Thursday, April 08, 2010


Fun with a Natural Dye

While we were touring the botanical gardens in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I was given a Jagua (Genipa Americana) fruit. The juice of this baseball-sized greenish-gray colored fruit is the source of a dye which is used by the Woumaan and Embera Indians of the Darien rainforest region of Panama. They not only dye palm fibers for weaving baskets, but also use it as a stain for elaborate body decorations!

Here’s a photo of a small basket I bought in Panama which was made by these indigenous people with the palm fibers.

Well…it just so happens that I have a book (Margo M. Callaghan “Darien Rainforest Basketry”) which describes how to extract the juice from the Jagua and use it to dye palm fibers and to decorate oneself. Not that I’m that much into self-adornment (well, except I did just have Panamanian flags painted on my toenails), but the dye part could be applied to YARN! Ooooooooo.

Well, you can guess what happens. Yep. I peeled the jagua, and grated it. What I didn’t know was that the “peel” was really thick like a grapefruit (about ¼”). So I had only really peeled the dark outer layer and started grating the pith which has no juice. Eventually, I got to the center of the fruit and found the juicy sections similar to an orange. Oh! That’s where the juice is! The juice was a greenish-gray color, but it turns indigo blue
when exposed to the air for a few hours.

So…first I painted a flower on my ankle. A tattoo! Jonesy asked if it would wash off and when I told him it was permanent his facial expression was priceless. Not forever permanent, geez, just about 8 days or so according to the book. He should be thankful that I didn’t paint geometric designs on my face like the Indians do (okay, I admit I was a wee bit tempted).

Then I smashed some fingering weight 100% wool into the juice, and a small length of size 3 mercerized crochet cotton. I wanted to experiment with both protein (the wool) as well as cellulose (the cotton) fiber types to see how they would work with this dye. There wasn’t quite enough juice so I smashed the fibers into the grated fruited to absorb more juice. I added some white vinegar and salt to help set the dye and make it colorfast so it wouldn’t just bleed out when I rinsed it. Who knows if this was the best way to treat this dye – it was all a fun experiment.

After heating these in the microwave a few minutes, cooling, rinsing and air-drying, this is what I got.
The wool is a deep purple/brown/gray color with some mottling. The cotton is a much lighter shade of indigo blue. I’m bummed I don’t have any more fruit to play with now. It would be fun to dye up a big batch!

And the tattoo? Well, after 24 hours it has turned a deep blue-black and looks like a tattoo – kinda more like a prison tattoo. I feel like a bad girl with this on my ankle. And combined with the painted toenail – whoa!

Comments: would be funny to write something on someones forhead when they were sleeping.....when they wake up and it looks like they have a tattoo there...priceless!
That is so cool. I'm going to see if I can find any of those here in the Hispanic Markets. I want to dye some yarn AND get a tattoo.
Your hubby ought to be thanking you on both his knees that you didn't paint it on him while he was taking a nap. By the way "prison tattoos" are usually much more primitive and mostly crosses between the knuckles. Don't ask why they do crosses, but then just about everyone gets religion when they get behind the walls. Renate
It's interesting how differently the two yarns took the dye. I love the way the cotton turned out.
Love the tatoo. I say make it permanent! The yarn looks great. It's amazing how much fun you can have with a piece of fruit!
Great Story. Sounds like your having lots of fun. I dyed yarn with kool aid once. I used to use the peel and stick rosebud tatoos. They are fun too. Great job on your own design. Darrell aka darrlaa
I reviewed some Juana Berry tattoo kits and they are soo cool! Might look and see if Jungle Jims carries Juanna Berry :)
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