DYEING ALPACA WOOL, NATURALLY!

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HOW IS ALPACA WOOL DYED USING NATURAL RESOURCES?

Our life is full with colors, and we all love different kinds of them, and they part of our daily life. We all have garments with different colors and most of them are dyed synthetically. However, we didn’t chose them because they were ‘synthetically’ dyed, but because of the designs, colors among other reasons. And going deeper, we chose the color of our apparel because of many factors, such as seasonable (not everyone uses this reason of course!), maybe you like black in winter times and vivid and bright colors during summer.

Alpaca wool is unique because it can be dyed naturally. The Inca people appreciated it very much due of its softness, quality and as food resource. And because there wasn’t artificial materials at that time so they used natural resources. This tradition has been inherited and is still being practiced by artisans in Cuzco and other cities of Peru.

Wool dyed colors

Photo by julian mora

Alpaca fiber, as any other animal, has different tonalities of fleece color, these are considered as neutral natural colors. Undyed fiber is often the best natural color which doesn’t need to be treated with dyes and still can proportionate a variety of colors. While the majority of alpacas are white, there are other natural colors such as black, many shades of brown, as well as silver and grey. To get other colors different tho the neutral it is necessary to dye the wool. This is possible by dyeing them organically with materials found in our planet or synthetically.

BENEFITS OF DYEING WITH NATURAL RESOURCES

Synthetic dyes are more commonly used to dye garments, but it can be very harmful for our health and our ecosystems. Haven’t you felt the sense of suffocation or experienced allergies? The reason may be the use of synthetic garments or that the garment was dyed with synthetic chemicals. But those who work in production and are in constant contact with the dying process are worst effected, as well as our environment which is damaged directly and indirectly. There are many synthetic dyeing manufacturers with bad practices, who dispose of the untreated synthetic affluent incorrectly, which then pollutes rivers and lakes. However, there is an increasing number of manufactures that are adhering to the regulations and guidelines, yes!.

On the other hand, we have the natural dyes. With dying materials found easily in our ecosystem which can grant a variety of colors to our garments, for instance, haven’t you noticed that your pants get green when you sit on humid grass? Or when you spill wine onto a white shirt?...ahhhhhhh. Then you know how a natural dye works, the same processes are used to dye garment permanently with different colors. Examples of the natural resources are plants, fruits, insects, flowers, minerals, etc. As a consequence, this kind of dyeing is less harmful to our health and the environment. You can dispose all the affluents back to the nature, where they came from :) ahuhaaa.

dyed wool dyed wool
Dyed wool and natural dyers Dyed wool

COLORS FOUND IN THE ANDES

We all are fascinated at the variety of colors that can be found in our planet. People In the andean areas like Cusco are still practicing ancestral techniques used by the Inca people. Within these techniques is the dyeing of alpacas wool, there are many different varieties of colours from intense red, to blue and green as well as their many derivates. Here are some examples of how they get the different colors.


Red

The red color is the most used in andean areas, to get this color an insect called ‘Cochineal’ is used. This insect is mostly found in places like Peru, Mexico and in the Southwest of United States. Cochineal is a natural dyer from which the dye carmine is obtained. This insect lives on cactus seeds and is dried before being used. But depending on the different additives in the dyeing process, cochineal can be used to obtain a wide range of shades, including pink, purple or bright red.

dried cochineal wool dyed red
Dried cochineal Cactus and red dyed yarn

Purple

This wonderful color can be obtained from the cochineal but it can also be obtained in other variants from a native Peruvian corn of purple color, ‘maiz morado’. This is boiled in a pot with the yarn, the quantity and time plays a role in the resulting color.

purple mail and purple dyed yarn
Maiz morado and purple dyed yarn

Orange

The weavers in the andean areas know a very practical way to use the red color to obtain the orange. They add citric acid (in this case, lemon) to the insect cochineal and they obtain another variety of red-orange colors.

Yellow

To obtain the yellow color there is a variety of plants and flowers. The one used most often in Andean regions is called ‘Q’olle’ (Quechua language). The Q’olle is a flower that grows on Andean trees, and it is boiled with the yarn to get the color. Different tonalities of yellow can be obtained by playing with the time in which the yarn is boiling with the flowers.

yellow dyed yarn
Q'olle plant and yellow dyed yarn

Green

A plant is the principal resource to make the wool green. Commonly used is a special plant called Ch’illca (Quechua language) with a combination of a mineral called Collpa, which is a mineral found in the jungle of Peru. These two elements are boiled to get different tonalities of green.

Chilca plant chilca plant and green dyed yarn
Chilca plant Green dyed yarn

Blue

To produces the blue color, it us used Tara or the Indigo plant. Tara is a local bean and the Indigo plant grows in lower altitudes. The process to obtain the blue color is the same, people boil the yarn in water with Tara or Indigo and the different tonalities would depend on the quantity of material used and how long it is boiled.

Tara bean indigo flower Blue dyed yarn
Tara Bean Indigo  Blue dyed yarn

These are some of the natural colors and the natural and traditional ways of coloring clothes, which we can find in the Andean areas. However, there are many other beautiful colors that we can get directly from our nature! One of the great reasons to color wool naturally is that the color does not fade over time and the garment does not stain when washed. Alpaca clothing, however, does not need to be washed very often, because the fiber is highly resistant to all types of fungi and microorganisms. It is enough to air your alpaca clothing after use. So, what are you waiting for, get your first alpaca garment now!

This is an interesting video showing the work of artisans in the high lands of Peru. Also you can see the different tools and  natural resources they use in order to dye the wool, enjoy the video!

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