When Anabel was ten years old, her grandmother gave her a tiny loom as a gift. Years later, after getting a degree in fashion and working as a denim designer, she realized that her heart belonged to textile art – weaving, dyeing, and making fabric from hand. At first, she “never thought that textile art would be a career,” but during her time as a denim designer she knew she needed more space to be creative.
Today, she hosts two successful experiences on Airbnb: a natural dyeing workshop and a weaving class. Natural dyeing is the art of using vegetables, plants, minerals, and other natural sources to color textiles. Learn how Anabel overcame the challenges of first getting started and connecting to guests while helping people discover the wonder of fabric.
Centuries of craft in 3 hours
After deciding that the fashion industry was not where she belonged, Anabel began going to a small textile school in Barcelona. After some time there, she realized that if she wanted to pursue this craft, she didn’t need to travel so far from home. “Mexico has such a rich culture and history in textiles and I thought ‘What am I doing here?’” She decided to go back and continue her education there.
Anabel wants her experiences to help make it easier to learn about textiles. She remembers how studying natural dyeing was difficult because the dye recipes were often kept within families, passed down over generations. On top of that, existing courses on natural dyeing were time-consuming. “In most of the classes, they give you 20 or 30 different dyestuffs (materials used for dyeing) and cover many different colors,” with the whole class taking a week or more to complete. She worked to distill these longer courses into smaller sessions, condensing her natural dyeing experience into just three hours.
A tradition that can travel
Natural dyeing isn’t something that has to stay in Mexico: it’s a skill that guests can bring back to their corners of the world. Anabel uses local plants for her dyestuffs, but they can be easily substituted with other materials. For example, to make yellow, she uses a marigold called cempasúchil, but she gives guests suggestions for other dyestuffs that they could use to make their own shades of yellow. “Something similar, like a local marigold where they are from, could also be used,” she said. Tumeric or onion skins also make yellow. By showing her guests how recipes can be adapted, Anabel hopes that they will try creating dyes from pieces of the natural landscapes they call home.
Beyond changing the dyestuff recipes, guests can also make new and surprising colors by doing small chemistry tricks, like adding cream of tartar to change the pH of a dye. Anabel explained that this is “a magic part” of natural dyeing: “You get colors that you weren’t expecting. There’s a lot you can’t control, but I like that it’s unpredictable and free. It’s something that’s alive.”
“You get colors that you weren’t expecting. There’s a lot you can’t control, but I like that it’s unpredictable and free. It’s something that’s alive.”
Blossoming as a host
Anabel remembers being nervous when she first started hosting. For her first few bookings, she remembers “I was super formal, like a teacher.” She quickly realized that it was better to be more relaxed and treat the experience just like “friends hanging out.” Having grown a lot as a host over the years, Anabel has lessons to share with the broader host community:
- Start small: She recommends that new hosts make their experiences simple to start. “Don’t invest a lot in it right away, or do really expensive things. Make it more about the content of the experience.” She believes that guests care most about the knowledge that the host is sharing with them—no fancy snacks required. To make the content the best it can be, she suggests doing a test run with a group of friends before welcoming your first guests.
- Improve the details: Anabel focuses improving the nitty-gritty details of her experiences to make them better overall. For example, she gives guests in her natural dyeing class a booklet to write dye recipes in, and over time she’s edited the booklet to make it easier to understand. Making several small changes will ultimately make a big difference for guests.
- Be the glue: As a host, Anabel knows that she is the glue that ties all her guests together. She works to connect guests to each other simply by asking a lot of questions. “First, I always ask where people have gone in the city. Most of them are tourists, so they get to talking with each other and can share tips on places to go…Traveling is something that they all have in common.” Then, during her experiences, she actively looks for moments where she can start conversation. In her natural dyeing class, while guests are waiting for the water to boil, Anabel knows to get the conversation rolling. “People have a lot to share if you just ask.”
Reconnecting people with fabric
Anabel knows that our relationship to fabric has changed a lot over time. “In the past, people had a very different relationship to fabric and clothes. It was more expensive, because it would take a long time to spin the yarn, and then dye it, weave it, make a fabric, and then make something out of it.” Today, making fabric is much cheaper, but Anabel believes that this has made us see it as disposable. It’s lost that special place in our lives.
Anabel’s hope is that her guests will walk away from her experiences feeling grateful for fabric and crafts. “After the weaving class, people will say ‘wow, I didn’t know it would take so much time.’” They see the time, effort, and care that used to go into making fabric and start to understand how lucky we are to have it. “It’s not like you can’t buy a shirt from your favorite brand anymore,” she adds. “You just need to appreciate it more.”
Anabel is the host of Natural Dye Using Ancient Techniques and Weave Outdoors with a Textile Artist. She shares recipes and sells her work through her brand, Antesis (@antesis). She lives in Mexico City.