Friday, July 29, 2011

The Indigo Weekend

block printing on cotton

Zoe brings out her block printing samples at orientation

we had a beautiful weekend to dye outdoors

samples drying on the line

materials for the block printing portion of class

Zoe discusses the methods we'll work with

Mary applying rice resist paste with a cone bag

resist samples drying 

Kate demonstrating the use of the urine vat

Tricia and Marjory working the urine vat

Marjory's urine vat pieces drying

Mary's silk shibori sampler dyed in the copperas vat 

Zoe setting up samples for discharge 

fermentation vat samples drying on the line

Zoe after two days

We had a really fun weekend at the Indigo Dye Intensive. The class was full; Marjory and Mary came from the local Vermont area, Eleanor was here from southern New Hampshire, and Tricia came up from western Massachusetts. In addition, we had two visitors from Winterthur in Delaware who were here to work with Kate and Zoe to see if they could figure out an historic recipe for indigo discharge dyeing.

Saturday morning we were crazybusy getting the vats going, getting everyone squared away with the fabric and yarn samples that each of us was responsible for dyeing in one of the seven different indigo vats, and scouring all the fabric and yarn.

After a lovely summer potluck lunch out at the picnic table, we dyed samples in three different modern chemical vats:

Lye Hydrosulfite, which uses lye as the alkalizer and thioureadioxide as the reducer.
It works particularly well with wool fibers, and will dye silk, cotton, and linen as well, just not as readily.

Copperas, which uses lime as the alkalizer and ferrous sulfate as the reducing agent.
It's primarily well-suited to dyeing cotton and linen (and silk), but since it's extremely alkaline is much less kind to wool.

Zinc-Lime, which uses lime as the alkaline and zinc as the reducer.
It's most commonly used for cotton and linen, although it dyes a softer more grey-blue than the copperas or thiox vats.

Then Zoe presented the segment on resist dyeing; rice resist paste piped onto cloth using a simple plastic cone bag, water-based glue applied directly from the bottle, and using a copperas resist paste on antique wooden blocks to print fabric with. Everyone spent time making samples of each so that they'd have an overnight to dry before dyeing the following day.

After a cake and raw milk break at mid afternoon, I introduced several basic, classic shibori ties and stitch patterns and we spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing samples of each of these to be dyed on Sunday.

Sunday morning Kate gave a talk about the four different traditional fermentation vats she had previously prepared:

The Urine Vat, which uses fermenting stale urine to provide the microbial action which reduces the vat and produces ammonia as a by-product, which is the alkalizing agent. It is very gentle on wool, as its alkalinity is relatively mild, and one can readily produce very subtle and deep shades of indigo.

The Artificial Sig Vat, which by-passes the use of urine entirely, and relies on household ammonia and/or urea to provide alkalinity, and naturally airborne yeasts or bacteria or commercial yeast to ferment the vat and reduce it, fed with the sugars from molasses, madder, bran, sugar, or dates.

The Appalachian Vat, which uses drip lye from wood ashes for its alkalinity, and madder root or bran to kick start the fermentation process from airborne microbes.

The Saxon Vat, which uses a raw, unscoured fleece soaked in water in a warm place to start a fermentation process. Sugars can be added to accelerate the reduction of the indigo.

All of these vats can dye any natural fibers, but they are generally best suited to dyeing wool, as they tend to be weaker and less alkaline than the chemical indigo vats. As they all need the action of microbes feeding on sugars to induce the reduction of indigo, they must be warm to work well, so generally, setting up fermentation vats outdoors during summer's heat where the ventilation is generally better is a more congenial arrangement. Fermentation vats also require a fair amount of regular tending and attention to be at their best, so they are not a great vat to use unless one wants to develop an ongoing and slow relationship with understanding the chemistry and the signs present in the vat. They are commonly used in indigenous cultures where the pace of everyday life is more suited to this sort of ongoing process, and more suited to the availability of these simple, natural materials to produce fine indigo blue.

The rest of the day was devoted to everyone being able to dye as much of their own samples and piece goods as they liked, and to experiment with all seven of the vats. Late in the afternoon, we assembled sample books for each participant to take home, a record of the recipes for each vat as well as bits of yarn and cloth dyed in all these different ways.

It was a pretty jam-packed two days, during which the solution to the discharge dye conundrum was not found, but much inspiration and discovery abounded, and everyone had blue hands to boot!

(and we won't say anything about what happened to Zoe's underarms.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

On a Perfect Summer Day

it's perfect enough weather for haying

an old zinc lime vat about to be refreshed

warming a portion of the vat liquid

reducing a new stock solution

the healthy flower on the top of our copperas vat

dough made for rice paste resist

transferring the cooked dough to the suribachi

finished rice paste

paste applied to a muslin sample using a stencil

Zoe up in the rafters where the resist samples are drying

dessert at lunch today

On a perfect summer day this week, Zoe and I worked on refreshing a couple of old indigo vats so we could finish our preparations for the Indigo Dye Intensive. Kate was also setting up a few esoteric fermentation indigo vats outdoors, one of which smelled REALLY interesting (the Saxon's Vat, I think it was - she left the fleece in it a little overlong and it had turned to pure funk).

They were haying the fields at the top of the hill when I arrived at the barn. It was hot and sunny at 9am. We started right in on a few-month-old zinc lime vat by skimming the crystalline calcium crust off the surface, and then removing a third of the vat liquid for reheating, while we made up and reduced a new stock solution. Then we added the stock to a re-warmed vat, stirred gently, and allowed it to sit overnight for slow reduction of the whole vat.

Meanwhile we checked the copperas vat, and it seemed as if it still had plenty of indigo in it, so we just gave it a thorough stirring and let it sit for the night, just to refresh the action of the chemicals in the vat. The flower still looked really shiny, foamy, and healthy, so we figured we were on the right track, and I had still been getting strong color from it on small piece good and skeins.

Then we turned our attention to making up a rice resist paste. First we sifted mochiko (sweet rice flour) and komon nuka (rice bran flour) together, and then Zoe slowly added water while I worked it thoroughly into the flours to make a paste the consistency of wet pastry dough. Then we put the dough in a small bowl with barely enough water to cover it and nuked it in the microwave until it was cooked through. The next step was to transfer the solid portion of the dough to a suribachi and to thoroughly grind it into a silky smooth paste, which when finished, we stored in a small bowl, covering the surface of the paste with plastic wrap like you would to keep a skin from forming on pudding.

Then we made a rough stencil out of cardboard and using a small squeegee, ran the paste through the stencil onto a cloth sample and hung it up to dry for a few days.

At lunch Zoe showed us how to make delicious Belgian/Danish yummies with crusty bread spread with fresh local ricotta, sprinkled with sacred evaporated cane juice, and topped with as many fresh red currants as you can pile onto the top of it. We ate a lot of that! And then went back in and played with indigo some more...

See you at the Indigo class. We are going to have some fun!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Shibori Es Zuma!

ancient japanese shibori on hemp

contemporary shibori on silk

I'm getting things ready for the shibori segment of the Indigo Dye Intensive to be held at the end of the month. Last summer I tie-dyed some simple things, 60's hippie style, in the indigo vat, and they're pretty cool. But I got curious and inspired to investigate further, so now I find myself stitching up sample pieces of the six kinds, an of traditional japanese patterns we'll be trying at the indigo weekend.

We'll be setting up and working with many different kinds of indigo vats, doing resist paste block printing and discharge printing on cloth, and putting together several classic examples of non-tool-intensive shibori tie and stitch resists.

I can't wait.

Friday, July 1, 2011

People Around the Barn These Days

Karen builds a warp for a ruana

Zoe has been here doing research on resist pastes 

Kate has been busy this month, fielding many requests for fabric

Lynnette has been re-habbing from her broken arm in March

Jackie finished a blanket and is taking the summer off to travel

Pat warped for a summer blanket

Sandra has been weaving a very long scarf in a complicated pattern

Susan is weaving a summer blanket

Stevie is starting to weave some upholstery fabric

Lisa was here from Texas to work on countermarche linen

June was a busy month at the barn, with an increase in commissioned work for Eaton Hill Textile Works and many new and returning students walking through our doors. Our crew of regular local students is still going strong, although in the summer many of us take nice days off to work in our gardens or go away for fun, because it's easier to do that in the summer than when the snow is on the ground.

Kate has been very busy fielding the many inquiries and requests for the new embossed upholstery fabric produced by her business Eaton Hill, while still juggling a full plate of intermediate and advanced teaching, and managing a queue of other production dye and fabric jobs.

Karen Sutherland wound up a few-month-long stint with us with a commissioned project. She spun all the wool yarn, which we dyed black, and then she wove a beautiful ruana with alternating stripes of herringbone twill and basketweave. She's applying for a Vermont Folklife grant to come and work with us for a longer stretch.

Zoe has been working part-time on researching resist pastes for indigo block printing, and will be one of the presenters at the Indigo Dye Intensive later in July. She's also been processing a mountain of fleece up in Kate's barn.

Lynnette broke her arm in late March and after a period of time out of the weaving action is back again at the loom, getting her strength, motion, and flexibility back with increasingly more complex weaving. Meanwhile, her chickens have been cranking out the best eggs on the planet, and her garden strawberries have been fabulous additions to our summer lunches at the barn.

Jackie finished up a beautiful blanket for her daughter as a wedding gift, and is taking the summer off from weaving at the barn to travel and to take the knowledge and experience she's been accumulating here and put it to work on her own loom at home. Before she left she shared a lot of wonderful vegetable seedlings with all of us...she has a big garden and grows wonderful vegetables all season long.

Pat wound a warp for a summer blanket in June and then took some time off to travel and visit family. She'll be returning to weave that in July.

Sandra has been weaving a very lovely and complex pattern in fine was meant to be a scarf, but it's going to be a very long thin scarf now, as she just continues to weave off all that yardage. I'm sure it will be just gorgeous doubled up and wrapped around a neck multiple times...a new take on the idea.

Susan has been weaving a summer blanket, and she's able to spend more time working on it since she left her job in the doctor's office. It's really great to have you around more often, Susan!

Stevie has started to weave some of the upholstery fabric jobs for Eaton Hill, and her huge garden thrives over in Chittenden County. She'll be taking time this summer to travel as well.

Lisa Hardaway was here from Texas for a week, learning our warping techniques and how to set up a countermarche tie-up, as she has an 8-harness Cranbrook at home that she wants to be able to work fancy patterns on. She'll be back in early August for another week of rug weaving.

The weather has been typically Juney around here...which means pretty rainy, some hot days sprinkled here and there, but mostly on the cool side. Great for the gardens, but we sometimes get a little antsy, waiting for the real summer weather, I think because we live in winter so much of the year!