We recently discovered Natalia Siu Munro aka @malatalia through Kate Berry, a longtime friend and Denim Dudes collaborator, as she traveled through Mexico earlier this year. 24 year old Natalia has established herself in Oaxaca, the mecca of traditional Mexican craft as La Chica de manos azules  “the girl with the blue hands.” We sat down with her to find out how this special corner of the world has impacted her work and to learn more about Mexico’s rich history with indigo dye.

Natalia started her journey with indigo while she was traveling through central America in a bid to experience life outside of her home country, England. After living in Guatemala for a year and a half she found herself in Mexico City where none other than an instagram ad nudged her to try a natural dye class. “At that time I used to make mala beads (meditation necklaces) and I had this idea of dyeing the tassels with natural dyes. I learned to dye using cempasúchil (marigold), birana cochinilla, oregano, annatto seeds, blue cabbage, mexican honeysuckle, brazilwood and logwood.” 

Photographed by Kate Berry.

Natalia fell in love with the process of natural dye and the company running the course offered her a job. However, after 7 months, she found herself increasingly drawn to Oaxaca, an area of Mexico known for its deep roots in craft, in particular weaving and dyeing. The city has been attracting artists and creatives for years and is home to printers, potters, tattoo artists, natural dyers and clothing brands, all feeding into the hyper creative energy there. “The possibilities are endless with what you can do here in terms of collaboration and the exchange of craft and techniques. A lot of people want to collaborate, they want to learn your craft and you want to learn their craft which is a cool exchange” she says.

About a year into her natural dye discovery she started exploring indigo and in April 2020 was due to study with Taka, aka @awonoyoh at his permaculture farm in Fujino, Japan. However, covid put a stop to her plans and she remained in Mexico, teaching herself through online classes and trial and error. “Now if anyone asks me about indigo I will always share my knowledge for free because I found it for free.” she says.

Natalia working with indigo, photographed by Roma Libre
Captured by Kate Berry.

Each culture, country or creative force interprets indigo craft differently, generating vast variations in technique and execution. But indigo aficionados all have a certain temperament in common: they have a deep understanding of nature, an appreciation of Wabi Sabi and they are often quite spiritual and open people: Natalia is no exception:

“There are so many connections and meanings to the color blue. In terms of my work, if someone comes across my feed on Instagram I want to show them that it’s not just one feeling; it’s showcasing all of these different ranges of emotion, it can mean happiness and love and it can also mean longing, the unknown and your deepest darkest emotions. A lot of my art is based on feelings and emotions which I just want to share with people to see if they also resonate.”

Natalia's recent work and process.
Bamboo fabric dyed with Indigo from Santiago Niltepec, using Katazome and embroidery.

Natural dye cultivation and craft, in particular indigo, has been prevalent around the world for centuries. As industrialisation came into play, our world saw a decrease in traditional craft and natural dyestuff production, as cheaper synthetic replacements came to market and aided in lowering mass production costs. The Mexican indigo industry was no exception and it wasn’t until more recent years that the volume of indigo dyeing has begun to grow in Oaxaca once more.

Indigo has been so present throughout Mexican culture and Natalia has used her craft to connect not only with other creatives and customers but also with the history of the craft in Mexico. Her indigo journey has made her a source of knowledge on the subject, from her discovery of Teotitlan del Valle, the weaving capital of Mexico, to her exploration of the coastal town where indigo is grown and produced.

“I try to focus on materials that come from the area I live in. All of the indigo produced in Mexico comes from a town called Santiago Niltepec. It used to be called Añiltepec in Náhuatl, as the Spanish word for indigo is Añil and “cerró del añil” translates as indigo hill. They work with both Indigofera Tinctoria Guatemaltencis and Cornosuelo, this variant is more wild: you’ll even see it growing alongside the highway.”

— Natalia Siu Munro

Natalia in her studio shot by Kate Berry.

As an indigo dyer, her craft extends beyond textiles. Using bamboo fabric as well as organic cotton, made by the only grower of organic cotton in Mexico, that comes from the mountains 3 hours from Oaxaca, Khadi Oaxaca. “I collect a lot of bones as well.” Once finding a skull on the road to the entrance to the indigo fields inspired her to collect and dye bones with indigo paste patterns “I want to show that with indigo the possibilities are endless, you can dye bones, shoes, rocks, corral, I want to try and dye ceramics soon as there’s a huge ceramic craft culture here.”

A cow skull Natalia found on a trip to Niltepec, dyed in 6 dips of indigo from the same town.

Aside from dye purposes, Natalia has discovered natural indigo’s many medicinal uses as a result of her work. She uses liquid indigo for its healing properties to treat mosquito bites or burns as she’d read The Samurai in Japan wore indigo kimonos under their armor. She also observed that the area surrounding the indigo vats in Santiago Niltepec are abundant with vegetables, a sign that natural indigo is a great fertilizer as well as an antiseptic.

The drying process, photographed by Kate Berry.
Shot by Kate Berry.

As many creatives and artists know there is an eb and flow to the creative process, especially when trying to maintain your craft’s authenticity and run a business. But Natalia believes you’re still an artist, even when you’re not creating.

“We have this capitalist mentality of when we’re not producing that we’re not doing anything, and we feel bad that we are not doing anything, but it’s actually that period of ‘not doing’ where we are nurturing the creativity inside of us.”

— Natalia Siu Munro

As the saying goes “the only inherent trait of an artist is the urge to create, everything else is a result of practice.” Which rings true for Natalia as the process of growing, harvesting, creating and using indigo is not a simple one.  “Learning from errors is interesting to me; even within error there’s perfection. But it’s patience and a waiting game. I am a strong believer that your energy can affect nature. Some days if I’m not feeling great it affects the indigo. It’s a slow art. It takes me days to complete pieces.” 

Along with her current and future projects, the near future for Natalia includes a trip to Peru, this month where she will be trying ayahuasca for the first time. “My sister works in ayahuasca now, and it’s going to be my first time but I’m going with the intention to unlock my full creative potential and shed the insecurities I have about my work and to see what comes out of it.”

Website | + posts

Trend forecaster, denim designer, industry journalist and author of Denim Dudes.

+ posts