Apr 4 2014

Step by Step: A Naturally Dyed Hand-Woven Pillow Cover


Step by Step: A Naturally Dyed Hand-Woven Pillow Cover

By Saasaan NabaviĀ - Founder of Zoku Handicrafts

Date April 4th 2014

This past March I once again left my home in San Diego, California and headed for Oaxaca, Mexico. I would spend the majority of my time in the quiet town of Teotitlan del Valle, just outside of Oaxaca City. I was back to learn more about the techniques and work that goes into Zapotec handmade products.

It has been a goal of mine to push Zoku Handicrafts towards naturally dyed products. Before the invention of artificial dyes in the mid-nineteenth century, most dyes came from plants. Today, due to the amount of work and overall cost to produce natural dyes, artificial dyes have completely taken over. That is of course expect for a few families who have held on tight to this ancient tradition.

The cost for a local craftsmen to purchase natural dye can cost upwards of 40 times more than synthetic colors.

Here is why!

It all starts on a farm. For each color, there is a native plant that has been discovered by the Zapotecs to be used for natural dye.

So we did just that on this trip, my colleague Alex and I visited a farm that specialized in the production of cochineal (a native cactus parasite for the color red), this farm also showcased several other methods used to obtain blue, yellow, green and so forth.

The gentleman who ran this particular farm said it takes 3 months to raise and harvest cochineal. This is all granted that local birds, lizards, mice, ants and several other predators did not attack and kill the cochineal. Unfortunately, botched harvests of cochineal have and do happen, costing the farmer greatly.

Up Close Look At The Cochineal

From the farms around Oaxaca, like this cochineal farm here, wool and cotton weavers purchase their ingredients needed. However, from here, each color must be broken down and then boiled into the material that will be used by the artisan, a process that can take several hours.

Cochineal purchased from a cochineal farm

Cochineal being extracted by way of crushing on a metate

Wool being boiled and mixed with the cochineal (red dye)

After the wool has been boiled with its dye, it is then hung to dry

The wool is then added to spindles by way of the spinning wheel

Depending on the product, the treadle loom must be set accordingly

Alexandro Mendoza, the master behind the loom!


Total Production Times for a naturally dyed hand woven pillow cover -

  • 3 months to harvest dye ingredients.
  • 3 hours to break down the dyes and boil them into the wool.
  • 1 hour to add the wool to spindles.
  • 18 hours to weave the pillow cover.

In all, the 4 days I spent at the Mendoza’s residence was brilliant! I am elated to bring back this information and share with all of you the special process that goes into the products that are being made by many of the Zapotecs. Since the beginning of the Zapotecs 2500 years ago, they continue to inspire and prosper off of the cards nature has dealt them. As the world continues to head for cleaner environment, traditions like this will start to gain the notoriety they well deserve.

If you would wish to purchase a custom pillow cover, please contact sales@zokuhandicrafts.com

This particular pillow cover made in this blog is on sale for $79


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