By Shira Yeskel-Mednick, Marketing and Communications Intern

From between the dense clouds of steam, I could just make out jumbled mass of strings as the artisans lifted skein after skein of wool from the pot.

This past month Awamaki hosted a natural dye workshop for the Wankanquilla cooperative in Kelkanka. Our artisans often use natural dyes in small quantities for their own projects, but producing uniform color for large-scale exportation is a bit of a different matter. In this workshop, the women worked with a master dyer to attain the colors of the new 2018 line; the yarn produced will be enough to last them for the next few months of weaving. The first step was to remove the yarn from cone and convert it into looped skeins. Most of the artisans did this by hand, spreading their arms wide and wrapping the string in rhythmic figure eights.

They lifted the sopping yarn onto tarps where it sat, still puffing white clouds. Only minutes before the yarn had been pure white, and was now a deep crimson. The women worked in bursts of activity: a flurry of words when the yarn went into the pot, a rush of hand gestures to check its progress, a constant stream of chatter upon removal. They moved with the nonchalant competence that comes from spending a life working with the hands and the body.

Mercedes Durand, put it simply, “in Kelkanka, every woman learns these processes. It’s daily life.” Throughout the day, the artisans worked with ease and diligence, turning simple white thread into a spectrum of rich hues.

A compañera washing the yarn in preparation for dying

Reflecting on how empowerment and skill-building relate, Mercedes Durand mentioned that “the artisans know how to dye using natural dyes, but they often doubt themselves.” After a round of workshops on natural dyes, however, “The artisans have more control over their work,” commented Mercedes, “it’s a concrete skill that they know and can use.”

Everyone took turns using a yarn skeiner to speed the job along. An old bike mechanism with a crank instead of a pedal transformed the yarn into prepared bunches. The older girls paid close attention to their mothers as everyone worked; “daughters learn the entire process, and therein lies the ancestral knowledge,” commented Mercedes.

The younger children tumbled about, squealing and chasing each other across the grass. All the while, the artisans calmly stroked the flames under a few massive pots, wrapped their yarn, and shared smiles and jokes. The enclosure pulsing with activity. Vibrant skeins, alive with color, began leaving the pots and dotting the fences nearby to dry.

Finished yarn drying on a nearby fence

Mercedes further added that as the artisans gain ownership of each aspect of the process, their overall confidence grows. Although the main purpose of skill-building work is to improve craft, it has the additional benefit of providing our artisans with autonomy. The result is richly dyed yarn and beautifully woven textiles, all the more special for the impact they leave behind on the community!