The unique earthy jewel-toned palette of the Andean weavings is thanks to the local plant biodiversity and accessibility to native cochineal. After a decade of PAZA workshops to rescue natural dye techniques the Huancarani weavers usually dye and experiment with plant dye baths on their own or with their neighbors. Many drop off skeins with Doña Maxima in Independencia for cochineal dyeing by the Club de Artesanas members. Since 2007, Doña Narciza has been in the forefront of adding more colors into the warp of the weavings. Today, the weavings deserve a close look to appreciate the subtle color gradient changes.
During Dorinda´s visit in March, time was spent to bring the newer Club members up to date on the history of PAZA and the weavers collaboration on relearning natural dye techniques. Doña Maxima and Dorinda began teaching natural dye workshops in 2008 and often doing practice dye pots to keep one step ahead of their students. A Quechua speaking natural dye expert taught 2 intensive weekend workshops in 2010 which opened the door to mordants and a host of dye techniques. The dye workshops ended in Huancarani in 2017 with the expectation that the weavers knew enough to dye on their own instead of impacting the quality of a dye pot by overstuffing the workshop dye pots.
Two Club goals that weren’t met in 2021 were to dye with the bark of the sumaraya tree and khesi misa the soot that accumulates in the straw roof over a cook fire. The same day that unmet goal was discussed, Club members Doñas Beatris, Arminda and Deisy hiked up the mountain to the Pajchanti cloud forest then struggled back down with 3 heavy tree limbs. At the following Club day, the women used machetes, knives, and an axe to peel away the outer bark and dig away chunks of the soft bright orange inner bark for the dye pot. The Club members hadn´t dyed with sumaraya since 2017. Googling and library searches for “sumaraya” over the years produced nothing until today´s search. Thanks to new Andean dye articles it appears to be or related to Yanali (Bocconia frutescens) (tree poppy).
The Club members are on the lookout for khesi misa which dyes skeins a deep chocolate brown. Straw roofs that need annual rethatching have been replaced with tin.
One dye day was spent with the dye stove simmering a pot of skeins in sumaraya and a 2nd pot of cochineal. The last dye bath was a combination of the two. A few Club members dropped underdyed pale pink cochineal dyed skeins into the sumaraya dye pot for brighter results.
The second Club dye day began with a morning drive up the mountain to harvest the vivid yellow misiq´o flower, branches from a seemingly unrelated shrub called misiq´o, and suyku. Because it wasn´t raining, Doña Arminda stayed home to wash the mountain of clothes generated by a family of six. Her amiable husband, Moises, an ambulance driver, joined the harvest crew. He scrunched up in the back of Doña Maxima´s family´s Rav4 and returned perched on 2 gunny sacks full of the fragrant harvest. Although the daily rains make it difficult to dry clothes on the line, the suyku easily harvested along the roadside had been washed clean. Only chicha vinegar and salt were added to the first suyku dye bath to produce a pale yellow green. The weavers darken the skeins at home with an ash water afterbath. Both Doña Bea and Dona Deisy admitted to being reminded that using ash water is a cold-water process after pulling disintegrating skeins from ash water that they had boiled.
The misiq´o flower was at its peak for the year and flowering in clumps. If the weavers try to harvest too early the blooms are spread out, making for more walking and bending. It produces just 1 brilliant yellow orange dye bath. It´s the most labor-intensive plant to harvest so all the Club members picked flowers to add to the dye pot.
The weavers are hoping to receive a PAZA order by the end of April, but that is dependent on sales of the current inventory. Over 2 years of PAZA weaving orders are finally consolidated in Montana. Weavings available for sale include ch´uspas (shoulder bags, $93), zippered pouches (5” x 8”) for $19 and with wrist straps for $20. The yoga mat strap for a 1/8” thick mat is $22 and for a 1/4 mat is $23.
There are 3 sizes of weavings with unfinished ends for DYI projects, although they can also be used as wall hangings. The 63 x 9.5” weavings ($79) are what Vilma cuts to sew 6 zippered pouches. There is a new medium size weaving ($50) that is 51 x 7”. Feedback is needed about the new dimension to determine if the size should be tweaked. The 70 x 5” fajas that Laverne Waddington uses in her backstrap weaving workshops are $43. Speaking of Laverne, the weavers have been using her pattern book to learn new figures to incorporate into their weavings. The 78 x 1.5” straps that can be used for shoulder straps or to make your own yoga strap are $22. Sales inquiries can be sent to email@example.com. Thank you for supporting the Bolivian weavers with your purchase.
Thank you Lyn and Marjorie for your continued support of PAZA, the weavers, and the chicas! Dorinda Dutcher, April 12, 2022