It is possible to get a spectrum of blue shades from indigo. The pigment is the same and with each subsequent dip and oxidation the color deepens as the pigment piles up on the surface of the thread. From a pale sky blue with single dip in the vat until a purplish black blue with upwards of 15 dips in the vat. The tone stays much the same. It is next to impossible to dip a brush in indigo and paint it on a fabric. It is not an ink. The oxidation part of the dyeing process does not lend itself to being brushed on.
(There is a way to do this...involves a kind of arsenic. Yipee.)
Cloth and thread can be under dyed with yellows and reds etc. to get a spectrum of greens and purples. There is a bit of hit and miss with this method, depending on the material. (Semi de-gummed silk often works very well.) The under dye color often reacts with the high pH of the indigo and the greens are sometimes garish and the purples murky at best. A charcoal grey under dye can take the biting edge off the indigo blue.
The pure indigo color is almost worshipped by indigo aficionados.
I get it. I get it.
But it can get on your nerves looking at it for twenty years. That same bloody blue! ( To the indigo fans here.... something sacrilegious and borderline blasphemous in that confession!)
The Japanese have used indigo cleverly and sublimely. I don't deny it.
Wanting to add a second color to the stencil dyes I worked with persimmon tannin for years. The combination works well. Here are a few snaps of scraps. The rice resist paste is applied and the cloth dyed five times in indigo. The remaining rice paste is removed, the cloth is washed and dried and ironed. The next rice paste application uses the same stencil only shifted a few millimeters over giving the work an off-set effect.
Then it is dipped in the persimmon tannin juice every morning and placed where it can dry quickly with as many ultra-violet rays hitting the cloth directly as possible. This process is repeated ten times. It can take a few months to get a really rich brown color. The persimmon dyed areas have a shine. The quality of the indigo underneath is transformed into a deep space blue/black.
In addition the hard lines of stencil dying are softened and there is an extra dimension added to pattern. The cloth becomes stiff from the tannin and is not suitable for clothing. It is very labour intensive. There are only a few months a year when the ultra-violet rays are strong enough to dye with persimmon dye. You can't be away from the house while the cloth sits outside on the ground. It may rain and with my place the cloth has a morning position in front of the house and an afternoon position at the side of the house as the mountains get in the way of a full day of sunshine.
There are not a lot samples of Japanese sarasa out there as the techniques were not widespread and used only where there had been a reasonable amount of economic freedom. The good pieces had long been coveted away by collectors years ago. Although I have worked around Japanese textiles for twenty years, sarasa was something I saw in books and occasionally museums. It seemed very much out of reach. There are a few artists in Japan working with the techniques but they are really squirreled away in their ivory towers far from where I am. Before I search a teacher out I wanted to jump in the techniques and swim around for a few years. There is not a specific place to study. It will be stealing a hint of a process here and there and working it out in a direction that seems to be calling me. So Eri and I are mucking around on Mondays with books we are in endless awe of. In this blog I want to share some pictures of those pieces that are so attractive. I'll probably be blogging off and on about Sarasa for a few years to come. I should give a little more background as I go along.
1. The roots of the techniques started in ancient India.
2. Indigo and Rose Madder a Heavenly Garden of Arabesques.
3. Temple made of hanging cloth. Khrisna and Angels.
4. Cloth for Maharajas.
5. Gold and Clouds, the mother of all sarasa.
6. Sarasa stencils.
7. Sarasa moves to Indonesia.
8. Sarasa moves to Siam. (Thailand)
9. Sarasa moves to Persia.
10.Sarasa moves to Europe.
11. Sarasa comes to Japan.
There are over 50 essays in the book. This is not the place to list them up! (Maybe I should translate the whole book? Or maybe write a new one. There is never enough time in a day.)
This is the stuff Eri and I are hoping to be influenced by in making our own stencils with motifs from life around us. Using pigments we make from plants and mixing the indigo techniques we have picked up already.
These sarasa are almost completely made on cotton. Difficult, as the cloth has to be impregnated with a protein before dying. I am starting to set up a white silk warp to weave of silk I grew and reeled. Then I can make some real original sarasa on cloth I've made right form the egg! Will I live to 150 to actually manage to do this?
The cloth makes great Japanese bags for ceramics. Ohh la la.
Chemical dyes introduced to the world in the mid 1800's instantly decimated the traditional techniques of making sarasa. It was far too time consuming and needed a fair sized industry to supply natural dye pigment. Several new techniques to surface pattern kimono material did materialize and flourish with the introduction of chemical dyes. Yuzen variations blossomed with the new dyes and the steady hand and creativity of the traditional Edo period dyers and dye houses. (Another blog another time.)