Spinning yarns (and twine) in old San Diego.

Yarns dyed many different colors out on display in San Diego's Old Town.
Yarns dyed many different colors out on display in San Diego’s Old Town.

One more quick post from today’s stroll through Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. After going on the free walking tour, which I do every few years to jiggle my memory, I observed that a couple of unique exhibits were out on public display. One concerned yarn, the other twine. A “string” of coincidence too good not to blog about!

During the tour, our knowledgeable guide explained how red dye in the olden days was derived from a particular insect–the cochineal. The cochineal is a beetle that can be found on prickly pears, a cactus which grows abundantly in arid San Diego. While we watched, the guide plucked one from a prickly pear next to the Casa de Estudillo, then crushed it. His fingers turned bright purple from the beetle juice! (He explained the British Red Coats dyed their uniforms with cochineal, but Purple Coats didn’t sound quite so fierce.)

Tour guide about ready to make some red dye.
Tour guide ready to produce some reddish dye.

After the tour ended, two volunteers inside the Casa de Estudillo were demonstrating how yarn used to be made. To dye the fibers, both cochineal and indigo dye were commonly used. A spinning wheel served to demonstrate the hard work required to live comfortably before our more modern conveniences.

La Casa de Estudillo, an elegant house built in the early 1800s by a wealthy Californio who owned several large ranchos in Southern California.
La Casa de Estudillo, an elegant adobe house built in 1827 by a wealthy Californio family that owned several large ranchos in Southern California.
Volunteers in costume told me a little about San Diego's complex, fascinating history.
Volunteers in costume with baskets of color.  They told me some yarns concerning San Diego’s complex, fascinating history.
State Park volunteers describe life in early San Diego, when spinning wheels were common household objects.
State Park volunteers describe life in early San Diego, when spinning wheels were common household objects.

Out in one corner of Old Town’s big central plaza, some friendly Mormons were demonstrating the making of twine. Like the native prickly pear, yucca plants have always been plentiful in San Diego’s desert-like environment. The tough fibers in the leaves, once extracted, are dried and then twisted using a simple mechanism to create primitive but very practical twine or rope.

Making twine used to involve twisting dried fibers from native yucca plants.
Making twine involved twisting fibers found in native yucca plants.
Mormon guy smiles as he exhibits rope-making in Old Town. The Mormon Battalion was one of many diverse participants in San Diego's early history.
Mormon guy smiles as he exhibits rope-making in Old Town. The Mormon Battalion was one of many diverse participants in San Diego’s early history.

Someday I’ll probably blog about the amazing, hour-long Old Town walking tour. I need some more photos and many more notes before I undertake that, however!

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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