Cheering Up in January
Guest post by Eleanor Edwardes
For many of us living in colder climates at this time of year, we feel the temperature drop and watch the clouds cast over as our day-to-day lives are coloured with a dreary January grey. So, what better time to turn to the bright and beautiful colours of South American dyes to provide us with a little cheering up...
The Jarilla plant, found throughout South and Central America, flowers with bright yellow petals. Alongside having various medicinal, anti-inflammatory and aromatic uses, the leaves can also be boiled to create vibrant dyes of green, yellow and ochre, which are used in traditional woven textiles across the regions. There are primarily four different kinds of Jarilla, their Latin name ‘Larrea’ derived from J. Antonio Hernandez Larrea, a Bishop who took great interest in indigenous plants.
Following a resurgence in the popularity of natural dyes, due to increased knowledge about the harmful effects of synthetic equivalents, many communities are once more working to produce traditional arts and crafts, for example in Mexico’s Oaxaca valley. The village ‘Teotitlán del Valle’ (population 5,600) is a famed centre of weaving and home to Porfirio Gutiérrez, whose family dyes and weaves fibres in the ancient Zapotec tradition (over 1,000 years old). In a recent interview for the New York Times, he recalls collecting jarilla alongside pericón and tree lichen. 'What my family and I are doing is continuing an art form and honouring the work that our ancestors started,' he says. 'I think once people learn more about these processes, then they’ll support this market, and that’s how it will continue.'
Other natural materials used for South American textiles include cochineal, made from dried insects bred on cactuses, palm leaves, agave fibre, añil and potash (used as a mordant and found in the mountains surrounding Oaxaca). Rugs are made from hand-spun, hand-woven wool and many families keep their own dye recipes, handed down through each generation. So in the grey of January, we're delighted to turn to South American dyes and textiles to brighten up our days...
Images courtesy of Nido