Most mornings in March began with the sun’s rise backlighting a veil of pearly fog. It was anyone’s guess as to whether the fog would swirl and rise or darken and lower with rain. One morning when blue sky and the sun won out 3 women of the Club de Artesanas (CdA) headed out with machetes and aguayos to harvest a few branches of mature sumakaya trees. It is a once a year expedition and Doña Maxima’s comment upon returning with their treasure was it was “mucho sacrificio”. The path to the area they’d harvested in the past was impassable due to undergrowth and a trail that had disappeared into a swamp. They were forced to climb higher in search of another grove.
After lunch they worked with knives and machetes to remove the rough outer bark and scrape the bright orange inner bark into the dye pot. The bark was boiled for an hour before the first skeins were added to the pot. The weavers knew their ancestresses had used sumakaya as a dye but few had dyed with natural dyes prior to the first PAZA dye workshops in 2008. Through the years they’ve learned that the bark must be used immediately upon harvest or the dye is lost. Stored dye baths ferment and also lose their dye potency. What was learned from this dye pot is that the 1st batch of skeins should be boiled than left overnight in the dye bath and the dyeing continue the following day. The 2nd batch of skeins that did overnight in the dye bath were a glorious shade of orange. In the future the annual sumakaya dye bath will be a 2 day event for maximum dye strength.
The women had collected rock and tree lichen while out harvesting the sumakaya. It was put to soak for a few hours and then added to the khesi misa dye bath. Khesi misa is soot that collects in a straw thatched roof over a kitchen wood fire. The CdA had not dyed with it in 4 years because it is getting harder to find as thatched roofs are replaced with longer lasting tin roofing sheets. The request for khesi misa browns in the weavings prompted Doña Máxima to search more diligently and she finally located half a bucket from an “abuelita” (little grandmother) who lives alone. The abuelita asked to be paid in noodles, bread, and bananas instead of in cash. There is now an ongoing business relationship with the abuelita to supply the CdA with khesi misa.
The khesi misa/lichen dye pot was begun late in the day along with the sumakaya dye bath so the 2nd skeins were left in the dye bath overnight. The skeins took a lot of rinsing, but the results were a lovely dark chocolate from the first dye bath and a milk chocolate for the 2nd dye bath. Doña Máxima commented that it was worth the sacrifice as she admired the row of sumakaya dyed orange and khesi misa dyed brown skeins hanging from the clothes line.
Two weeks later a vehicle was hired to take the CdA members higher into the mountains to harvest the flower masiq´o (Bidens andicola) and suyku (Tagetes graveotens Schultz). The delicate yellow masiq´o flowers are available during March and when mordanted with alum the flowers gift a lovely pale orange dye. The suyku was divided into a dye pot with leaves and a dye pot for the clusters of the bright yellow flowers. Although the CdA members have dyed twice with suyku this year they manipulated the dye baths with mordants and achieved different hues that will coordinate breathtakingly with their formerly dyed skeins.
The final dye day of the season was with suyku the women gathered within walking distance of the PAZA workshop and cochineal. Three Huancarani weavers including Maribel had dropped off skeins to be dyed. Maribel had purchased spun yarn from an abuelita in Huancarani since she is not a spinner.The abuelita still spins but no longer has the strength to weave and appreciated being able to sell her handspun yarn. Doña Máxima and the other women compared the suyku dye lots for the past 3 months and decided that the suyku growing at elevations higher than Independencia’s 7,943’ above sea level provide a stronger dye. Next year PAZA will spring for the $7 – $15 vehicle contract fee to harvest suyku at a higher elevation. Besides, everybody loves an excursion.
The newest member of the Club de Artesanas is Doña Rufina who spent almost every moment learning to weave new figures. She has a toddler and a kindergartner who is rapidly learning Spanish at school. Quechua is still the prevalent language in the homes of the CdA women and chicas. The CdA trainers, Abigail and Jhesica, did a great job leading the activities of jewelry making with wire and crochet thread as well as a day of soap making.
Dorinda traveled to the U.S. in early April carrying 3 orders bound for Laverne’s Waddington’s weaving students and workshop hosts. Thank you for those orders, the requests arrived in time for the women to weave and collect payment to pay for this year’s school supplies and uniforms. Doña Máxima will continue to open the PAZA workshop for Club de Artesanas activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The women have sewing and crochet projects besides plying the yarn that they´ve dyed. The chicas know they can drop by in the afternoons for weaving instruction. Doña Máxima will work in the PAZA workshop on Sunday mornings to be available to the Huancarani weavers in town for market day.
Thank you Lyn Lucas and Dorothy Thursby for your faith in and continued support of the weavers and chicas. A huge hug and thank you for support from high school friend, Rob Nash, whose life journey also meandered from the plains of Kansas to the Andes. Dorinda Dutcher, April 22, 2017