The Possible: Natural Oaxacan Dyeing at the Berkeley Art Museum

A few weekends ago, I had the chance to visit the Berkeley Art Museum's collaborative craft exhibit, The Possible when Mariano Sosa Martinez and Rafaela Ruiz visited from Oaxaca, Mexico to share and demonstrate their methods for using natural dyes to produce beautiful, rich-hued wool for textile weaving.

Mariano and Rafaela started an artist collective in Oaxaca, including one for women which was the first of its kind, and have distinguished themselves as artisans committed to growing, harvesting and using only natural dyes. It was captivating and inspiring to watch all the technical and artistic knowledge that went into the detailed process of preparing and using the dyes, and to hear the stories they shared about how the formation of their collective really produced a change in their community, especially for women.

Before the collective, Rafaela and other women were not allowed to leave their villages to go to Oaxaca city to sell their own wares. The organization has allowed them more freedom of movement and access to to entrepreneurial tools and opportunities. Mariano also spoke about coming to America to work in the 80s, an experience that inspired him to go back to Mexico to form a collective.

Mariano and Rafaela are responsible for the entire process that goes into their textiles from growing and harvesting the natural dyes, to dyeing the wool, weaving the textiles and selling them at market. They shared so much technical knowledge about the materials, measurements, timing and coordination of steps went into the dyeing process that I couldn't memorize it all. Also, the process is different for what they described as noble fibers (wool, silk, feathers) and hard fibers (cotton, linen), as well as different types of natural dyes.

Different from the other dyes, indigo takes once the wool becomes oxygenated after being removed from the dye bath and exposed to the air. Repeated dips in the bath deepen the color.

This dye harvested from female insects that feed on the juice of cacti ranges from reddish-pink to deep purple.

Mexican Marigold
Aka pericón, the aromatic leaves of the Mexican Marigold are boiled to produce a deep, rich yellow.

In addition to the dyeing demo, there were crafts and art on display, including Fritz Haeg's expansive Domestic Integrities rug crocheted from discarded textiles, as well as jewelry, weavings, ceramics and more. There are still a few more Sunday workshops happening before the exhibit closes on May 25th — I highly recommend checking it out!