Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventures with Indigo

an outdoor vat set up to dye 7 pounds of worsted wool

draining the wetted-out yarn 

after the first dip

after the second dip

rinsing out after fifth dip

This week saw an increase of indigo-related activities going on at the studio. I had a fabric job to dye seven pounds of fine worsted wool for, so Tuesday morning I set up a lye-thiox vat outdoors, as we were due for some fine warm weather. After a year and a half of working with indigo at the studio and at home, my questions of the process are more refined and I am much better able to understand the subtle workings of the vat and of my technique.

The weather was great for a few days and I was able to obtain a deep blue after only five dips in what was a very active vat. It was a great feeling to get in the groove and methodically, slowly, continue the work of cycling the skeins through the dye. It can be a really meditative thing to do, barring distractions and minor emergencies elsewhere.

The first indigo dyeing I did was in the winter, indoors. It was cold downstairs in the dye lab and it was hard to keep the vats warm and active. My hands got kind of chapped and blue from handling the yarn to open it up for oxidation. I made a big mess. My yarn came out nicely, but I didn't rinse it enough after dyeing and some of it fell apart because the alkaline dye solution was left to dry on it. But I was inspired by my first encounter with the mysterious process, and with the subtle quality of this particular color, which vibrates somewhere on the knife edge between blue and green.

In my ongoing experiences with indigo, I became more comfortable with setting up a vat and working the yarn through the process, but there were many fine points that eluded me, and I still didn't really understand much of what was going on with the chemistry of it. Finally, I decided to take my interest seriously and to buckle down and do some serious studying, to take good notes, and to let myself ask all the questions to the parts I didn't really understand.

Working on trying out other kinds of indigo vats with our mad scientist, Zoe, has helped me delve into the intricacies of indigo much more effectively. This week we set up a copperas vat, which Kate and I had had no success with last summer. It's reputed to be a better vat for dyeing plant fiber with. Last summer we just had kind of an unsatisfactory experience with murky, somewhat ugly results...nothing to write home about. And in March, Zoe had given it a whirl, but had had similar feelings about its general murkiness. But this week we were careful. We followed the directions in J.N. Liles' book to the letter. It was, in addition, a hot and humid day, which seems to be one extremely favorable condition for working well with indigo. We dipped a few sample skeins of cotton and linen, and voila! ... were rather magically transported to Yemen, where the indigo beaters can coax a beautiful bronzy sheen out of well-dyed dark indigo. (Then we had to go herd an escaped cow back into her fenced pasture, but that is another story...)

Suffice to say, worked with over and over again, indigo will yield up her secrets to persistent devotees. The process is indeed a fascinating and mysterious one, which also opens doors into the simple chemical relationships underlying all ordinary physical (and metaphysical) phenomena. We will be sharing our experiences and knowledge and will be diving into much of this during our Indigo Dye Intensive, the weekend of July 23-24, so if you've wanted to broaden and deepen your own experience of indigo, consider attending this workshop. Fingers crossed for hot weather and beautifully active vats.

No comments:

Post a Comment