Don Ciro Adalberto Castro is lovingly referred to by Lula Mena as the guardian of traditional techniques. Trained on the foot loom at the age of 13 by his father, he was already an expert in this technique when he met Lula in 1999. However, as is the story for many artisans, he wasn’t able to survive on weaving alone. He would spend days creating traditional textiles and walk miles to the market to sell his wares. Some days he would sell a few items and some days he would sell none. Lula brought him new projects, designs and access to markets. Today Don Ciro has a workshop and he is able to support or employ his entire family. The day we visited his brother Francisco, sons Joel Alexander and Ervin, and daughter Sonja were hard at work.
In addition to being a master weaver, Don Ciro is also an 'engineer', having recently invented a collapsable (and thus portable) foot loom and decades ago creating a massive loom out of old bicycle parts. As well, he is a teacher who shares his knowledge with anyone interested in learning. When not at the loom, one can find him teaching students in public schools.
This story is not only about a weaver, it is also about an artisan who is reviving the traditional technique of natural indigo dying, one of the oldest dying methods in the world. During colonial times El Salvador’s main export was indigo, however this industry collapsed when the synthetic colour blue was created in Europe. In recent years indigo has experienced a revival because many synthetic dyes are azo dyes, which are carcinogenic. Indigo is a natural organic dye that is found to protect humans from mosquitos, snakes and ticks with its natural insect repellent qualities.
Indigo dying is a very long and complicated process. We'll try to keep this explanation simple. Indigo is extracted from a small plant called "Jiquilite". One must cut the vine of the plant at a specific moment in time, just before it blooms. The extraction is pure science. The leaves are fermented until eventually a small amount of indigo powder remains. When it's time to apply the indigo to fabric the indigo must be deprived of oxygen. The vat of liquid is green and when the fabric is first removed, it too is green. Once exposed to oxygen it becomes blue. We were fascinated as we watched the transformation. In order to achieve a deep blue, the fabric must be re-submerged into the vat a number of times. The whole process is very exact.
Learning the art of indigo dye application
Lula and Ciro have been working on reviving the indigo industry for almost 15 years. They've perfected the application of the dye and create a beautiful line of products. The textile is handcrafted by foot loom in Ciro's workshop and the dye is applied in the workshop as well. These products are gorgeous, well-made, all-natural pieces that embody the identity and history of El Salvadorian craft technique.
To view our exclusive collection of Lula Mena Indigo products click here.