Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Barbara Geyer is an old friend of mine. We've spent mornings in the indigo field working our devils out, many afternoons at the indigo vat together working our lives out, and many days working together as a team to give people a glimpse of Japanese textiles. She had an immediate and strong reaction to the traditional textiles when she first visited Japan ten years ago. She has an intuitive feeling for things Japanese and a gut sense of what is really good. I was lucky to have been able to work with her again in Europe. And many people were lucky to get a deeper look at Japan because of her deep enthusiasm for things Japanese that powers one of her many engines!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

This kind of shibori was used traditionally for diapers. Old cotton kimono would be taken apart , folded and dyed in indigo. This is the shape it was folded into and held with stitches before dying.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Kusagi Dying

Kusagi means "stink tree" in Japanese. It grows in my area off the sides of cliffs in swampy rocky dangerous places. Nondescript. The tree grows quickly for three to five years and then rots and dies. Hmmmm. It has a hydrangea like white flower in August and I take note of where the trees are as I drive by. In October the flowers have gone to a small blue black berries cuddled in red leaf frames. They last about a week before turning black. During this short window I gather them and use them as a dye. Like most berry dyes the color is not particularly fast. However it is particularly beautiful. You can dye light blues and over dye with pale yellow to get willow green. Gorgeous and rare colors in the vegetable dye world. The red frames dye a coppery color.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Late September....the landscape is bedraggled and vainly struggling for warmth and sunshine. Last chance to gather leaves and vines for dying. Kudzu is draped on the mountainsides now. Insect weary. Today we gathered some vines and used them to dye silk thread and silk scarves. There is a somewhat complicated technique of boiling the vines and leaves to remove the yellow pigment. On the second dye bath you raise the pH with carbonic acid. ( I can't figure out why they call it an acid when it raises pH and not lowers it though.) This releases the natural green pigments. Although nature looks green there are no real green pigments out there. Just chloryphil which doesn't dye green. Greens are usually made with a yellow over dyed with indigo.

Once the green pigments are removed in a pH9 dye bath, the dye bath's pH is reduced to pH6 with citric acid. (Some vinegar or a few lemons do the trick.) Then the silk is dyed as usual. Today we mordanted with cream of tarter and copper sulphate and iron to get a nuanced spectrum of greens and mosses and cream.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Drying freshly picked indigo from the field. The color is exceptionally good for a September harvest. I will slowly compost this batch in the winter to reduce to a high percentage of pigment. The indigo has a unique smell. Smells like a lot of work and a potential beautiful piece of dyed indigo cloth and blue silk thread.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Weaving is the simple part. There are too many steps to count in the process of setting up a loom to weave. The creative process is just as long and complicated. I don't want to dictate to the students too much it is best for them to think for themselves. They should look through samples and photos to get a feel for stripes and checks. Kumi is going to weave an obi for a summer kimono. We chose some plain linen thread and a deep indigo blue dyed silk and a light green silk( gardenia and indigo) accent thread. She spent time planning the balance of her thread count and started warping. It took her several hours warp five meters.

It takes so long from the start of a project to the end that it is easy to forget the order of the steps.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rika spent her weekend stitching and binding 14 meters of linen/cotton in preparation for indigo dying today. I try to give you and idea of the binding methods in the photos. It turned out beautiful. Although the technique was close to the one Ayaka used last week for her Yukata it turned out differently.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Using persimmon tannin to get rustic browns on linen. Unlike most natural dyes which need to be boiled and mordented with a mineral salt, persimmon tannin is fixed with ultra violet rays.(Hung in the sun.) It takes a good ten dips and a full day in the hot sun after each dip to turn a deep rich brown. It works well aesthetically with indigo and I've been experimenting with the two properties for several years now. The persimmon tannin (kakishibu) needs good weather and there just isn't enough of it in the summer here. I keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and am up at the break of day to get the material in the dye and then on the metal roof of my kitchen to bake and brown. I have another month or so to finish up this year's dying. Of course there is next year. I always have a carry over box of half-dyed material to finish of the following May.

Here are a few samples of work with stencil paste resist with indigo and re-pasted and dyed with persimmon tannin. I've been playing with Buddhist images this year.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

A group of twenty university students were over to dye tengui. Two variations of binding techniques but twenty completely different effects. The bleeding of the blue to white depends on the tightness of the bind combined with the level of oxidation after each dip. They dipped the material ten times for one minute each and oxidized for three minutes between dips.
It is always interesting to see the personality of the student come out in the work.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I couldn't resist another lotus picture. A few years back I snapped a picture of a bee in the lotus. The image was strong but the bee was ever so slightly out of focus and I couldn't use it. This morning I was lucky enough to get this visitor with a camera on hand! She may not be completely in focus but getting closer.

Indigo seeds are small shiny and black. The husk holds fast and winnowing by rubbing between your palms takes time. I plant 5 seeds in each compartment of a seedling tray in early April. Using the best soil I make from my kitchen compost and leaf compost combined. By mid-June the seedlings should be ready to transplant at 50 cm intervals. If the weather cooperates you can harvest the leaves three times sometimes four times a season. The most time consuming method is to strip the leaves off the fresh stems so they come off easily. Dry the leaves in the sun for two days and hang them in a dry place until winter to start a slow three month compost to reduce the leaf matter and leave the pigment and good bacteria for later fermentation in the indigo vat. Time and weather always play a role. It is best to harvest indigo during a good streak of weather so that the indigo pigment percentage in the leaves is high and you have ample time to dry so that the leaves don't mould. This year looks like I'll get three good harvests. Instead of winter composting I am composting the leaves fresh from the garden for two weeks. When the ammonia smell is almost unbearable I'll add the blue compost to ash water, add some sugar and ferment it into a traditional Japanese indigo vat. So easily said...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Weaving and Indigo class

A full blooming lotus greeted four students this cool late August morning. The cicada's shrill buzz less and less noticible and varities of dragonflies taking their place as the "season's insect"as the nuanced Japanese seasons proceed.

Aya san spent over twenty hours stitching, pleating and cord wrapping a 13 meter long roll of cotton linen to indigo dye. It seemed worth it today for her as we admired her finished summer kimono.(yukata) She had previously finished two smaller versions for her young sons to wear to the local summer festivals. A hand-tied, natural indigo dyed shibori (Japanese tie-dye) summer kimono is a luxury in contemporary Japan. The depth and variations of the blue and the lyrical cool strength of her yukata makes it timeless.

You can see the shape of the material before it is indigo dyed on the table behind Ayaka's son. The shibori technique was 'tesuji' (hand-pleating). It was bound with string to a 13 meter long rice stem rope.

One of my regular students, Ogata san turned 91 years old last week. She comes every week and makes us all lunch from vegetables she grows by herself in her garden. A bit of a camera ham she stuck a pose with the lotus and told us to take a picture.

I have weaving students and students who are primarily interested in indigo dying. Keeping the indigo dye vat itself takes years to feel confident with. The properties are almost magical. The dye itself is a bright yellow. When the cloth is lifted out into the air it oxydizes in minutes before your eyes, to blue. Successive dips gets you a deeper blue. Some material dyes better than others. The weather effects the color quality.

It takes time for the students to understand and then push the limits on the indigo dye properties themselves. There are indigo pieces that belong in museums and others at the other end of the desirability spectrum. We spend time looking at old samples and different contemporary pieces and discussing what the qualities are, both negatively and positively. We look not only at the piece itself but try to imagine who made it it under what circumstances.

Indigo works well with natural fibers such as hemp and linen and cotton. Silk and wool dye but the high pH of the dye bath and the natural wax and glues on the animal fibers make dying them a little less predictable. Books have been written on indigo....and a few more could be written to fill out some of the unknowns and nuances.

Monday, 24 August 2009

As the summer here draws to a close, the evenings are cooler and the lotus are blooming outside my front door, I have decided to start working on a blog and documenting my work. Change is in the air. Not just the season but with my activities as well. It will take me some months to figure out the finer details of this format as well as to get into some groove as to what I want to post and figure out who I am posting to.

I've been growing lotus in several large ceramic pots outside my front door for 5 years now. The balance of the clay, gravel, bone meal and fish fertilizer is important. Being at the mercy of the unpredictable summer weather is frustrating. I am not sure what I did right but I am blessed with 5 blooms this year. The flowers open slightly on the first day. (As in the picture.) The second day the open full for a few hours. The fresh green and yellow of the center of the lotus wither within a few hours. You have to be up at the crack of dawn to see the blooms at their best. A few hours later you are back in the waiting mode for another year.

The lotus is closely connected with Buddhism in Japan. From the muddy dirty water a pure flower can emerge. It's life short and fragrant and fragile.

The fragrance is heavenly. If you have smelled lotus essential oils you can somewhat imagine what the real thing is like.