The Indigo Collection is the first Manos Zapotecas collection made from all natural dyes! While some of our bags are made from natural dyes or undyed wool, most weavers opt for alkaline dyes. These dyes are bold, consistent, less expensive and less labor intensive than their natural counterparts. With that said, natural dyes are desirable due to the rich tradition and natural tones they provide, the expertise needed to use them correctly, and their gentle impact on the earth.
Last winter, a Swedish textile design student came to Oaxaca to intern with MZ. Miriam Parkman pitched the concept for the Indigo Collection, and together with the support of MZ's Product Design Director Samantha Wattson, worked with master weavers Ludivina and Faustino to produce the line.
We caught up with Miriam back in Sweden to learn more about her inspiration and production process. You can learn more about her on her website or follow along on her adventures via her Instagram account: @miriamethel.
MZ: Can you briefly explain what drew you to Oaxaca, and Manos Zapotecas?
Miriam: I was in my my final year as a design student and deciding where to go for a final internship. One day a friend of mine in tagged me in one of the Manos Zapotecas Instagram posts saying something like, "Miriam, you would like this!" I remember I took one look at the website and thought to myself, "Here it is!"
The style of the MZ products, and more importantly, the fair trade practices to craft for modern sustainable consumption was exactly what I wanted to learn more about. I knew I had to apply for an internship and I wouldn't take no for an answer!
Please share what inspired you to work with indigo?
When I first came to Teotitlán del Valle I saw these big signs advertising each family's weaving business, and most of them said "colores naturales," including cochineal and indigo. I wondered why there wasn't more natural dyes utilized in MZ products, as natural dyes had become all the rage back in Sweden.
I was inspired by Instagram accounts such as @blockshoptextilesla and @avfkw who were dyeing, printing and decorating with indigo.
I also noticed that shibori - the Japanese indigo dyeing technique - was quite popular. The folding and dying methods of shibori result in symmetrical patterns that reminded me of the geometrical symmetry of the Zapotec weaving designs. When I realized the weavers in Teotitlán possess the ancient knowledge of dying with indigo, it all came together for me.
I thought about the winter that was beginning at home while I was still in the hot Oaxacan sun, and how the deep, rich indigo blue together with a crisp natural white reminded me of both freezing winter days with clear blue skies and bright white snow, as well as the clear blue ocean and white beaches I had visited on the Oaxacan coast. To add a new look for the MZ products I wanted to add natural tan leather; as the natural indigo dye will fade into amazing lighter hues during it's life, tan leather will darken with age. Yet again, it seemed like a perfect match.
Who did you collaborate with on this project and why?
I worked with Ludivina and Faustino - a couple who run a studio and shop right by main road of Teotitlán. They are both master weavers and dyers and I felt very fortunate to be able to learn from them. Ludivina had an expertise in handling the tricky indigo pigment and it's dyeing process. It is a knowledge passed down from generations.
Samantha suggested that they would be the best match for this project - I think she knew they were the sort of artists who stay curious and appreciate new inspiration.
Please share the production process of creating the Indigo Collection.
At first it was not very easy, I can tell you that! I felt very nervous for coming across as stupid, both for not speaking fluent Spanish and for being half their age, coming from a completely different country with an idea of what they should weave. We started by discussing possible products and measurements of what should be in the collection. They often looked suspiciously at me and always talked to each other in Zapotec before replying to me in Spanish. I focused on addressing them in the formal "usted" instead of the common "tú" and it was all pretty stiff, haha! But slowly we both relaxed I think and saw what we actually could create together.
Showing some of my weaving samples that I had brought with me from Sweden also broke some ice! I started by making a mood board and simple sketches. Ludivina had drawn some design sketches as well and together we picked what would suit this collection.
Ludivina started a natural indigo bath with the help of wood ash (alkaline) which then rested and developed for about a week. The indigo pigment isn't solualbe in water, so that's why you first have to make a "base bath" that makes it "open up". Then you add that base bath to your actual dye bath, with something to help the PH-level right; in this case lots of lime juice (acid). I loved the scene in Ludivinas dye kitchen, where a big pot were heating up over fire, with a molcajete on the side full of ground indigo pigment, and then a big traditional juice presser and a basket full of limes! It was quite a privilege to experience Ludivina's expertise in this; we wanted a light blue, a mid blue and a dark, rich blue for the collection and she knew just how to obtain these exacts hues.
When you dye something in indigo, you have to dip it in the bath for a certain time, then take it up: it will first look grey or green, but when it interacts with air (oxygen) the blue color slowly starts appearing in a magic way. To get darker colors you have to make A LOT of dips! Ludivina knew exactly for how long to dip and for how long to let it develop in the air, if we should dip again or if it was finished. By the end of the day, we had a bunch of skeins all looking equally grey. She pointed at them and said "that's going to be light tomorrow, that one mid, and that one dark blue." It was hard to believe but the day after that, they were! I was very impressed.
I started weaving on a striped tapete + cushion, inspired by both the Mexican Sarape's as well as the traditional Swedish "rag rug". I was very excited to start weaving and enjoyed every day of standing outside by the loom, feeling the sun and breeze around me, with Ludivina beside me, weaving on the tapete I had designed In just three weeks we managed to make samples for almost the whole collection and I left Ludivina's and Faustino's house feeling anything but nervous - I was very happy about what we had created and I knew I would miss laughing with Ludivina and listening to Faustino's Banda music on the radio!