Natural Dye Weaving Technology

Natural Dye Color Extraction and Processing

The actual traditional method of color extraction and processing entails endurance and perseverance due to limited time and unpredictable weather conditions. Prior to the extraction process, two important activities must be done. First, raw materials must be properly identified and selected in reference to the desired colors and dyeing purpose. Secondly, harvesting of appropriate raw materials must be carefully done to ensure better color fastness of dye extracts during color development process.

Identification and Selection

The variety of natural dye-yielding plant sources with their varying derived colors dictate the dyes to be extracted. The classification of natural dye-yielding plant sources is associated with plant parts such as leaves, barks, roots, seeds and fruits. Normally, lighter colors are derived from leaves and fruits while darker colors are derived from barks, roots and seeds.

Dyes extracted from these plant parts have more subtle or pastel colors compared to the vibrant feature obtained from commercial or synthetic dyes. The selection of mature and fresh raw dye materials contributes to the purity and quality of dyes during color extraction and development processing. Raw material sources are color dependent in relation to maturity and source condition. Healthy plant parts ensure better and more desirable colors.


Harvesting of the raw materials had not changed since the start of the natural dye weaving practice. Using a sharp knife or bolo, spear and basket, raw materials a knife or simply with the use of bare hands. Even with voluminous raw materials required, collectors still maintain the traditional method as a sign of respect to the gods. Prior to harvesting, collectors of raw materials in their first visit to the forest must perform simple dawak.

Through this ritual, they ask permission from the anitos to grant their diggings, cutting and scraping or collection of the raw materials. This is also to seek Divine intervention for protection while inside the forest or even after the collection and harvesting of the raw materials. Over time, the practice is no longer performed because present weavers and collectors are members of the new weaving generations. However, if a new member joins the group, and not originally from the weaving family and also a first timer in the harvesting process, the dawak is performed briefly in a simple manner as a form of initiation to seek protection and guidance as well as to show respect to the gods for better color extraction.

Color Extraction

Dye extraction is the most critical step in color development. It determines the color fastness and accuracy of dyes when these are applied to the threads and yarns. There are two distinct dye extraction techniques. These are dyes extracted during the process of cooking and the other during fermentation. Different steps are applied to each of the techniques with careful handling and management.

In the cooking process, constant stirring supported by quick hand coordination is required for color consistency. In comparison, dye extraction during fermentation requires constant monitoring which is usually messy because of testing. After the fermentation period total squeezing is required to obtain the desired colors which later on are cooked.

Following is the extraction process:

1. Fermentation. Over the years, the fermentation process has not changed in terms of consistency and accuracy of derived dye extracts. The fermented dye extracts are obtained from leaves, young shoots and fruits. The following are the procedure:

  • a. Prepare clean fermenting materials chopping board, knife, jars or big containers, bottles, strainer, cheesecloth and rubber band or any sealing material.
  • b. Select mature and clean leaves. The best dye extracts are produced from freshly picked mature leaves. Guava and malatayum leaves are the best sources to make quality dyes.
  • c. Wash leaves in a container, drain and later on sundry or airdry over night after which, these are immediately chopped and placed in big jars filled with equal proportions of water. An estimated one kilo of leaves is soaked in two liters of clean water.
  • d. Seal fermenting jars and containers tightly and bury in the soil. It is advisable to keep fermenting raw materials in dark areas. Close monitoring is required for a period of six to eight weeks. The longer the raw materials are fermented the better although they have strong foul odor.
  • e.After six or eight weeks of fermentation, the fermented leaves and or fruits are squeezed and poured in a container with cheesecloth. Set aside, squeezed dye extract ready for boiling. Following these step-by-step procedures guarantee production of quality dye extract.

2. Cooking extraction. Fresh raw materials or fermented dye extracts are cooked in pots or wide mouthed deep pan. The dye extracts are cooked for two hours to obtain desired dye consistency. The following are the step-by-step procedure:

  • a. Wash and clean chopped fresh raw materials. Place in cooking utensil with equal parts of water. In estimated ratio, barks, seeds, leaves and roots are boiled in clean water. Each raw material is continuously boiled for four hours.
  • b. After boiling, strain the dye extracts to separate the juice from the residue; obtained dye extracts are boiled for another hour to maintain dye consistency. After an hour of cooking set aside for the dye extracts to cool off.
  • c. Pour dye extract in clean bottles or containers sealed with rubber bands and plastic. Keep bottles tight to avoid contamination.
  • d. Label bottles with kind and source of color, date of production.
  • e. Store bottles in a safe place. Use extracts when ready for dyeing threads in the future.

Dyeing and Design Preparation

The traditional dyeing process is done immediately after the extraction of natural dyes. The process is done early in the morning following the step-by-step procedure including the dyeing, curing, washing and drying techniques. Color combinations are determined depending on the design preferred by the inlaod weaver. Dyeing of threads and yarns must be done carefully and singly for better color utilization. The following are the step-by-step process of dyeing:

  1. Boil dye extracts for two hours; soak the threads and yarns in the boiling dye extract and cook for another hour.
  2. While boiling add a mordant usually the traditional sugarcane vinegar (Suka Iloko) with a proportion of 1 liter of dye extract with three tablespoons of vinegar. Continue to boil dye extracts until threads and yarns completely absorb the dye extracts. Set aside dyed threads and yarns to cool off.
  3. Wash dyed threads and yarns in cool running water.
  4. Air-dry threads and yarns under shade to maintain the color fastness. The color fastness is determined by the subtle and unfading color distribution on the threads and yarns during dyeing. The threads are characterized by evenly absorbed dye coloring, permanency, and consistency.

Design preparation is done when the threads and yarns are placed in the gor-od of the loom or backstrap. The gor-od is the alignment of dyed threads tied and placed at the edge of the loom or backstrap which is used by the inlaod weaver as guide. The gor-od is pulled alternately or rolled in the step-on pin of the loom or a roller of the backstrap with the use of a bapor. The bapor is a boat shape container where dyed threads are placed.

Weaving starts after gor-od is in place together with the other colors to make the patterns. The bapor is slid in and out of the gor-od to make the design vertically. Every slide of the bapor makes the design horizontally and vertically with the movement of the hands and feet of the weaver. As soon as the design is done, alternate guide is prepared with the use of colors as marks. Each color is assigned a code to serve as the design pattern. The weaver then makes the necessary calculations and counting for the size of the designs and patterns.

The number of counts is guided by the maneuvering of the feet and finger-hand coordination of the weaver. Counting is necessary to insure that the designs are of equal sizes and distance. It takes a skillful weaver or designer to know the number of colors and counts to prepare the desired designs Fortyeight strands are used for the traditional design and 24 strands for modified and new designs.

With the emergence of modern dyeing technologies, the natural dye weaving technology of the Itnegs was not affected in terms of authenticity and originality. This is also supported by the creativity and artistry expressed in their finished woven products. As a result, the technology and its woven products were recognized locally and internationally. Furthermore, it became the bases for the inlaod Itnegs’ social, economic and technological development while boosting their culture and heritage and maintenance of their cultural integrity and dignity.

For more information, contact:

Bureau of Agricultural Research
Department of Agriculture
3/F RDMIC Bldg., Visayas Ave.
cor. Elliptical Rd., Diliman Quezon City 1104

Trunklines: 928-8505 or 927-0226
Local Nos. 2043, 2042, 2044
E-mail: m[email protected]

author: Marlowe U. Aquino, Ph.D. of

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