Story and Photography by Laura Goldenberger
Estralla and Aura took us to their medicinal garden where they grow rosemary, aloe, chamomile, oregano, purple basil, red Texas sage, juanilama, meliza, bretonica, ixbut (mother’s milk), orozus, comfrey, wormwood, echinacea, etc. Ruda/rue, a sacred plant that is good for your heart, also helps with nervousness and aches. The women grow and use natural remedies to help the people of their community.
They also grow plants for natural dyes. They carefully explained the uses of each and every plant. To dye fabric, they first soak it in banana tree stock water. That prepares the fabric to be able to absorb the natural dye without ever washing out. When they demonstrated later, I touched the freshly-dyed fabric and no dye was left on my hands. They use the leaves of coffee plants to make shades of brown. One plant could yield many different colors depending on the method. They used bark, stems, carrots, and even bugs (which make a bright pink color). How the colors set can vary by so many elements and details — if it’s dried in the sun or shade, if it’s cool that day, or if there is a breeze. It can be very difficult to have a consistent result, but that’s what makes each piece so beautiful and unique.
The women from the weaving group put their beautiful woven blankets on display and it created an open, airy, colorful space. We sat together and they demonstrated each step from dying the fabric to separating it, balling, threading, and weaving. We tried our hand along the way and it was no easy task!
We learned that many of these women have huge families to provide for. Some are widows, some are not able to count or measure — simply going off of memory and practice. They are strong and crafty mamas! The work is impressive and intricate, bringing so much pride, empowerment, income, and art into their town.
We each bought a piece and will treasure it always. We said our goodbyes and left feeling grateful. There is no better way to learn than by experience.