It was a cold Saturday morning in chilly December when my team and I were ready and packed to drive down the foothills of Meghalaya to meet the people at Diwon and Umden villages. Like any other trip, my camera and drone were all set, and I was ready to meet the lady Eri silkworm rearers and weavers and capture some cool shots with my lenses.
My plan was to film the Eri silk weavers dyeing Eri silk yarn with natural ingredients, specifically Lac (or Laha in Khasi local language), the well-known natural dyeing ingredient found in Meghalaya. I got to see the process of natural dyeing only when I first started in Muezart, but I never cared to understand the topic in detail - but now I was eager to learn.
During my interaction with the lady Eri silk rearers we work with, one of them said, "Natural dyeing is one of our means of livelihood, for survival, and the art has been passed down generations".
Natural Dyeing in India: Diwon, Meghalaya
In a world of fast fashion, chemically dyed garments are choking up water systems and landfills, ultimately adding causing more harm to the environment.
The solution? Natural dyes.
Take this village I visited as an example. The weavers here in Diwon have been using natural ingredients as natural dyes for generations. Some of the ingredients used for dyeing include certain plant leaves such the Terminalia chebula leaf and the Baccaurea ramiflora leaf. Spices like turmeric is also used as a natural dye.
But the one ingredient that stuck out for me was the lac.
What is Lac?
"Lac is one of our precious ingredients – something that we have been using since a very long time." said one of the weavers and they explained the traditional way of naturally dyeing Eri Silk yarns using Lac; I listened to them carefully and asked questions.
Lac is the resinous substance that is secreted by a host of insects generally classified as lac insects. The most common species being the Kerria lacca which can be found right here in Meghalaya as well.
This insect's secretion is traditionally used as a coloring agent for products like food, leather, fabric, and even medicines. But in Meghalaya, the people cultivate Lac for dyeing. They cook it into a dye bath with plant mordants and dye yarns for weaving.
While watching them dyeing the yarns, my jaw dropped. I was fascinated by their age-old method; from the tools they used, to the natural dyeing ingredients – all were natural. I was amazed at how effortlessly and expertly they completed each step. And the speed with which they worked was so swift that my camera could not keep pace!
Natural Dyeing Process: Dyeing With Lac
I want to share the step-by-step process of natural dyeing with Lac with you, and how to use lac dye. I learned about this process from the women in Diwon village that I interacted with and by witnessing their incredible skills.
When I came back from the trip, Miranda (a Muezart maker) gave me more insights into how to naturally dye yarns with Lac in a traditional way.
Here's our process of dyeing with Lac or Laha (for 3 Kgs of yarn):
For 3 kgs of yarn, we need 30 liters of water and 3 kgs of stick Lac cut into small pieces or chunks.
Step 1: Crush the stick Lac into pieces. Do not make into a powder form because, at the time of boiling, the sticky resin substance melts and sticks to the silk fiber, thus damaging the material.
Step 2: Add warm water to the crushed pieces and stir till dissolved. use a muslin cloth to filter the dye bath.
Step 3: Boil the Sohkhu leaves (Botanical name: Baccuarea Ramiflora, a local plant that acts as a mordant) and the Lac solution for 1 hour (you can use Alum instead of Sohkhu leaves).
Step 4: Use a sieve to separate the Sohkhu leaves from the dye bath. This step is not needed if you are using Alum.
IMPORTANT: Remember to check the Ph level of the dye bath. It should be 7. Lac is water sensitive dye like cochineal, so take care to test your water and decide if you need to add distilled water.
Step 5: Let the dye bath cool down to 50° C/ 122° F before immersing the yarn.
FYI: Letting the dye bath cool down before placing the yarn in the bath helps prevent temperature shock that may damage the yarn. This will help maintain the strength, luster, and texture of the yarn.
Step 6: With a Ph of 7, place the yarn in the dye bath, reheat, and simmer for about an hour.
Step 7: Remove from flame and let it soak overnight.
Step 8: Rinse the yarn with cold water until the water runs clear, then remember to dry in the shade.
Your yarn is ready to be turned into something beautiful. Remember, the longer you soak the yarn in the dye bath, the richer the color will be.
What I learned from the Trip
Our trip to the village of Diwon to see the locals dyeing with Lac was one of the most exciting trips our team had gone on. I was in awe of the art of natural dyeing which has been passed down generations.
As the old saying goes, "Old is Gold" I thought to myself that the age-old production method is wonderful because it is in alignment with our mission to regenerate traditions into a conscious business.
We are practicing the process without harming the environment and partnering with the villagers to continue and preserve the traditional art of dyeing with natural dyes.
Interested in Knowing More?
Download a PDF of Muezart's List of Plant Dye Ingredients - Visually Presented here!