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.)
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.
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.
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!