Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Seriously AWOL....!

Woops!...what happened to last year???.....I got so caught up finishing off the NMA residency, ensconced in further research; and then sucked into the pandemonium of house guests for Christmas and New Year,  I somehow didn't find the time to write any posts for several months.  I had good intentions of starting afresh at the beginning of the year....but obviously that didn't happen either! I guess we've all been there, so here's a quick update.

After a fantastic NYE with my husband and friends at the Arboretum I had to drag my sorry self out of bed the next morning to drive to Sturt Summer School in Mittagong, where I was teaching an intensive week on organic Indigo vats. I had a full class of new and returning students from all over Australia, some who had already done short courses on natural dyeing with me in the past. This intensive week was all about ensuring beginners to the organic indigo process had a complete understanding of how the indigo fermentation process works; what occurs during the different stages of fermentation; and how to read the vats in order to keep them balanced so that our subsequent indigo dyeing would be successful. I also stress the importance of correct fibre preparation before dyeing, something I think is analagous to flossing teeth - its a bore to do but so worth it for healthy results!

I have recently seen some textiles by a Sydney duo who sell their indigo work for a lot of money and yet after only a few months, the indigo has faded to a pale wishy-washy grey-blue.  This could be indicative of a vat that has not been at optimal conditions for dyeing. Sure, you may get an indigo blue intially, but if the vat has not been balanced correctly at the point of dyeing then this is what happens - the indigo has not been fixed into the fibre of the fabric and therefore it is sitting on the surface and fades very quickly.

I first learnt how to dye with indigo back in the late '80's with my dye teacher, Virginia Harrison, however in those days we used synthetic indigo and chemicals such as caustic soda and thiourea dioxide (TUD).  It wasn't until I attended a class with Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup over in the US back in 2012 that I learnt how to make organic vats so that these harmful chemicals did not have to be used. Catherine and Joy's knowledge was immense and I am grateful to them for re-igniting my love of indigo dyeing.  However, it wasn't until I started keeping my own vat going for well over a year that I really understood how to care for it during different seasons, through winter dormancy,  and then balancing it and reviving it again. Indigo vats are like temperamental teenagers at times and you need to pay a lot of attention in order to get the best out of the vat, ensuring you do not waste the indigo that is in there because you think it has been depleted. Catharine has an excellent blog and is constantly pushing herself to know more about the process, questioning the status quo in order to try new methods and materials.

Anyway....I was keen to try some new reduction materials with my class as well, so we made up individual vats with lots of different summer fruits in order to test their ability to reduce the vat. For those of you not acquainted with indigo, it is not soluble in water and therefore cannot enter the fibre or fabric.  It must be reduced first under strict pH conditions in order to become soluble.  Then as it oxidises after dyeing it becomes insoluble again, but by then the indigo molecules have been trapped inside the fibre, forming one of the most fast dyes known to mankind. This has been proven by archeological research on grave goods from almost 6,200 years ago from Huaca Prieta in Peru.

A selection of our different baby organic indigo vats, happy in the warmth
During the week we tended our baby sample vats to see what fruits worked well with reducing the indigo.  Some of them were like sprinters - they gave colour very quickly initially, but then petered out over the week, needing rebalancing in order to optimise the indigo left in the vat.  Others were like long-distance runners - slow to start but still active at the end of our intensive week.  I was very impressed with both mango and banana  (cooked and uncooked),  and at certain times of the year you can buy them very cheaply from the markets when they are too over-ripe to sell.....perfect for the indigo vat.  I also think freezing the over-ripe fruit and then defrosting may also contribute to their efficacy, helping break down the cell walls quickly.

Whilst we kept our eyes on the baby vats, we had two larger vats with which to dye bigger pieces - my 18 month vat which I took with me, as a mid-blue vat, and a new henna vat which we made up and used for a stronger colour.  I wanted students to slow down and explore the ideas of using shibori together with indigo resist paste to build up colour and texture for their work. It is easy to just make a dark vat and get the blue-on-white wow factor, but in order to really understand the beauty of indigo it is best to attempt repeated dippings, overlapping shapes and textures to create many shades of blue in one cloth.

Some of the work on display during Open Studio Day

Beautiful resist work by beginner, Sue

Christine used a series of cut stencils with resist paste and
several immersions in the indigo vat to build up the tones.

Lynda concentrated on dyeing different silk yarns to use on
the handles for her ceramic tea-pots, and explored drawing
natural objects and pattern with resist paste onto cloth 

Sue produced  a simple yet effective shibori on
a thrift store linen shirt. She managed to keep
the rest of the shirt perfectly indigo-free as well!

Claudia painted freehand with the resist paste on one side of
the cloth in a technique she loves - zen doodling.

Towards the end of the week we experimented with over dyeing some indigo blue and white cloths made earlier in the week with some natural dyes, to demonstrate how you get natural, and colourfast shades of green. Compare the original indigo and white fabric at the back of the sample below, with the front fabric which has been overdyed with iris leaves, (these were growing nearby, so that's why we used them) giving a clear bright yellow and several shades of green. For a truly fast yellow, weld (Reseda luteola), would be my dye of choice.

Adele's itajime sample overdyed with iris leaves.
We had a great week and although the weather wasn't that kind to us (raining most days ....good for the garden but not for dye classes!) I am sure the students learnt a lot, and considering the majority were beginners to indigo, I am very proud of the results.

I will be running another indigo class in Canberra this year - if you are interested in attending please email me for details.