We naturally dye the raw cotton yarn to achieve our desired colours, using age-old techniques which originated in Mexico and the Mesoamerican region thousands of years ago.
The yarn is wound by hand into skeins using a special wooden structure, before it is soaked in mordent for a day to open and prepare the yarn for the dye absorption, and then it is submerged in the relevant dye-stuff which consist of regional ingredients. We use plants such as 'Añil' (Indigo= blues) and 'Cempasuchil' (Mexican Marigold= yellows) as well as tree bark, such as 'Palo de Campeche' (Corymbia Opaca= purples) and 'Cochinilla' (Cochineal= pinks and reds)– a pest which breeds on the cactus Nopal and which has been a dye ingredient for millennia.
The dyeing formulas are mathematically precise, but due to the seasonal changes in the properties of the cotton and the natural ingredients, they often need adjusting. And, depending on the quantities we are dyeing or the depth of colour desired, it can take anything between 3–10 days to dye our yarns until dry for shipment to the artisans. The dye-stuff our dyers use is recycled many times before going back into the water system as biodegradable matter, minimising water usage. Learn more about our natural dyers here.
We work with two pedal loom workshops in Chiapas, learn about them here. The pedal loom has an ancient and global history– evidence suggests it dates back to Egypt 4400 B.C– however, it has a comparatively short, yet rich history in Mexico, having been brought over by the Spanish colonisers to supply their expanding empire in the Americas.
The pedal loom consists of a large wooden structure with various shafts, combs, levers, rollers and pedals, within which the artisan will perch to operate the loom by hand and foot to weave the fabric. There are many physically-demanding preparations required to set up the loom, from warping to starching the yarn (if necessary)– these processes alone can take from 2-5 days before weaving can start. Depending on the experience of the weaver and the complexity of the fabric, they can weave between 1.5-3.5m per day, as opposed to hundreds of meters a day that can be produced on an industrial machine.
Up until recent years, the pedal loom has been dominated by men in Mexico, but more and more indigenous women are getting involved via their husbands or female trainee programmes. By the second collection, our pedal loom fabrics will be made with 100% organic cotton, as opposed to the 95–100% organic composition of our first collection.
We work with two female-led backstrap loom groups in Chiapas, each with a very different regional style– read about them here. The backstrap loom is an ancient weaving technique dating back to at least 1400 B.C in Mexico. The 'Telar de Cintura' is an individual loom constructed from a set of wooden bars, rope and a belt, which is suspended between a post (or wall) and the weaver's lower back. The artisan then sits or kneels and coordinates their posture, body weight and hands to weave the fabric. It is a physically demanding process, which predominantly females dominate in their early teens.
The addition of patterns is a complex technique often known as 'brocado' and their techniques and designs vary greatly throughout the country, from the cold highlands to the humid lowlands. Backstrap loom fabric is rarely woven wider than 80cm or longer than 3 meters and no two artisans can weave exactly same due to the manual nuances– so every piece is truly unique! A backstrap loom piece, enough for one of our garments will take a minimum of one month and up to 2 months. It is not unusual for a detailed textile to take a backstrap loom weaver 10+ months!
As a part of our cut and sew process, we also work with indigenous embroiderers from the small town of San Andrés Larrainzar, whom are employed by our cut and sew partners, Colectivo de Innovación. We use the traditional zig-zag embroidery used to join seams on the indigenous 'huipiles' (blouses). For every 30cm, the women take approximately 1.5 hours– it is incredible to watch as they embroider with such fluidity and precision!