A New Natural

By Brianna Griesinger, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Natural dyes are an art form that can be traced back 6,000 years here in Peru. While synthetic dyes have threatened this tradition, some Andean artisans along with the global community are fighting for its resurgence. It is because of this long and rich history that even in 2018 we remain committed to using natural, organic dyes in our woven products.

 

We believe in the importance of organic dyes, but using these dyes to make contemporary products is one of the hardest things we do.  

Alejandra, our head designer, begins with the creative concepts and color story development using samples of synthetic dyed materials. “With every collection, we select new tones relevant to the season and that consequently requires us to address new challenges,” Alejandra adds.

As the design vision for 2019 takes shape, we schedule a day to test out the dyes. We’re headed into the day with 13 dream colors for our 2019 line, still unsure of the outcome. Which color will be the most difficult? All of them, the team would surely respond.  Our 2018 collection proved shades of red to be by far the easiest due to the power of the cochineal beetle, while the dusty-pink shade of mauve was nearly impossible to achieve consistently due to the necessary mordants added; no recipe, no matter how delicately measured could produce the same shade ever again, in turn we’ve had to drop large items displaying this color from our lines.

“It is an artisanal journey that lends continual learning opportunities and that finally, enriches the designs we share with our customers,” Alejandra mentioned.

 

We love that our textiles are eco-friendly, organic, and preserve a local cultural practice that has faced extinction. We believe in the beauty the earth provides, and for that we will continue to try push past any challenges in our path and defend our values and in turn our bright goals for what is on the horizon.

 

“With every collection, we select new tones relevant to the season and that consequently requires us to address new challenges,” Alejandra adds. The design team spends a day crafting up concoctions of local and regional plants with master dyer, Daníel Sonqo, just to discover he’s less than optimistic about a few of the colors on the palette. “There are certain colors that are just not possible using natural resources and so we learn of our limitations while other times, we are pleasantly surprised with the outcome resulting from these same limitations,” she continues.

“It is an artisanal journey that lends continual learning opportunities and that finally, enriches the designs we share with our customers.”

 

Cochineal gives off a bright red tone when utilized singularly, but in combination with other ingredients can transform into various shades of blues and purples or pinks. Additional dye bases include chilca leaves, dried q’ullo flowers, among many, many other natural ingredients, mainly other plants, or even tree bark. Mordants, or fixatives such as colpa azul, colpa verde, lime salt seal the colors.

 

Being that all the ingredients are natural, their strength can vary considerably. No matter the effort you put in to write down and measure out each of the ingredients, each time you brew up a new pot of dye the shade will vary ever so slightly, making it a challenge for the design team. It’s definitely a process of give and take, compromises surround each batch of trial and error as you work to create each color as close to perfection as possible.

The natural dyes also involve an incredible amount of patience. Not only must you try to find the right balance of ingredients for each color, but the colors also change as they dry on the line. “The depth in color tone evolves during the process up until the point of drying so you don’t know what you really get until the very end once all is done. If not satisfied, the next step is to start all over again. And so it goes…” Alejandra commented.

 

A shade that may seem absolutely perfect when first submerged could dry three hours later into an entirely different color tone. When creating a color story for a line, like our 2019 line to-be, cool and warm colors and how they complement one another is a vital aspect to the mood and vibe of the products as a collection. “Amongst the many challenges of working with natural dyes, the most difficult is assuring color tone consistency,” she explains. “Seasons and weather, plant availability, or scarcity, source of light and heat, … each aspect plays a critical role in the outcome.”

“Sameness will never be achieved. That is the challenge and the beauty.”

 

Alejandra knows the importance of all of this in the work that she is creating alongside our artisans. In order to produce the most globally successful pieces we can, while staying true to the Andean traditions of our artisans, the dyes we produce have to work as cohesively as possible. Adding that “natural dyeing is just as much an artisanal practice is spinning or weaving and consequently requires tremendous amounts of knowledge, experience, flexibility, and even patience.”

 

The process includes spinning the yarn from cones to loops that allow the yarn to take the dye in the most even way possible, boiling the water in large metal pots on a small propane burner, measuring and adding a mix of natural mordents like salt and citric acid, and dye matter like flowers, leaves or the dried cochineal beetle. Then we leave them in for just the right amount of time, washing them clean of any plant debris, and waiting as they dry on a clothesline.

“On the one hand, we aim to revive the practice of plants and natural resources as dyeing mechanisms, which once prevailed amongst our artisan communities. On the other hand, our eco-friendly values ask that we consider the consequences on our earth and environment. Each motive is equally important to our core mission and we hope to do good for both people and place,” Alejandra concluded.

 

We love that our textiles are eco-friendly, organic, and preserve a local cultural practice that has faced fear of extinction. We believe in the beauty the earth provides, and for that we will continue to try push past any challenges in our path and defend our values and in turn our bright goals for what is on the horizon.