The art of plant-based dyeing in Peru was almost completely lost with the invention of synthetic dyes, but thankfully there has been a resurgence of interest in this Indigenous tradition. Now, at the hands of some skilled artisans, this ancient technique is making a comeback.
At Miou, we are very excited with our switch to small-batch, plant-based dyes, and feel it fits perfectly with our mission to create eco-friendly, hand-made clothing.
On a recent trip to Peru, Miou founder Christine Dubin had the opportunity to observe the process while Mario, a local weaver and expert in plant-based dyes, created some of the vivid colours for Miou’s alpaca clothing line.
The process of plant-dyeing involves boiling down the chosen leaves or bark and mixing it with a fixative, such as salt, copper or iron. Here some of the common colours we use at Miou and how they are produced:
To make a wide range of green shades, the leaves of the chilca plant, a shrub that grows in the streams of the Sierra, are added to a pot, mixed with minerals and boiled for an hour before the yarn is added.
For our blue and grey shades, Mario uses tara, a tree or shrub that produces bean-like pods, combined with blue collpa, a form of copper sulphate found in the jungle. The yarn is boiled with the tara pods and the collpa is added later as a fixative.
Red, which is historically one of the most important colours of the Andes, is actually not created by a plant at all, but by the cochinilla, an insect found on the prickly pear cactus, which is common to the Sacred Valley. The insects are dried in the sun, ground to a powder and then added to water and boiled with a fixative. Cochinilla creates anything from brilliant reds to soft pinks and purples.
A Peruvian pepper tree called molle is used to create rich yellows. This tree can grow up to five metres high, and the leaves and bark are used for dying. The ashes of the tree can be used to wash and fix the dye as well.
Miou's light and dark brown shades are created from nogal seeds and leaves. This endangered tree, similar to a North America black walnut tree, is found in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. The unripe husks produce a yellow colour, the ripe fruit produces a reddish-brown colour and, when boiled, nogal creates a deep black hue.
We are so grateful to have the opportunity to use these precious and ancient techniques in our clothing, and we are grateful to Mario for his skill, knowledge and passion!