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.