Club de Artesanas Dye Day

Natural Dyed Skeins Left to Right on Clothesline: Tumeric, Molle, Khesi Misa (Soot), 2013

During a WhatsApp video chat on Thanksgiving, the Club members were taking yellow skeins out of a dye pot of molle leaves. The molle trees grow in lower drier ecosystems than Independencia, and there are numerous trees about an hour walk down the mountain. For the 2nd dye bath, chilka leaves were added to the dye pot. The glossy fragrant dark green chilka leaves are readily harvested because the shrubs line the roads and pathways around Independencia and higher. The Club members had anxiously awaited the results of the dye pots because they´d used “millu de la playa (beach)”, as a mordant, for the first time.

Doña Maxima´s Sons Harvest Molle, 2009
Jhonathan Strips Leaves Before the Harvest is Carried up the Mountain, 2009

Left Skein, Dye Bath #1 with Molle Leaves, Dye Bath #2 Skeins Center & Right with Chilka Leaves Added, all Rinsed with Ash Water to Darken, November 24, 2022

Last March, during a discussion about local dyestuffs, Doña Beatriz mentioned that “millu de la playa” is used in dye pots in her home community of Sanipaya. In October, Doña Maxima queried her sister Doña Narciza how she had dyed the dark green ball of yarn she was plying during Spinning Week measuring day in Huancarani. Doña Narciza is the leader in natural dye experimentation and responded she had dyed the yarn with chilka leaves and a piece of “millu de la playa”, she´d been gifted by Doña Guillermina.

Ball of Yarn Dyed with Chilka and “Millu de la Playa” is Hanging from Doña Narciza´s Belt, Spinning Week 2022

After 2 references to “millu de la playa”, Doña Maxima was intrigued with the possibilities and somehow talked her irascible brother-in-law into collecting it from the riverbed far below Huancarani. It is a mineral salt that appears in the cracks of big rocks near the river but disappears in the rainy season. Don Erasmo knew where to find the “millu de la playa”, so didn´t waste time having to search for it. However, the long walk down to the river and the aerobic uphill return had to have been taxing. He did charge 50 Bs. ($7) for his efforts.

View of River Below Huancarani Farms
View of River Below Huancarani, Centro de Artesania, Huancarani Annual Meeting, 2016

During natural dye training workshops with an expert in 2010, PAZA weavers learned to use a mineral mordant called “millu” to darken dye baths. The duplication of the word “millu” is probably why it´s taken so many years to learn about “millu de la playa”. Since 2010, PAZA has purchased rocks of “millu” in the hechiceria (charm, ritual supply) section of the huge stall market in Cochabamba. It is hammered into powder before adding it to a dye bath. The “millu de la playa” did not darken the skeins dyed with molle and chilka. Future dye experiments will include comparing the results of millu, “millu de la playa”, and alum in separate dye pots with the same local dye plant.

Millu on the Left and “Millu de la Playa” on the Right
Millu Vendor in Cochabamba

The weavings of Independencia are woven from handspun wool. Many of the weavers no longer shepherd so don´t spin daily but spin their year´s supply during the Spinning Week competition in October. That yarn is then plyed, dyed, and woven either for PAZA orders, Quechua rituals, or home use. The rich palette of colors available to them is due to the biodiversity of dye plants unique to the area and Bolivian cochineal. As artists, they are continually experimenting and have built up their dyed skein stashes over the years. These unique weavings may be purchased for the holidays up until December 15th. Send inquiries to:

Doña Justina at Her Loom, Huancarani, 2013

Ready to gift are:

  • Chuspas – $95
  • Zippered Pouches – 5 x 8”, $19/$20 w/wrist strap
  • Yoga Mat Straps – $22/$23

There is still time for anyone wishing to purchase woven cloth to make holiday gifts. The larger weavings may also be used as wall hangings and table runners.

  • Large Weaving – 63 x 9.5” $79
  • Medium Weaving – 51 x 7”, $50
  • Faja – 70 x 5”, $43
  • Strap – 78 x 1.5”, $22
From Left: Doña Deisy with Zippered Pouch, Doña Beatris with Chuspa, Doña Maxima with Zippered Pouch, Doña Eulalia with Chuspa and a Large Weaving

Thank you Lyn, Emily, and Nancy for your support of the weavers and chicas especially during this time of Giving Thursday requests! Dorinda Dutcher, November 30, 2022

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