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My first dyeing workshop in Peru was a great experience, and as promised I would like to share with you some of the real action behind the weavings – the arduous process of dyeing with natural materials!

The workshop I attended was held in Huaran, a small community in the middle of the Sacred Valley. The work took place in an open area, just off of the highway. Only in Peru can you host anything anywhere!

The members of the Huaran weaving association, Munay Urpi (“beautiful dove”), came together to produce batches of red and yellow wool. This association has been contracted to produce an order of multiple identical bags each month, half of them red and the other half yellow. By working together on a large order, the weavers can create better economic relationships, but ensuring consistency among multiple weavers can be challenging. Hence the dye workshop: by working together to dye their individual skeins of wool, they can ensure a consistent colour among the bags they each produce.

From what I could see, the dyeing process can be broken down into four main parts:

1) preparing the wool;

2) gathering the plants and preparing them for dyeing;

3) cooking the materials and wool together in a giant pot; and,

4) rinsing the wool.

I’m sure I am missing a few steps, but this is more of an overview of my experience!

When we first arrived, the women were setting up the large pots of water for the cooking part, while some of the women were stripping little leaves off of the branches of the dye plant known as ttere, which produces a bright yellow. Here is a picture of me helping! It is much harder to do than it looks!

The shrub is hearty, and the fresh leaves are difficult to strip off. Sarah, our Textile Program Manager, explained to me that the branches of this shrub were collected from a community called Cancha Cancha, a 2-4 hour hike up the mountain from Huaran. This is the wrong time of year for this particular shrub, as well, and so it is not as abundant.

While these women were prepping the leaves, others were preparing the wool by winding it off of their spools into long, loose skeins. It’s important to prepare the wool in this way to ensure even dyeing.

All the pots lined up along the wall

Preparing the pots for the wool

Once the wool was ready, the pots of water boiling, and the leaves prepped, all the ingredients then went into the dye pots together. This is where the magic begins. Some of the plant materials require different fixatives to ensure that the dye thoroughly penetrates and the colour adheres to the wool. We had to run away half way through and go to another weaving meeting in Pachar so I actually missed the fixative stage. When we returned, the women were taking the wool out of the pots and hanging them along the fence to cool down. The last stage was to wash the wool in the nearby river.

Have you ever eaten red licorice? Well, the red dye originally comes from the cochineal bug. Here is a picture of it dried and ready to use. In naturally dyed weavings – like those made in Huaran – the cochineal bug is used to produce the whole spectrum of red and pink colours. The bug is collected from cactus plants, laid in the sun to dry, and then ground up for dyeing. The ground up cochineal is dumped into the boiling water alongside the wool, then presto-magic- red wool! I’m not sure why I find this so fascinating, but I do!

Anyway, that was the condensed version of my dye workshop experience. Hope you enjoyed it!

The finished product!

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