THE ART OF DYEING

“That’s why all the clothes we are going to include in this collection have a whole ritual behind them, a whole process that took time to do, because then we can recover the true value of things. And that is what handcrafts reflect. The time we live in moves so fast that we don’t understand that it doesn’t really work this way on Earth. When a thing is this big, it actually takes you a lot of time to make it.” 

– Andrea Guzmán

When sustainable fashion designer, Andrea Guzmán felt she was losing her passion for fashion, something that came from her confrontation with the material world, she realized she needed a change in perspective.

“I thought clothes would make me feel better, and it did momentarily, but it would just float away. I wanted to get rid of everything, but then I realized that it’s my passion and something I always dreamed about. Giving it a sense of meaning was what was missing, a message from human to human. I think it’s very important to believe in yourself…to know that you can give it all the sense you want…as absurd as it may be…as long as it makes sense to you.”

Just a 50-minute ride north from Mexico City is Rául Ponton’s studio, a little peach-color house in the middle of the woods, in San José Deguedó. A place where Andrea has gained inspiration and the knowledge to create her collections.

After changing the course of her career in fashion, Andrea has spent her life learning from the best master artisans in her country. In particular, from Rául, a man that has dedicated his life to the recovery and promotion of the use of natural dyes from México and Latin America, Raúl Pontón received the Tenerife Award for the Promotion and Research of Crafts in Spain and America. A teacher-student relationship that grew into a friendship with a common passion, both dedicating their life to the preservation of culture, art, and nature.

The studio lies in the back of the house sitting discreetly surrounded by a handful of trees −a witchery scenery covers the place, full of different ingredients set in jars, hanging lamps, and big iron pots filled with interesting mixtures.

“Raúl Pontón is a master in natural dyes. He has been all over America and around the world teaching this.  It’s knowledge that is often not available and that requires a lot of research. This is an ancestral technique that has been lost. Raúl has been in charge of documenting it and transmitting the knowledge, teaching, and technique.  He dedicates his life to sharing it. And I was lucky enough to meet and learn from him,” says Andrea. 

Describing a sense of “revival” in her process, Andrea started working on her collection for Atentica as a route to reconnecting with her inspiration. 

“Just like that was the way the old Mexicans did it. They painted themselves with this.  They knew all of these things…resins, wax, oils, and paints. And they made their own cotton textiles. When they had their festivals, they would paint themselves with cochineal, indigo, and dirt,” says Master Dyer Raúl Ponton. 

Andrea shows us through the process of dyeing the pieces in her collection with Brasil-wood, bringing life through natural coloration of the fabric. 

“Supposedly, you should put the fabric in for an hour and then take it out and soak it. You have to take it out once every ten minutes to make the color even. You take it out and soak it again…it makes the water pass through different angles that cannot enter when it’s folded. But if you want to give it a more stained effect, you leave it soaking…checking that too much oxygen doesn’t enter and that the fabric doesn’t lift in the colored water. You want to make sure that when you submerge it in the water, it doesn’t stain. It’s like cooking.  You can’t just go and come back whenever you want because it will burn. You have to look after it,” says Andrea. 

Currently living in Mexico City she enjoys dying her fabric on her apartment terrace, where she has settled her working space. Traveling around the country to meet new people and looking for new ideas and techniques is also part of Andrea’s lifestyle, it seems there is always a part of her in search for more. 

“There are many techniques to color a fabric or a textile – to dye it – but if you want it to stay for an extended time for professional dyeing, you must use very specific woods. For example, dyeing with flowers or with roots…that doesn’t work. It doesn’t stay. The Palo de Brazil is very effective. The Aztecs and Toltecs used it for thousands of years. It’s beautiful and to me, very therapeutic. It’s like putting your energy into things and nature,” explains Andrea while showing the beautiful collection.

“It makes sense to me to spend 54 hours making a dress. It’s like reading a book but more visual. You can put it on and feel, and smell the dye and smell the plant.” 

“I believe that my mission in this life is directed toward the empowerment of women. My pieces are simply that, a reminder of what they have inside and what they can do for the world. For me, this is my gift to them…to inspire them so that they can give as well… creating this chain effect.”

Photos: Roberto Garrido 

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