Saturday, September 17, 2011

Natural Dyes


Ancient knowledge regarding the process of dyeing wools using natural materials, until recently, was rapidly vanishing from indigenous Andean culture. Over the last 100 years, while weaving traditions continued, people preferred to use brightly colored synthetic wools and yarns bought in the market. Today, when indigenous women weave for their families, they still tend to use synthetic material, because it's easier. Also synthetics offer much more intense shades of colour, such as florescent red, which is very popular in the personal clothing of indigenous Andean people. To them, brighter is better in their own clothing, which is one of the main reasons why natural dyes had nearly faded into history.
“The Andes are filled with a great diversity of plant life and the Andean people have a rich knowledge of the use of these plants for medicines, and for dying their cloth.”

The spun yarns will be boiled for varying periods, depending on the dying material or mix of materials, and the colour desired. Often fixers, such as salt or urine are necessary to create colour fastness, alter hues, or intensify colour saturation. After the yarns have dried, they are re-spun, plied, and/or made into balls of yarn ready for weaving.

Dying is an art, which depends on personal colour preference, situation, size of the dying batch, etc. Techniques and materials required to achieve particular shades depend largely on the region and the materials available, as well as the education and experience of the dyer. At one time, most weavers would be well-aware of the natural processes and materials for dying. The popularity of convenient synthetics nearly resulted in a complete erasure of these skills from indigenous culture, and a whole generation came to lack this knowledge. Thankfully, a recent resurgence of interest in the old ways led to consultation with the elders who still remembered the processes, and the traditions have been (at least in part) rescued. However, more education is required for the indigenous population to completely regain these traditions.

While it is generally accepted that natural dyes are better for human health and the environment, we recognize that there is still a need for more complete and comprehensive research into the environmental impact of these natural dyes an processes. Threads of Peru hopes to organize, fund, and/or participate in such research in the near future. Please contact us if this subject is of interest to you.

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