Tintes Naturales

Mayan woman dying thread

Before the advent of chemical dyes the colors coming from the Central American country were softer, still rich but more the shades of natural dyes.

Then along came bright red, really bright red, as well as a rainbow of other strong colors and it was as if the color palette had been plugged in.

Natural Dyes Make a Comeback!

Now, as much for environmental reasons as any, the pendulum has swung again and natural dyes are making a big comeback. And thanks to the efforts of modern-day scientist/artists like Catharine Ellis and Donna Brown, both the soft and the bright colors are coming alive.

Native dyers are returning to the brilliant yet earthy naturally dyed colors derived from plants including indigo, madder, osage orange and the amazing cochineal insects growing on cacti pads to obtain the colors of their ancestors. The Natural Dye Project brought this ancient craft to the women of San Rafael, to produce Friendship Towels with Tintes Naturales that you can now weave!


The Women of San Rafael

Mayan Hands has been working with a group of 30 weavers in San Rafael, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala since 1995. The quality of their weaving is extraordinary, the group’s organization good, the women ready to laugh at every meeting. But they were never earning as much money as we knew they could, and should, and it was frustrating.

Introducing entirely new techniques to other Mayan Hands groups has led to previously low-earners becoming high earners, with demand exceeding supply. Wanting that for the women of San Rafael as well, we have brought in natural dye experts from Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, as well as Cotton Clouds as a means to reaching customers. Catharine Ellis and Donna Brown are also providing unlimited followup, helping out with all the questions that come up after they, the teachers, have gone home.

From Mayan Hands to Yours

Working with a range of dyestuffs and colors, the women are excited to be learning to dye and looking forward to new possibilities. We decided early on that having them weave with the newly dyed yarns would not reach nearly as good an audience as making the yarns available to people who use yarns, especially weavers.  

Now you can weave these gorgeous yarns into a beautiful Friendship Towel with Tintes Naturales (natural dyes).  This kit, designed by Sarah H. Jackson and offered by our friends at Cotton Clouds, weaves four generous-sized towels on any 24″, four-shaft loom. 

A very special thanks goes to Rocio Mena, who has been living and working with the women of San Rafael this summer, helping them with all kinds of technical details, from calculations and calibrations to packaging the final product.

The women have opened their doors and hearts to Rocio (many of us are quite envious) and she  has been telling their story and her own in her wonderful blog. Be sure to visit it for a behind-the-scenes look at the natural dye process and the lives of these wonderful women.

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