Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Madder and the Winter Down Time

New Years Eve was very quiet at the house. The past few weeks of the winter slow down have been heaven.

Anneke arrived a few days with a suitcase full of the precious stuff. A big bottle of Pernod. A lot of chocolate.  I had to clean the fridge spotlessly and dedicate a special drawer to the mountain of cheese from Amsterdam and Italy. Now that is the way to start a good new year. Hiro baked away in the new oven and we are all suffering from lasagne hangovers. The dogs are walked and curled up in their respective chairs. Such domesticity.

Celebrating Christmas is a bit of a stretch in Japan. It is better to keep it simple. Hiro roasted a chicken in the new oven. Kamei san joined us for a quiet and delicious Christmas dinner. Then we watched, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas',  'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' and a dozen versions of, 'Do You Hear What I Hear?' on youtube. A midnight-minus-five-degree-dog-walk and soon visions of sugarplums were dancing in our heads. 

The reds from dyeing with madder were the only thing resembling Christmas decorations in the house this year.

After comparing Japanese Madder, European Madder and Indian Madder the verdict is in: 

Indian madder makers the most beautiful deep reds.

After using the dried roots, fresh roots, powdered and finely chopped the verdict is in:

Finally chopped is easier to use and you seem to get every last drop of pigment out of the roots.

The best technique for boiling down the madder is to make a fine woven and strong cotton bag and place the madder in that and put that in the boiling water. It is physically exhausting and dangerous to be pouring boiling water through fine cheesecloth over and over. It is also messy. The madder does double in size when it is boiled so don't fill the bag. It will explode. I used to use a silk bag but it just absorbed a lot of the pigment. After using it for years it was a gorgeous blood red before I retired it and used the silk as a lining for some project. Cotton will not absorb much of the madder pigment.

To get dark reds with aluminum you do have to mordant and dye mordant and dye a few times. It is not necessary to dry between dyes.  I was mordanting at 5% weight of dry yarn.

I learned to warp twenty years ago on a large Japanese wooden warping drum from the early 20th century. I had two at the house but they never ran smoothly. Kids love to spin these things full throttle and they get broken easily. I found one in almost perfect condition in an attic of an old farmhouse in a neighbouring village a few weeks back. It took a few days to polish up and oil and repair and now it runs perfectly. The first project to get warped is a silk kimono obi. It can warp eight threads at a time. One rotation in 3.5 meters. The frame can warp about 70 meters evenly. How clever is this thing?  You can warp 1200 threads in less than two hours.

I spent New Years Eve cutting new stencils for the paper linen sock tube project. I sewed together three layers of papers so three stencils get cut at the same time. The wave patterns with something floating down them from a second stencil is going to be the motif for a few years. I am generally too busy to think. This was an easy decision and keeps the general flow of work more or less centred for a while.

Best for the coming year.


  1. Best to you, dear Bryan. I know that generally you are too busy, but I also know that your mind is a hive of curiosity, ideas and experimentation.

    1. thank you blandina….a hive….don't bees sleep in the winter?

  2. rich madder red makes me so happy. thanks for your blog presence, bryan. happy 2014.

    1. 2014 will be the year of madder experimentation. Making pigment paste and block printing with different mordants. Madder on the looms as much as possible. 2014 madder year. Good idea. Thank you for your blog presence Velma. Best on your first year in you new place. bryan

  3. I love the idea of taking a year for focused experimentation! Madder seems like a forgiving and winding path (with many possible turns) as well as a nice break from blue...

    Best of luck on the journey. Happy 2014 to everyone there.

  4. HI Karin,
    Keep you posted on the progress. Hi from Anneke and Shuji and Hiro. Julie is back in Switzerland. All is fine with everyone. Dogs are fine too.

  5. 2014 the year for experimentations and plunging into the unknown! Can't wait to be back! Take care :)

  6. i like making ecoprints from the madder first and then chopping the roots more finely to extract the last of the colour. a couple of years ago a student in New Zealand brought madder roots to class that were as thick as my thumb. we sliced them finely and printed beautiful spots with them [they make spots that are actually rings of red and orange]. afterward we tipped all the used slices back into the pot.

  7. Hi India,
    I will go out to my compost box and take out about 5kgs of almost exhausted madder, dry it out and keep it for when you visit.

  8. Happy New Year, Bryan.