Natural Dyes

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

Dye Days & Weavings For Sale

Results of Club de Artesanas Dye Day with Cochineal, Suyku, the Misiq’o Flower and the Misiq’o Shrub

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.

Vilma with Large Weaving that She Wove
Doña Toribia Wove This Medium Weaving (New Size)

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.

Prepping the Sumaraya

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.

Club Members and Spouses Preparing the Suyku Dye Pot

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.

Doñas Vilma and Deisy with Cochineal and Sumaraya Dye Baths
Results of the 1st Sumaraya Dye Bath

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 Thank you for supporting the Bolivian weavers with your purchase.

Doña Eulalia Sold her Goats, Moved to Independencia, and Joined the Club (The school dorm isn´t available for teens, and she has 2 sons). She is Holding a Large Weaving, a Medium Size Weaving and Wearing a Chuspa
Doña Felicidad Picked up Her Skeins Dyed by the Club. She´s Holding a Ch´uspa she Wove on the Left, and a Pouch Made from One of Her Weavings

Thank you Lyn and Marjorie for your continued support of PAZA, the weavers, and the chicas! Dorinda Dutcher, April 12, 2022

Belated News, November Visit

Doña Narciza´s Natural Dyed Aguayo

The short visit to Independencia to check on the PAZA activities allowed for faces to be put to names and tales that hadn’t been communicated in video chats to be told. Arminda and Deisy, the 2 new Club de Artesanas (CdA) who joined last February were engaging and enthusiastic. They didn’t know how to weave the traditional Andean motifs last February and were selling straps to fill PAZA weaving orders by June. They earned additional income by helping out with Spinning Week measuring and knitting the Spinning Week 2nd place prizes which were vests. They willingly taught knitting machine workshops in Huancarani, which although paid was something the 2 Club members they had replaced didn’t want to do. Training local trainers has been an objective of the Club since it began in 2010. Although initially afraid that they’d shame their team, both did well during Spinning Week. During the visit, PAZA resources for kids were taken out of storage just in time for the summer vacation. There were up to 9 kids a day (including 3 boys) working on embroidery projects or drawing which pleased the moms.

Knitting Workshops, Huancarani

Doña Toribia Knitting, Doña Eulalia with Blusa

Doña Maxima shared her tale of participating in a fiber arts skill exam in September given by the national government. Her son carried PAZA´s short demo leaning frame loom (2 notched poles) to the sports arena. Max headed down the steep incline with an aguayo on her back that held her lunch, weaving and crochet supplies and a warp rolled between the 2 cross pieces which she would attach to the loom poles. Her large collection of handspun wool yarn in a wide range of hues and tones from local plant dyes and cochineal was used for the warp. Synthetic yarn was used for the weft and the crochet project.

She proudly related how the examiner kept returning during the timed weaving exam to ask about the natural dye process. Max has been teaching PAZA´s natural dye workshops since 2008, although at that time was learning alongside her students. She participated in weaving demonstrations in 2013 and 2017 at the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco´s (CTTC) Tinkuy International Weaving Conferences where she answered questions about her weaving techniques. However, at her first Tinkuy experience in 2010 she was so shy that she clammed up and almost slid under the dinner table when asked a question about her weavings.

During the weaving exam, other weavers tried to lure the examiner to their work. None were weaving with local natural dyes, but with synthetic yarn, ironically trying to call the examiner´s attention to “the techniques of their ancestors”. Max´s ability to WOW the examiner with such a knowledgeable professional presentation can be credited to her hard work and her self-confidence developed through the years. To have been highly praised by a representative of the national government was unexpected but well-deserved. To be recognized in front of her peers for the work in which they have harassed her for political reasons was empowering. It was a feel-good moment and merits being shared with all of you who have supported the PAZA activities through the years. There´s been no word from the government about the exam results, and Max was vague about its purpose.

Doña Maxima and Arminda Checking out Dorinda´s Spinning Week FB Threads

A rather disturbing tale concerned a weaving order inquiry from the local cultural center. The Huancarani weavers didn´t even debate declining the order for 150 full-size ch´uspas (shoulder bags) to be completed within a month at a price of $15 a bag. The weavings made of natural dyed handspun yarn (most spun during Spinning Week) are cut to make 3 ch´uspas. The shoulder straps are than woven and each bag is assembled with a rolled border. The final touch is 2 to 3 pompons on the bottom. Each ch’uspa is roughly 40 hours of labor. The weavers set the PAZA price annually and it is $80. In 2007, at PAZA’s first craft fair with the weavers, the ch’uspas were crudely assembled and priced at $6 – $8.

November Meeting in Huancarani Discussing Spin Together Spinning Week and Planning Knitting Machine Workshops

Thank goodness that Doña Narciza hitched into Independencia to show off her just completed aguayo of natural dyed wool. The trip was against her husband’s wishes, as the rains had finally begun, and they needed to plant the corn crop the next day. It was no surprise that the combination of her vast stash of natural dyed fiber from all her experimenting with color, her eye for combining color, and her high-level technical skills created a stunning piece of art. Her daughter is trying to figure out how to make a living selling hand-made fiber products in Cochabamba. It would be wonderful if she could find a Bolivian market for the traditional weavings. The fate of the aguayo was unclear but it was headed to an event the daughter was attending in La Paz.

PAZA teaches skills which enable mothers to earn income to care for their families.

Vilma´s 2 youngest of 6, note faja binding the baby so she can be safely carried in an aguayo. Maribel on the left suffered unexpected family difficulties last year.

There are many stories to be told about the November visit, weavings to sell, and 2022 fundraising to be done since PAZA did not receive a grant for the year. PAZA responsibilities fall on Dorinda whose priority has been caring for her parents to keep them in their home. Another trip to Bolivia begins next week, which will add to the tales to be told. More weavings will be arriving in the U.S. including ch’uspas and a new dimension for DYI projects that needs to be evaluated (51” x 7”). Sales of the weavings are tentatively scheduled for April. Inquiries can be made prior to that at

Thank you, Lyn, for your stalwart support. Thank you, Rob, for your support of indigenous weavers and your efforts on the front line of Covid. Thank you, Emily, for your continued support of Max and the women of Independencia. More tales to come. Dorinda Dutcher, February 2, 2022

Soap Making and Dye Days

Vilma Rendering Tallow, Everyone Else Sat Upwind

Vilma Rendering Tallow, Everyone Else Sat Upwind

It’s embarrassing to think how long making bath soap has been on the Club de Artesana’s (CdA) “To-Do” list. It would seem many health issues wouldn’t arise if basic hygiene standards were higher. What must be taken into account are the challenges such as the distance to the nearest water source and the fact that bath soap is an imported luxury beyond the means of rural budgets. Large bars of laundry soap are the only Bolivian made soap available locally.

Tallow + Lye + Water = Soap

Tallow + Lye + Water = Soap

The PAZA library has boasted a copy of Norma Coney’s, “The Complete Soapmaker” for at least 3 years. You have read vague mention of an upcoming soap workshop for longer. The lye was purchased over a year ago.  It was a personal 2014 New Year’s Resolution to start production. The basic soap recipe selected contains just 3 ingredients which are rendered tallow, lye, and water. The problem was I was terrified of working with the lye, and didn’t think I could communicate the need for caution to Doña Máxima and the other women. Year’s end loomed ever closer so finally a Tuesday was scheduled to render tallow, the first step in the soap making process.

CdA Dye Day

CdA Dye Day

There are numerous butchers in town, so tallow is easy to come by. Rendering tallow is a messy stinky job and that´s being able to work outside. Our first purchase of 2.5 kilos contained a lot of chunks of impurities so we had to repeat the process in the afternoon to have enough for the soap recipe. Our first lesson learned was that the 2nd batch of tallow wasn’t as malodorous as the first, so attention to the tallow odor is needed when purchasing. Grease was everywhere and the water was shut off all day. Water is usually rationed during the dry season, but it had been flowing regularly since October, so we were caught unprepared. We made do with the 2 buckets of water always stored in the kitchen.

Preparing Sumaqhaya for the Dye Pot

Preparing Sumaqhaya for the Dye Pot

By Thursday´s soap making workshop I´d read the instructions at least 5 times and had translated the recipe and a preparation list to Spanish. The plan was to have the women observe from a table set back from the work area and the 4 tykes in a play area behind them. It began to hail, so they fled inside. The work space has a roof so while Doña Máxima measured and melted the tallow I mixed the lye and water. It was anti-climactic, I could feel the increasing temperature of the lye and water through the rubber gloves, but there wasn’t a dramatic visible chemical reaction. Upon completion of the recipe we wrapped the container of warm soap in 2 towels and left the bundle on a sheep´s fleece to cool slowly for 3 days. When we unveiled it we were relieved to observe no lye bubbles or separations and could continue to the fun part which is to make fine soaps with fragrance and additives.

Results of 1st Cochineal Dye Bath

Results of 1st Cochineal Dye Bath

The next Club Tuesday while the soap continued drying, CdA had its first dye day since last April. The women were in need of orange, pink, and lavender skeins for their weavings. Five of them trooped off in the morning to harvest limbs of the Sumaqhaya tree for the dye in the cambria. It is a natural dye we use only once a year. The other dye pot contained 200 grams of cochineal. The Sumaqhaya provided 6 dye baths, and the 5th dye bath of the cochineal was to overdye the last batch of skeins from the Sumaqhaya pot.

Filling the Soap Molds

Filling the Soap Molds

Two days later the CdA activities were to finish up the last 2 dye baths and refine the soap. Instead of making a small batch to learn the new process, I suggested we triple it. Big mistake. The grated soap would not melt. After 1.5 hours of stirring and adding water we gave up. The dried lavender was stirred in and the powered leaves looked like dirt. The glop was spooned into the molds and we hoped they would turn out in the end. No such luck, the bars slowly darkened to an unappealing shade of brown, didn’t smell like a cleansing agent for bodies or clothes, and they wouldn’t harden. We’ve learned through the years with the dye pots that failures can be turned around to successes through the lessons learned. We’ll review the list of improvements to be made and count on experience not luck next time.

George Dutcher has advocated for the soap making workshops for years. His 2014 soap making fund did away with my lame excuses about not having all the equipment and supplies. Thanks dad. Dorinda Dutcher, November 27, 2014

March & April PAZA Activities

This blog posting is the last on the former blog site My heartfelt thanks to Julie Cleary who set up the blog on her Word press account and introduced me to the world of blogging in 2010. The links in the former blog seem to be broken beyond repair.  I took that as a sign to study up, start anew, and take full responsibility for administrating the blog. There will be pages posted with the years’ highlights between 2010 and this posting.

Alison and the Club Members Shared Many Laughs & Hours Knitting

Alison and the Club Members Shared Many Laughs & Hours Knitting

Late March and early April were great fun thanks to the presence of volunteer Alison Walsh. The Club members were thrilled to spend time with a volunteer who could help them interpret new knitting textures from our library of pattern books and magazines. Thanks to the volunteer program the women were able to buy yarn to start clothing projects during Alison’s visit and for another project to keep them busy during my 2 month visit to the U.S. Alison made samples of knitted hens, chicks, and eggs which all the women copied one afternoon while waiting for the dye pots to boil.

Decisions, Decisions, Picking Out Yarn in the Local Yarn Shop

Decisions, Decisions, Picking Out Yarn in the Local Yarn Shop

Thanks to the volunteer program we were able to plan a group excursion. The women asked if we could visit the sodalita mine, which is a 1-1/2 hour drive from Independencia. The local sodalita is marbled blue and white stone and when polished can be confused with lapis lazuli. Huge blocks of sodalita weighing more than 7 tons were labeled for shipment to China. Polished slabs were headed to the U.S. and Italy. Piles of discarded sodalita lay waiting to be purchased by foreign artisans. There is no craft industry taking advantage of the local semi-precious stone in Bolivia. The mining company is Italian but a Bolivian engineer gave us a short tour of the processing area as he explained the cutting and polishing machines. He ended the tour with an offer to help ourselves to a souvenir in the discarded sodalita pile. All scrambled up, over, and around the rock pile in search of the perfect keepsake.

Selecting a Sodalita Souvenir

Selecting a Sodalita Souvenir

After the tour we found a shady site along a river, perfect for a picnic. The women opened pots filled with still hot boiled potatoes, noodles, rice, and fried eggs. Alison and I added avocados, tomatoes, limes, and drinks. Only 1 teenager deigned to join our outing, but 5 kids ages 10 and under were with us. All had to be called out of the shallow river where they were splashing about to eat. Three of the women marveled at the lush vegetation, they´d never been so far down the road bordering the east side of the municipality. On our return to Independencia we stopped twice to pick masiq´o flowers for the dye pot. With so many harvesting we were able to collect enough of the flowers for all to dye a skein a few days later. We also noted the concentration of suyku in flower, so will harvest along the road in those areas next year.

Huancarani Dye Day

Huancarani Dye Day

On April 4th we loaded up in a contracted truck to go to Huancarani for a dye day. Not all the weavers can find time to collect plants and dye their skeins, and all like having a broad spectrum of dyed skeins when warping their weavings. The dye day was successful with two dye baths produced from the suyku leaves and flowers mixed together and two from cochineal. The leftover cochineal dye bath was divided up and taken home.

Noemi's Father, Dorinda, Noemi

Noemi’s Father, Dorinda, Noemi

On another note I’m happy to report that nursing tech student, Noemi Chavez, is fully funded to meet the expenses of the certification process. The former Peace Corps volunteer who funded Noemi for her last 1-1/2 of schooling generously gifted to meet the certification expenses. Upon receipt of her certification Noemi can begin looking for work. Noemi and her father came to the house to receive the funds. She was traveling to Cochabamba the following day to begin the certification process, StartProjectalong with all the other students from technical institutes in the Departamento (State) who should have graduated in December. Noemi and her father agreed to the requirement that she will be prepared to assist her sister, Reyna, a member of the Club de Artesanas, further her education after graduation at the end of 2015.

Thank you Marianne Jakob, Fritz Wittwer, Lyn Lucas, Shiriin Barakzai, and Dorothy Stern-Thursby for your support. You made it possible to fund the Club de Artesanas during my 2 month absence. It was empowering for Doña Máxima to receive the funds and responsibility for the Club´s once a week meeting. She was left with more tasks than last year, which was the first time the Club continued without my control freak presence.  Dorinda Dutcher, April 15, 2014