Squeezing color from crushed root bark, Loo Neke, Timor

Picture 2 of 11

Dyers crush the root bark of morinda trees and wring it in water to extract a red pigment called morindin. Morindin does not adhere to cotton without a mordant, a combination of organic compounds that binds the color to the thread. A mordant requires oil, tannin, and an aluminum salt, chemicals that occur naturally in particular forest plants. Secret mordant recipes have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.