Weavers pay special attention to color.

Master weavers say that color is personal and emotional. Unlike painters who blend colors, weavers employ color blocks, using their vibrant shades in a strong, bold way. For this and many other reasons, color is paramount to the piece and has the ability to "make or break" an end-product. In New Mexico, natural dye processes date back millennia, playing an integral role in our heritage. Dyes are extracted from native flowers, leaves, roots, wood, and earth. Since organic material is not consistent, this process less than an exact science. However, as with great chefs who combine quality ingredients to create flavorful dishes, you can begin by following this recipe and then make amendments that suit your palate.

    The process starts with mordanting the yarn – combining water-soluble chemicals, usually metallic salts, that bond dye and fiber together to set the color in the wool.

    • Weigh dry wool
    • Weigh alum in proportion to the yarn’s dry weight (see below)
    • Make any changes to water temperature gradually

    The formula:

    4 ounces (113 g) wool yarn
    8 percent (1 1/2 teaspoons) alum to weight of yarn
    7 percent (1 1/2 teaspoons) cream of tartar to weight of yarn

    • Soak yarn in water for at least one hour
    • Place the alum and cream of tartar in a cup, add some boiling water, and stir to dissolve
    • Add the alum and cream of tartar mixture to a stainless steel pot full of enough water to cover yarn and stir until thoroughly mixed
    • Add soaked yarn to dye pot
    • Place dye pot on a burner and bring the mordant solution to a simmer (180 degrees Fahrenheit/82 degrees Celsius), and simmer for one hour
    • Turn off heat and remove yarn from dye pot or allow to steep overnight
    • Rinse yarn in water the same temperature as the dye bath with pH-neutral soap to remove any residual unfixed mordant
    • Rinse yarn thoroughly until water runs clear
    • Dispose of spent alum bath down the drain along with plenty of running water (unless it is flows to a septic tank) or pour the alum bath around acid-tolerant plants

    Once the mordant process is complete, continue the dye process:

    • Create the dye bath using organic matter like chamisa or cota for yellow, sagebrush for green and crushed black walnut shells for dark brown tones
    • Add yarn to dye bath and let simmer
    • Rinse the dye residue from the yarn
    • Wash the yarn with mild soap
    • Hang to dry

    evfac yarn making