The Ancient Art of Botanical Dyeing in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala: Preserving the Magic of Natural Colors - Tesoros Maya

The Ancient Art of Botanical Dyeing in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala: Preserving the Magic of Natural Colors

botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna
Tesoros Maya​​

San Juan La Laguna, a small Mayan village in Guatemala, is home to a unique and ancient craft: artisans who use plants and flowers to dye fabrics in vibrant colors. For centuries, this practice of botanical dyeing has been passed down from generation to generation in San Juan La Laguna, ensuring that the magic of natural colors is preserved. Botanical dyeing is a complex process that involves a variety of techniques and materials, including flowers, bark, and leaves. The colors produced are both beautiful and unique, with each fabric taking on its own hue and pattern. Not only is botanical dyeing a craft that is deeply rooted in the culture and history of San Juan La Laguna, but it is also a sustainable practice that has a positive impact on the environment. This traditional art is still alive and well in San Juan La Laguna, and artisans have become ambassadors of their craft, sharing the beauty and importance of botanical dyeing with the world.

Historical Significance of Botanical Dyeing in San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna is one of the 12 indigenous villages around the Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. This village is known for its agriculture, medicinal herbal gardens, but most importantly, it is best known for producing textiles and clothing using traditional and natural methods that have been practiced for hundreds of years by Mayan communities. 


Botanical dyeing is a craft that has been practiced in San Juan La Laguna for centuries. It is believed to have originated with the Mayans, who used plants and flowers to dye fabrics in vibrant colors. This practice has been passed down from generation to generation, ensuring that the traditions and techniques of botanical dyeing remain alive and well. Botanical dyeing plays an important role in San Juan La Laguna’s cultural identity, as artisans use this craft to express their creativity and preserve their history. Artisans are dedicated to perfecting traditional techniques while also exploring new ways of creating unique colors with plants, making botanical dyeing an ever-evolving craft.

botanical dyes
Tesoros Maya​​
botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
Tesoros Maya​​

Overview of the Botanical Dyeing Process

The art of botanical dyeing involves multiple steps. The long process begins with extracting natural dyes from plants, seeds and tree bark. Getting the same color batch is not always that easy. We’ve been told that even the moon can alter the tones of different dyes from plant extracts. 


Once picked, the natural cotton balls—which are white, khaki or coffee in color—are pulled apart so that the seeds can be removed. The cotton is then stretched and pounded into a rectangle in preparation for spinning it into thread. The plant and the cotton are boiled together for about 30 minutes in a large pot of water for the dye. Colors are then made fast by boiling them with the stalk of a banana plant for another 30 minutes. This means that colors will not bleed when worn or washed, a common problem with synthetic dyes.


Making and dying the thread are only the first steps in creating a scarf or a poncho. Next is choosing which colors will be used and then tying the threads onto the loom, followed by the actual back strap weaving of the item, a time-consuming process.

San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
Tesoros Maya​​

Diversity and Beauty of Natural Colors

The colors produced through botanical dyeing are both beautiful and unique. Artisans draw from a variety of materials to create different colors, including flowers, bark, and leaves. These natural materials produce vibrant hues that range from deep blues and purples to bright oranges and yellows. The colors are unpredictable, with each fabric taking on its own hue and pattern. Not only does this make for stunningly beautiful fabrics, but it also allows customers to choose something truly unique that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Botanical dyeing is an ancient art form that still produces inspiring results today.

botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
Tesoros Maya​​

Artisans of San Juan La Laguna: Preserving the Magic of Natural Colors

The artisans of San Juan La Laguna are the guardians of this ancient craft, and they take their role seriously. Every day, they work hard to preserve the techniques and knowledge of botanical dyeing that have been passed down for centuries. Through their practice, these artisans keep alive a tradition that has become part of the culture and history of their village. They also strive to create beautiful pieces that will be shared and admired by people from around the world. The artisans understand the importance of sustainability when it comes to botanical dyeing. All materials used in their work are carefully chosen so as not to harm or deplete local ecosystems. This delicate balance between creativity and conservation is key to ensuring that this ancient craft remains viable for generations to come.


The long process begins with extracting natural dyes from plants, seeds and tree bark. Getting the same color batch is not always that easy. We’ve been told that even the moon can alter the tones of different dyes from plant extracts. Once picked, the natural cotton balls—which are white, khaki or coffee in color—are pulled apart so that the seeds can be removed. The cotton is then stretched and pounded into a rectangle in preparation for spinning it into thread. The plant and the cotton are boiled together for about 30 minutes in a large pot of water for the dye. Colors are then made fast by boiling them with the stalk of a banana plant for another 30 minutes. This means that colors will not bleed when worn or washed, a common problem with synthetic dyes.


Making and dying the thread are only the first steps in creating a scarf or a poncho. Next is choosing which colors will be used and then tying the threads onto the loom, followed by the actual back strap weaving of the item, a time-consuming process.


botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
Tesoros Maya​​
Botanical Dyes from San Juan La Laguna
Tesoros Maya​​

Environmental Impact of Botanical Dyeing

Botanical dyeing is a sustainable practice, as it produces no harmful waste. In fact, many of the plant materials used in the process are grown on-site in San Juan La Laguna, minimizing environmental impact and reducing costs. Furthermore, botanical dyes can be reused multiple times before they need to be replaced. This reduces the amount of chemicals and other materials that need to be produced or bought for each fabric dyeing job. 


Before the resurgence of interest in natural dyes in San Juan, nearly all cotton was dyed with synthetic colors, which discharged toxic waste into waterways. This community now uses only colors that are natural and able to return back to the earth, unlike modern artificial dyes and chemicals that can cause environmental damage. The families in this village tell us that hundred years ago their grandmothers had only four colors in their dyes, “indigo, cochineal, achiote and plain white. But now, this community has discovered over 34 natural colors. Some they discovered because they saw that after the rain, certain plants left colors on the wood they collect for their fires. So they experimented with these flowers, leaves and barks.


The most common colors are: Black pepper, Mexican tarragon, insects like cochineal, and recycled coconut’s shell, produce different variations of a pink color.
Avocado seed are dried and left until they begin to disintegrate. It is then grounded and boiled to release a green dye.
Carrots are used to produce an orange dye and then can be recycled to feed to many farm animals. 

Flor de Muerto (or Mexican Marigold) is used to produce yellow dyes.
Sacatinta is the name of an evergreen shrub with berries that are used to produce the indigo /blue dyes.

Finally, the natural colors of botanical dyeing add beauty and vibrancy to fabrics without any harsh treatments or dangerous chemicals.

botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
Tesoros Maya​​
botanical dyes in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala
ikat weaving Guatemala​​
Natural Dyed Blouse
Tesoros Maya​​

Botanical Dyeing as a Sustainable Practice

The process of botanical dyeing has a positive effect on the environment, as it uses natural materials and is free from harsh chemicals. This ensures that the entire production process is non-toxic and sustainable. The artisans in San Juan La Laguna use flowers, bark, and leaves to produce their vibrant colors. Instead of using synthetic dyes, they collect these materials from plants around them and use them in combination with natural mordants like salt or ash to create beautiful hues without any pollutants. Botanical dyeing also requires much less water than traditional dyeing methods, making it an even more sustainable practice.


Botanical dyeing is a beautiful and ancient art form that has been used to create stunning works of art for centuries. In San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, the tradition is still alive and thriving. The artisans of this small town have dedicated their lives to perfecting natural colors and preserving the magic of botanical dyeing. By using sustainably-sourced materials, they are able to create stunning pieces of art while also helping to protect the environment. Botanical dyeing is an incredible way to bring beauty to the world while also making a positive impact on our planet.


The entire process is fascinating. If you are looking for quality handwoven goods that support local weavers, preserve Mayan tradition and are environmentally sustainable, supporting the makers in San Juan La Laguna is one of our main goals. We hope one day you can experience this rich tradition and culture in person. 

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Preserving the Magic of Natural Colors in San Juan La Laguna

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