Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Dying with Stick Lac, Indigo and Gardenia

I dyed two scrappy pieces of silk many years ago as an experiment. They looked like a a cross between a giant octopus hickey attack and a major roadkill of a tribe of tree frogs. A weird aesthetic and both scarves met the same fate. Taken off my neck still warm and not given back. 'Name your price. I am not giving it back...'

I miss them and decided to try to make new ones. The silk this time was slightly different and it didn't come out exactly like before. The green is too peacocky so it is time to try again. Ogata san helped out today painting on the Lac. Then the whole piece is steamed in this contraption for an hour to set the dye. Then the red rings are wrapped and resisted and then dyed brilliant yellow with gardenia pods. The whole thing is untied and retied with smaller rings and then dyed in indigo.

I picked up some stick lac when while working in North Laos five years ago and am finally using it. It is tough to dye with. Steaming is the only sure way to fix the color permanently and deeply.

Lac dye is a natural reddish dyestuff extracted from
stick lac which is a secretion of the insect Coccus laccae
(Laccifer lacca Kerr). The insect C. laccae is often found
in South and Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand and
India. In Thailand, the lac insect grows most commonly
on the Rain tree,

Blog Follower Visits

I was lucky that Nat http://notjustnat.blogspot.com/ and her good friend Ayako were able to spare a day and make it out to my house after the silk tour in Japan was over. The indigo was in good condition and we never shut up the entire day. ( I noticed she posted a similar picture on her blog only seconds ago.) Thank you for the kind words Nat. I hope we meet again.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ogata san Makes a Healthy Comeback

Ogata kane san has been taking my indigo and weaving class for five years now. She started when she was a young 88 years old. Now she is 93. She fell down the stairs at her house last winter and hasn't been to class in five months. She came back today.

She has a flower and vegetable garden at her house and still climbs up the mountain by herself to dig bamboo sprouts. She grows just about everything in the Japanese diet. She cooks for us all each Tuesday in my kitchen using vegetables and fruits she grows herself. She still hand-tills the land herself! Our lunch table is often adorned with some flowers from her garden. An inspiration to us all.

Today she started back threading the tabletop loom I found on Yahoo auction for her right where she left off last fall. And she found her internal-male-teenager with this space oddessy mind trippy indigo tablecloth she indigo dyed.

Eri watched as I showed Ogata san the technique and tried it out on a piece of natural brown cotton. It is more rustic and somehow astrological. She immediately started a new one to improve on the first one. Good spirit.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Images of Silkworms Spinning

(Click to enlarge)

Silkworms Spring 2011

Most of the silkworms are now cocoons now. Some late bloomers still munching away on mulberry. The eggs hatched two weeks early and the weather is unseasonably chilly this year. The rainy season started a few weeks early as well. This meant keeping kerosene heaters burning for several weeks to keep the silkworms happy. The silkworms on the top three shelves started spinning a full two days earlier than their brethren on the lower shelves. This threw a bit more chaos into the system of getting 3500 (estimate) crawling critters from the rearing trays to the spinning cardboard frames. But the system in the chaos and the chaos in the system played out well enough.

A and B grade cocoons were separated and sold from the farmhouses for hundreds of years in Japan. The cocoons that were irregular in shape, making them hard to reel single filaments were rejects and the farmer's wife would use them to weave kimono for her family. These kimono are the real treasures. Infinitely more charming and warm than the city slick perfection of their urban relatives. Often two silkworms would become entangled and spin a double cocoon. These cocoons can be reeled a special way to get a shiny slab like thread.

This year's cocoons are going to become a single men's kimono and obi belt. The threads will be made three different ways for this project.

First: Fine threads made from reeling ten cocoons and then combining six of these threads to get a perfectly smooth lustrous warp thread.

Second: The above mentioned double cocoon (tamamayu ito) thread will be used every third or fourth thread of the warp for texture.

Third: Cocoons will be melted in a straw ash liquid and then stretched into floss and then hand spun for a soft weft thread.

To make the double cocoons you need some real perseverance. A silkworm will loosely spin and outside frame for the cocoon leaving a space to stick out it's tail. Then it gets rid of waste alkaline water and pulls it's tail back in and continues to spin it's cocoon for three days. The trick is to pull the silkworm out of it's slightly formed cocoon at this stage and put it in a box with another silkworm at the exact same stage and cover it with glass so they can't escape and hopefully they will spin a cocoon together. Very tricky timing. And they get kind of smushed faces when you put the glass on while they are trying to escape.

The pictures are a little confusing but you should get the idea.

It is impossible not to anthropolize the whole process. Forcefully putting two silkworms in a small frame forcing them to make a single cocoon
without even knowing their compatibility, sex...or if silkworms have a sexual preference...or even gender issues...or astrological compatibility. (Although they were all born within a few hours of each other.)

Fate throwing them two together until death do them part in the boiling water that awaits them. Some just refuse to have anything to do with each other and make two separate squished cocoons. One may die in the process making a complete mess of the others attempt at cocoon spinning.

The anthropolizing was truly getting out of hand today as I was playing evil roles of investment banker and the worms my helpless victims of my greedy investment schemes. If Paulson and Bernanke were silk farmers what would their roles be in relation to the helpless but potentially profitable silkworms? OK OK. Too much work on double cocoons. Time for bed.

Gardenia Pods Brilliant Yellow.

Gardenia pods in a stainless pot before boiling.

Gardenia pods that form once the flowers are finished are a stable source of a brilliant yellow dye for under-dying indigo to get greens. Boil them and smush them against the side of the pot with an egg flipper. Filter the liquid through a fine mesh and repeat four times to get a deep orange dye bath.

I mordant it in a separate bucket with creme of tarter instead of aluminum.

A basic rule of thumb for using vegetable dyes is to use four times the weight (of the wool or silk to be dyed) of the dyestuff material. (ie. roots or bark or flowers) Some dyes are so pigment-rich the ratio can be reversed. 500 grams of gardenia pods can easily dye 2kg of silk. The gardenia pod yellow is brilliant with a slight orange hint. The greens you can get with successive indigo dips are unique to gardenia. Other yellows from turmeric , onion skins, pampas relatives, etc, give their own specific tone of green. Like oil painting, greens are often tricky to use. In nature they are beautiful. They feel a little sickening when humans play with them. There is a tendency to get puke, snot or mucus like shades.

Yellow dye from gardenia pods and single indigo dip to get the green.

Shades of green with an single or double dip in indigo.

These greens are a tad nauseous but they will be combined with a light blue thread and then knit on a drum knitter to make heavy stretch t-shirt material. Eventually to become cardigans etc to sell in the shop. The silk is from waste slab. It doesn't dye that well with indigo as it streaks. This will be hidden in the knit. (hopefully)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Snoopy, Silkworms and Animal Feeder's Portrait

In the first picture I blinked and looked like a dork and Snoopy looked wonderful. In the second picture, I didn't blink but Snoopy stuck her tongue out on purpose. The silkworms just sat there expressionless.

Kao Nashi / No Face

In the old days my neighbor told me that there would sometimes be a single silkworm amongst ten thousand that did not have the markings on it's forehead. Children would look for these rare kaonashi oddities.

This year for some Mendelic reason, half have faces (actually markings on their upper backs) and half are white with no markings at all.

In the Studio Ghibli masterpiece, Sen to Chihoro/Spirited Away, one of these characters showed up at a hot spring for the myriad of Japanese Gods. He ate and ate and grew and grew and then suddenly vomited a tsunami of debris in the bath. The symbolism, like Chihiro's own parents who gorged themselves into pigs was intentional. I wonder what message Miyazki Hayao was making? Like a silkworm, Japan has grown because it consumes endlessly? The vomit is the garbage of daily life that surrounds us? Contemporary Japanese society was built on the invested income of silk exports to the USA in the early 20th century.

Maybe I read too much into this. Perhaps he just hates silk for some unknown reason.

My silkworms are starting to spin this evening. A month sure goes fast. The mulberry field is almost bare. They have eaten several hundred kg from that particular field in the last week. It is still spring and it hadn't grown that much. If they didn't start spinning today I would be searching for good mulberry tomorrow. It is starting to berry and during that time the leaves are slightly smaller and I suspect slightly less nutritious.


Dying with Japanese White Oak.

On the way back from picking students up at the station the road was blocked by the city workmen cutting trees that were tangled in the power lines. I noticed that one of the trees cut was a Japanese White Oak. (shirogashi) Since there was no room in the car Takeshima san held the branches out the window and we drove on.

With an iron mordant we got these steel dove grays using the bark, small branches and leaves. Each kind of silk took the dye differently. Takeshima san under dyed some heavy crepe silk. The following week she tried several shibori techniques.