Natural Dyes

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

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March & April PAZA Activities

This blog posting is the last on the former blog site http://www.pazabolivia.org. 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