San Juan is one of the few villages left around Guatemala that dyes its yarn naturally. The natural yarn process is fascinating. It is incredible that such vibrant colours can be achieved in a completely natural way.
Once picked, the natural cotton balls—which are white, khaki or coffee in color—are pulled apart so that the seeds can be removed. (pictured right) The cotton is then stretched and pounded into a rectangle in preparation for spinning it into thread.
The cotton is then handspun on a spool. One hand spins the spool while the other holds the cotton high until long strands begin to form. It is necessary to spin the cotton several times to achieve a very fine cotton thread. (pictured below)
A natural fixator made from banana leaves is used to ensure the finished yarn does not bleed as synthetic dye often does. The cotton is first dipped in the banana water then into the pot containing the boiling water and desired dye – usually depending on the hue desired, you boil the yarn for 2 – 3 hours. The final step is dipping the now naturally dyed yarn in the banana water again to fix the colour. The result; a vibrant colour that does not bleed or stain and is completely environmentally friendly.
Both muted and vivid dye colors can be achieved depending on the boiling time and the plants they are derived from, some of which include avocado, guava, carrots, basil and cinnamon. What is interesting is that often the plant or insect gives an unexpected colour.