Natural dyes: experimenting with cochineal and vine leaves

My name is Nathalie Leturcq and I was born in Belgium in 1965 and living in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain since 1995.

I came here first time on holidays, 30 years ago and could not believe that those smalls seven islands were paradise on earth!

Since my life as mother gave me some free time, I used it to learn the traditional crafts of Canarian culture: Calado (local embroidery), weaving on traditional looms, etc. I also work on my own projects, mainly personal gifts that I wanted to create for friends: crocheting, sewing, dyeing and even wood decorating.

After years of doing quite a lot of different things, I discovered the benefits and beauty of natural dyes. Two years ago, I passed a local authority exam, which gives me access to work and so now I can also teach textile decoration at official fairs and events.

What is Joias Janaina about? Personally, I spend most of my time researching colour sources and how to apply them on different items in a modern way to create unique fashion products: I mainly work with silk, wool, cotton, linen, and other naturals fibres.

Throughout history, the production of colours in the Canary Islands has played a big role in the economy and today we still produce 3% of the cochineal used in food, cosmetic and pharmacy products. Wine is one of the most special goods of our islands. I spent the last two years investigating all the natural colours we can extract from grapes, wine leaves, etc. I also wrote a book about this topic, which I will present in Tenerife in September.

On the right of the picture: the cactus Opuntia infested with the insect  On the plate: insect dry, insect in powder, the liquid dye
On the right of the picture: the cactus Opuntia infested with the insect
On the plate: insect dry, insect in powder, the liquid dye

When I first experienced natural colours, I used the traditional way of colour extraction, which consists in boiling the vegetables, insects or woods in water. Then, I usually added the textile fibre that already had been treated with elements that helped to fix the colour on it (mordant).

While dyeing and discovering new stuff about how colours are made, and new colour sources, I have worked with new but also ancient techniques, like Hapa Zome, shibori and itajime. Those techniques are not new: most of them come from the traditional Japanese culture, which is known to have developed ways to dye, paint and decorate on textile. One of these developments is the use of the premordent techniques that help us to dye in an ecological and natural way. Those techniques also come from Japan, for example using soya milk and fire hash as premordent, which remind us, in today’s fast societies, that time, patience and care are the most important things in the process of natural dyeing. I am also very inspired by the texts and works of India Flint and Irit Dulman.

While living in the Canary Islands I have had the chance to experience cochineal dyes. During the last two years, I have also engaged in a deep research in collaboration with a wine maker of the area about dyeing with wine and all the vegetables, fruits and woods that make part of the wine-making process.

Here’s a few more pictures of my work. In the following pictures, you can see our investigation process, the dying process and the final results. We always try to combine artisanal tradition with modern fashion trends. All this fashion we make is under our label Joias Janaina, which I started four years ago with Celia Méndez. Lately we have decided to immerse ourselves in this wonderful world of natural dyes and eco-friendly fashion.

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We think nothing is impossible, but it’s true that working with nature is always a surprise: you never know what colour you will obtain or if it will work. So it’s very difficult to set a chain that produces many pieces that look all the same. We make one of a kind items. Our production follows the seasons of nature. Right now we are working on a project that aims to compare the changes in colour when dyeing with vine leaves of the same plant in different months of the year.

We would like to help our customers change the way they think by trying to make them understand fashion in an eco-friendly way, which means that you don’t go for a specific colour palette, rather you respect the colour that nature gives you on sustainable textile fibres that are good for your health while avoiding bad quality fabrics dyed with chemicals that can even be dangerous for us.

You can also follow Nathalie on Facebook

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