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  • Natural colouring explained

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    Jeltsje Boersma
    Jeltsje Boersma

    With an abundant number of industry certifications and claims, a label like ‘100% natural colours’ sounds just as obvious as ‘healthy’ or ’organic’. But when it comes to textiles, natural colouring is a whole world apart.

    Unless you are a very conscious buyer, probably all of your clothes, curtains, bedspreads and towels obtained their colours by coal tar and petroleum-based liquids. The process is cheap, consistent and scalable. But it also leaves its traces. In textile hubs in India and China, most natural water sources are polluted by the runoffs of the synthetic dyeing industry.

    Natural dyeing is in many ways the opposite. It is time-consuming, labour intensive and therefore a highly expensive process. Colours are extracted by using natural resources that are abundant in the environment of origin. In the case of ‘our’ wool weavers in Teotitlan, Oaxaca, it means the artisans work with plants, nutshells, fruits like pomegranate and lime, wood bark, indigo and cochineal, a bug that lives in cactuses. Many of the materials can only be harvested once a year, like the Indigofera flower for the stunning blue tones.

    Natural dyeing is a time consuming, labour intensive and therefore a highly expensive process. Colours are extracted by using natural resources that are abundant in the environment of origin.

    The story of colouring, however, is not black and white. Both chemical and natural dyeing require plenty of water and land and therefore imply a big environmental impact. But on a local scale, Teotitlan’s weavers already start to see the unwanted consequences of chemical dyeing. Numerous residents saw the opportunity to scale up the process and adopted synthetics to colour their wool. By washing their rugs in the local creek, the entire ecosystem suffers.

    We, therefore, decided that in the case of wool weaving in Oaxaca, we work with natural colours only. Not only for environmental reasons: metals that are used in chemical colouring have also been proven to be harmful to the people working with it.

    Below you’ll find a little dummy guide to find out how the wool in our rugs got its different tones.

    Red, purple and orange: obtained from the cochineal, a dried bugs that live in the cactuses. They are individually picked or brushed. For one kilo of dye, you need to collect about 100.000 cochineal insects. Tints vary from vibrant red to purple and light orange, when it is mixed with an acid substance like lime juice.

    Brown and terra colors: walnut husks that are left in water for a long time.

    Indigo: a broader palette of green to deep blue tones, all derived from a flower called Indigofera. The flower is crushed with a mealing stone. Holy guacamoly, so pretty.

    Black: obtained by crushing and boiling the seed pods of the needle brush (Acacia).

    Yellow: Praise the Mexican Marigold flower for the sunny yellow tones

    Add water, acid, or mix them together, and you get the full palette!

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