Confer, Katie Larone, Leah Hughes, and Ashli Akins (among others). We especially would like to recognize the knowledge of Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Daniel Soncco, and the women weavers of the Nueva Esperanza Weaving Association of Parobamba, whose knowledge of natural textile dyes - and dissemination of such knowledge - is tantamount.

Chapi

Galium aparine l.

Produces the following colours: Orange, red-orange, and coral

 

Chapi is a vine-like plant that produces fruit in August and September. The long, thick stems of the vine are collected, but only the bark is used for dyeing. Chapi is a relative of the European dye plant, madder.

 

Chapi is known to be particularly lightfast. Chapi stems are harvested, dried, and crushed to be used when dyeing. The bark is then soaked overnight before being used in dye batches.

Cochineal

Dactylopius coccus

Produces the following colours: Red, pink, orange, purple, grey

 

Cochineal is a scaled insect that can be found inhabiting Tuna Cacti throughout Peru, particularly along the dry southern coast, as well as in the Sacred Valley of Cusco. Cochineal can produce 20 different tonalities of colour. These include blood red, orange-red, fuchsia, shades of pink, purple, lilac, and lead grey. Cochineal has even been said to produce shades of blue.

 

The cochineal beetle is often used as a natural dye because, when crushed or boiled, the beetle produces vibrant colours. Once harvested by hand the small insects are then laid out in the sun to be dried and then ground up before the dyeing process begins. Cochineal is added to the dye bath just before the water begins to boil.

 

Cochineal has a PH of 5.5 and therefore requires fixatives. It has poorer resistance to light and moisture compared to other dyes, and will fade or change colour over time. The initial colour achieved when using cochineal depends more on the type and amount of the fixative used rather than the amount of cochineal used.

Cochineal is rare and hard to cultivate. Therefore, red yarns are much more expensive, and are increasing in cost annually.

Ch'illca

Baccharis caespitosa

Produces the following colour: Dark green

 

Ch’illca is a common plant found throughout the Cusco region. The plant grows near the edges of streams and around farmers' fields. These bushes can grow to be about 1-2 meters tall. There are two varieties of the ch’illca plant, one with a straight smooth edge, and one with a serrated edge; the straight-edged plant produces a green colour. Ch’illca thrives nearly year-round.  

 

Fresh ch’illca leaves are stripped from their stalks, ripped into small pieces and added directly to the dye bath when the water is near boiling. Ch’illca is a weak dye, which means that approximately 1 kilogram of ch’illca is required to dye 2 kilograms of wool. When dyed by itself ch’illca produces a very dark emerald green. Ch’illca is often dyed with ñuñunka to create a light green. 

Mote Mote

Vaccinium Floribundum Kunth

Produces the following colours: Dull red and burgundy 

 

Mote mote is a small deep red fruit that is dried up and ground to achieve a burgundy or dull red when naturally dyeing wool. This plant grows at altitudes of approximately 2500 to 3000 meters in the mountains of Andean jungles.

Thiri

Miconia spp.

 Produces the following colour: Orange-red

Thiri is a green plant whose leaves are used when dyeing to produce an orange-red dye. The flowers that thiri blooms can also be used to produce a purple colour. This plant grows at altitudes of approximately 3500 meters. Thiri leaves are harvested year-round, but the flowers are only harvested from February to March.

 

Thiri is often combined with q'olle to produce a shade of yellow.

Yanali

Bocconia frutescens

Produces the following colour: Mustard yellow

 

Yanali is a slow-growing, lanky tree that grows in the Mapacho River Valley. It is a very unassuming tree, but when the outer bark is chipped away, it reveals an intensely bright orange inner bark. Branches of this tree are harvested after the tree bears fruit, anytime between March and September.

 

After the outer bark is removed, the freshest parts of the orange inner bark are chipped into small pieces. These are added to the dye bath once the water is already boiled. Yanali, much like kinsa k’uchu, does not require a mineral fixative due to its acidity.  

Awaypilli

Iresine diffusa

Produces the following colour: Purple

 

These leaves create a purple colour when used to dye. 

Kinsa K'uchu

Baccharis genistelloides

Produces the following colours: Pale blue, turquoise, teal, light blue

The name kinsa k’uchu means “three corners” in Quechua. This name is due to the shape of the leaf, which is composed of three flat sections radiating out from a central axis. It is particularly found at middle altitudes in the Mapacho River Valley, bordering the edge of the jungle. Locals from communities in this area, such as Parobamba and Bombon, walk down hillsides looking for this characteristic plant.

 

The tri-cornered leaves grow in clusters, straight up from the root, reaching a height of about a third of a meter. It can be harvested at any point during the year.

 

Only leaves that have been affected by a black fungus are collected for dyeing. It is not the plant itself but a fungus that grows on kinsa k’uchu that provides dye colours. Since kinsa k’uchu has a natural PH of 2.5 it does not need further fixing since the acidity of the leaf acts as a fixative. Leaves must be dried and ground before being used. 4 kilograms of fresh kinsa k’uchu leaves turns into approximately 1 kilogram of dried leaves. Dried leaves are added to the dye pot before the water boils. 

Q’olle

Buddleja coriacea

Produces the following colour: Yellow

 

Q’olle is a small, yellow flower that is very commonly used within the Sacred Valley area of Cusco. When used to dye materials, q’olle produces a bright, vibrant yellow.

 

Q’olle grows in altitudes as high as 3400 meters. These bunches of flowers are collected for dyeing between the months of February and April.

 

Q’olle has no known medicinal uses but it is a melliferous plant (it produces honey). 

Ñuñunka

Solanum nitidum

Produces the following colour: Bright yellow and used to lighten other dye batches

 

Ñuñunka grows at altitudes of approximately 3500-3600 meters within the Peruvian Andeas and is harvested from March to May. Ñuñunka leaves produce a bright yellow but are often added to other dye batches such as ch’illca to lighten the colour.

 

Ñuñunka leaves are used fresh when dyeing and must be added to the pot before the water boils. Fixatives such as alum and table salt are often added to these dye batches.

 

Animals often eat ñuñunka to combat stomach viruses.

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