Arts of Native America
Making of Color

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 We’re frequently asked how the people get the colors into their baskets, pottery and Kachina dolls.

 The process is complex, and the results are beautiful.  Here are the traditional recipes for color: 

  Basket Colors

       White – Natural creamy color of yucca

       Green – Strips from the outer leaves of yucca

       Red – A dye made from two small plants (Thelesperm gracile and thelesperm subnudum) that are boiled with a pinch of native alum and then smoked in a closed receptacle over a fire of white wool.

       Black – Boiled in sunflower seeds and smoked with black wool.

       Yellow – Made by drying yucca strips in the sun

       Dark Blue – from black beans

       Purple – from the black-seed sunflower

       Purple and Carmine – from kinds of corn

       Pink – from cultivated coxcomb

       Yellow and Greenish Yellow – from flowers of the rabbit brush

      Green – from a mixture of indigo dye with rabbit brush flower.

     White for Yucca baskets – bleached stems of rabbit brush rubbed with white clay.

Pottery Colors

      Black – obtained by boiling tansy mustered and adding hematite

      Yellow – from clay rich in iron hydroxide that turns red or     orange on firing

      White – from an iron free white clay

      Kachina Colors

    Green and blue – from malachite

    Black – soot and corn smut

    Red – hematite

    Yellow - limonite

From: The Hopi Indians by Harry C. James - 1956  

Textile Colors

      Black - ocher, pinion pitch and 3-leaved sumac

      Brown - mountain mahogany root bark

      Rose - prickly pear cactus fruit

      Rich Brown - wild walnut hulls

      Green - sagebrush

      Orange - Tan - one seeded juniper

      Bright Yellow - chamizo shrub

      Reddish Purple - wild plum roots

      Tan - Indian paintbrush blossoms

      White - gypsum