Spinzilla Prep & a Magical Dye Pot

Loading Up the Molle Leaves & Passengers

September was a month of preparation for Spinzilla Spinning Week and for November’s Tinkuy International Weaving conference in Cusco, Peru. Doña Máxima made a trip to Cochabamba to order the banner for the Centro de Artesanía, Huancarani (CAH) that will debut at the Tinkuy’s Inauguration parade. She and her daughter Zoraida also shopped for 2 shawl samples so that the Spinzilla participants will have some choice in this year´s “All Win 1st Prize”. They learned that the shawl vendors will have little or no inventory until next June when winter rolls around again. Spinzilla always offers a number of problem solving opportunities for the team, and one solution is to buy material and have the Club de Artesanas (CdA) members crochet the borders and add the fringe for a per shawl wage.

Dye Day #1 Results

In the midst of all the preparations for future activities the Club members started an amazing dye pot that just kept on giving. It began with a quick excursion to a lower altitude to collect the leaves of molle trees. Doña Máxima´s husband drives a student transport truck and because it sits idle between the early morning pickup of kids from a rural community and their midafternoon drop-off back home he was agreeable to driving the Club members for 50 Bs. ($7.20). There had been a few days of brief but intense rains that had washed the landscape free of the gritty tan dust that swirls and coats everything during the dry season. Time for bright yellow skeins was running out because the leaves do not yield dye during the rainy season will begin soon. It was a cloudless day so rather than begin the dye pot that afternoon the leaves were put to soak so the afternoon could be spent at the river washing and drying fleece in preparation for Spinzilla Spinning Week

2 Techniques for Washing Sheep Skins

Two days later the Club women fired up the dye pot and the molle leaves simmered scenting the air with a heavenly fragrance. The yellow resulting from the 1st dye bath met expectations but the possibility of a 2nd dye bath looked grim. Doña Antonia saved the day by offering to return from lunch with some dried turmeric root. A relative living in a tropical area of Bolivia had gifted fresh roots to her and she had dried them after the Club used them for numerous dye pots in 2013. The simmering turmeric added its exotic spicy scent to the air and the resulting color was a burnished golden yellow. For a 3rd bath a bit of cochineal was added and the results were a burnt orange. Dyeing continued over 3 more days due to the need to spin more yarn to dye. Glorious vivid reds and red oranges emerged from dye baths 4 through 8 with the addition of a few more grams of cochineal, cream of tartar, alum and citric acid. In 10 years of dyeing such a magical dye pot has never before been experienced, appreciated, and so enjoyed.

Child Labor? Mom and Grandmum Observing Emily’s Washing Technique

The rains that washed the molle leaves also flushed the river which had almost slowed to a stagnation. Fleece and sheepskins were scoured at home in hot water. After lunch following the molle excursion the Club members headed to the river. Doña Maxima and Vilma took turns pushing their wheelbarrow that held 2 sheepskins, a black fleece, and a gray fleece. Doña Antonia was carrying white fleece in a bag of woven plastic in her aguayo on her back. Doña Rufina had a mixed black and white sheepskin and some laundry in her wheelbarrow. With some effort the wheelbarrows were rolled to a pool above the ford where teen boys were lovingly washing their motor scooters.

Navigating Heavy Load of Wet Wool Up to Road

Doña Antonia wet the fleece she´d brought and then laid it over a large boulder and pounded it with a stick. Doña Máxima, Vilma, and her 8 year old daughter Emily submerged their sheep skins and fleece one at a time to work through them with their hands to remove debris. The rinsed fleece and sheepskins were draped to dry over sun warmed boulders. Wheelbarrows were washed out, loaded up, and with a sense of accomplishment the group headed merrily homeward.

Mission Accomplished, Leisurely Walk Home

The following week, and last week prior to Spinzilla Spinning Week, the Club members began preparing coils of roving. Doña Antonia watched Doña Máxima shearing fleece off a sheepskin and decided she was unhappy with the fleece that she had washed. It had dried hard instead of drying soft like the fleece Doña Máxima was cutting away from the sheepskin. Doña Antonia decided that she needed to start over using a sheepskin instead of beginning the washing process with sheared fleece. Doña Beatris, who is in charge of the 6 Spinzilla spinners from her community of Sanipaya, happened to be in town. She was spending the Club day doing her son´s “home economics” project of making a table cloth by pulling threads in a length of cloth and weaving in a bright green ribbon. She said she had 2 sheepskins and offered to sell one to Doña Antonia after washing them the following day. Unfortunately, a neighborhood dog snatched one of the washed sheepskins from where they were drying outdoors, so Doña Antonia was once again in search a sheepskin.

Doña Máxima Shears While Doña Antonia Looks On

The preparation for Spinzilla Spinning Week is a lot of work for the spinners, but it is work they’d be doing anyway. As an event, it recognizes their life long honed skills as spinners and weavers. It has created many learning opportunities for the 25 women, most of who attended few if any years of schooling. These 4 years of empowering experiences would have been impossible without your support.

Thank you Rob Nash for reconnecting in such a supportive way from our carefree youth! The generous support of a former Bolivian Peace Corps volunteer must be acknowledged with gratitude and a hug. The well wishes as well as financial support from other Spinzilla participants goes a long ways in communicating a bigger world’s recognition of the rural womens’ ancient fiber arts techniques and skills. Thank you Sarah Linder and Elizabeth White for once again supporting the Bolivian team. Thank you Taevia Miller. Dorinda Dutcher, September 28, 2017, dkdutcher@hotmail.com

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