Have you ever wondered what your clothes, sheets, cushions, or blankets are made of? Today, most of our textiles are made of synthetic fibres such as polyester, which is derived from petroleum and the majority of textiles are dyed chemically. This synthetic process makes their creation, use, and disposal very taxing for ourselves and the environment.
In San Juan La Laguna, a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan, the millennial Mayan tradition of natural textile dyeing and weaving is still widely practiced today and is passed on from generation to generation.
The intricate textile dyeing process involves only natural materials, harvested from the surrounding areas. The base fibre of the textile is organic cotton, which comes naturally in 3 different shades: white, which is used for dyeing, khaki and "ixcaco" brown, pictured below. Once the cotton flowers have been harvested, the flower pods must be de-seeded, joined, and the cotton is spun. Once the cotton thread is spun, the dyeing process can begin.
Artisans use banana leaf as a natural colour stabilizer to help the colour set. To prepare the thread artisans first boil banana tree bark for 2-3 hours and then soak the thread in the liquid.
Next, the dye is prepared using leaves, flowers, bark, and insects, depending on the desired colour. Each plant can create different colours depending on the season, quantity used, the temperature of the soaking water, and time soaked. Sacatinta, the name of the plant found below, which fittingly means "gives dye", can produce up to 10 different colours ranging from pink to blue!
Once the dye is prepared, the thread is soaked or boiled in the dye liquid for the determined amount of time. The thread is then rinsed, and set to dry. This entire process can take upwards of 20 days from harvesting to having the thread ready for weaving into beautiful textiles.
So when was the last time you checked the materials of your products? We dare you to have a look and make your next purchase a conscious one!