Category Archives: indigo

Searching for Natural Indigo in India

The next day and a visit to Dastka Andhra, a project supporting and promoting hand weaving in Andhra Pradesh. We bought some samples of natural dyed fabrics and I purchased some handwoven kora (natural coloured) dupattas (shawls) for workshops next year. They will be good for both the mud resist and shibori.

Dastka samples

Dastka samples

Though hand weaving is their priority they are promoting the use of natural dyes including indigo.  Most of the indigo you come across in India is synthetic though presented as natural. Dastkar’s indigo fabrics are yarn dyed in fermented vats by a master dyer who is 90 and still working. Unfortunately, though he has taught over 300 people, there is no one to take over from him which is very sad.

I was lucky enough to  purchase some of his natural indigo to bring home. A tip I was told to test the quality of your indigo cakes. If you drop it in water they should float.  I can’t wait to experiment with different fermentation vats using this, next year

indigo cakes

Then on to Chennai and monsoon rains where between downpours I managed to buy some hand spun and woven silk before traveling down the coast to Auroville to visit  The Colours of Nature.

The founder of The Colours of Nature, Jesus Ciriza Larraona, went to Kashmir many years ago to produce silk carpets. Disappointed by the polluting dyeing methods he witnessed, he started to collect information from all over India on traditional dyeing techniques.

Eager to put his knowledge into practice he started a Research & Development Unit in Auroville, an international township dedicated to human unity, located in the south of India. The Colours of Nature is one of only few remaining natural dyeing units in the world, who are entirely focused on an environmental friendly, vegetable dyeing process. Their research in natural dyes is ongoing. Their specialisation is developing natural indigo fermentation and his dream is to develop his indigo fermentation on an industrial scale.

As well a his commitment to natural indigo fermentation Jesus has been experimenting with  other natural dyes for twenty years and claims to have a quick and fast alum mordanting process which he is keeping secret for the moment.

 

 

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More Blues

I’m busy getting ready for the first of the two three day mud resist workshop this weekend and so I’ve had to put my work on hold for a few days. Cotton is being scoured, menus planned, blocks oiled,  dabu ingredients are ready for mixing.

I’m looking forward to this weekend as there will be a couple of familiar faces from previous workshops as well as a few new ones. Though there is a good number for the August bank holiday The September course on the 6th, 7th and 8th still has spaces left, and so please get in touch if you are tempted.

Dan has been busy experimenting with bread recipes, as well as making some new printing blocks which look really promising. We are so lucky to live between Coleshill Organics where we buy the fruit and vegetables we don’t grow and Factory Furniture who very kindly give me offcuts of wood for blocks.

 

Singing the Blues

We are actually having a summer it seems.

The weather was kind again this weekend. The sun shone down on us all, while we folded, tied, clamped, wrapped and stitched fabrics for the indigo vat.

Dan played music, made focaccia and kept us supplied with lemon verbena, tea, coffee and cool home made elderflower. Loved the Richard Hawley and Ry Coode and Taj Mahal

 Fresh stock solution to sharpen last weekends vat. I  find better results when the vat is kept just on the tipping point and a dark green rather than clear yellow green colour which doesn’t seem to build such a deep colour.

Here are some of the pieces of blue that were made by the group.

Inspired, I got down to some blues of my own working over the top of some less than successful samples

You never tire of the blue alchemy.

Even my spattered toenails got the blue treatment thanks to my friend Billyblue nails

Next I will be dyeing with fresh Japanese indigo leaves

Mud Glorious Mud

It’s been a while, and much has been happening in the Stable Yard. I had a most enjoyable time last weekend with lots of indigo, dabu mud resist and five lovely women who ventured from as far away as Cornwall and Monmouthshire.

I love the way that everybody had access to the same blocks, though made very different pieces. Sadly, many of them went away unwashed. Thank you for your enthusiasm and here’s hoping for some pictures of the finished pieces to share.

I think I will let the pictures speak for themselvesdabuMaking dabu

mud printing studioPrinting with blocks

Janet's resist dryingMud resist drying

mud resist and indigo lineFirst dips in indigo

Busy

Busy, busy, busy!

Dan's focacciasDan’s focaccia for lunch

double dabuSecond print and more indigo

drying Indian styleDrying Indian style

Jennie's tableclothJennie’s deep indigo tablecloth

indigo iron and mudBefore washing

indigo and ironIndigo, Iron and a bit of imagination.

Saturday it will be a day of shibori and indigo. Really looking forward to it.

Planting Indigo

Yesterday, I planted out my Persicaria tinctoria seedlings in the ground. Unsettled weather is forecast, which will, hopefully, reduce the need for endless trips with watering cans.

Last year I grew most of my Persicaria in pots for convenience. The plants that grew in the ground, however, were bushier and seemed to produce more indigo and so this year I decided to plant the majority in the vegetable patch. Following Rowland Ricketts method of planting, I put groups of seedlings deep in the earth up to their necks. Persicaria is a noded plant and will root from the nodes on the stem so burying them helps the plant put down more roots. Also harsh sunlight when the plants are young could kill them. They are hungry and thirsty plants and so you have keep an eye on them in warm weather and don’t let them wilt.

PT plant

It is hard to believe that in six weeks they will be ready to give up their first harvest of magical blue. I sent my students from Botanical Alchemy off with some seedlings to grow in pots and to get seed for next year. Hopefully there will soon be many more growers of this wonderful plant. I would love to think that something along the lines of Rowland’s IndiGrowing blue community indigo vat could be possible here.

 

Visiting the Masters in Kutch

I’m still working on the a new website for Denny Andrews.  The photographs of the new seasons garments and shawls remind me of last years buying trip to India.

Always an adventure, I love traveling on Indian railways. Long train journeys, often overnight  in two tier second class air conditioned.  You are provided with a paper bag containing sheets, pillowcase and towel to make your bed. Meals are brought to you and in between there are always chai wallahs and snacks being sold. Families bundle themselves into small spaces and the carriages burst with people and luggage. The Indians have the capacity to sleep on a shelf in a sari, stay amazingly still and leave the train in the morning looking serene and composed. I on the other hand toss and turn, get tied up in the sheets, look crumpled and baggy eyed and emerge from my cocoon looking, well, less than serene. Still, I believe it is the best way to travel to  experience the luxury of hours spent reading and looking out of windows at vast landscapes and the extremities of life.

After a couple of days in Delhi our first adventure was a 27 hour train journey west to Bhuj, Kutch a part of Gujarat. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Ajrak printers in Dhamadka and the weavers of Bhujodi. Gujarat has an amazing textile tradition, renowned for its printing, weaving and intricate embroidery.

The Khatri family are generations of master printers and dyers and represent the longest and finest of printing traditions in the world.  As we are shown around advice and knowledge are generously shared as I take pictures and ask numerous questions about process. Though they have been supplying Denny with wonderful block prints for years some things have changed. Synthetic indigo has taken the place of natural indigo fermentation vats and alizarin for madder. Other vegetable dyes such as pomegranate, turmeric and even rhubarb are still evident.  Myrobalan is still used for it’s tannins to mordant cotton, which with iron rust gives black. Traditional and complex methods of mordent and resist printing continue, with pastes made from lime and tree gum, tamarind and alum.  Though things are changing business is thriving.  There are concerns, however, about ground water quality and levels since the earthquake in 2001 which devastated the region. Lack of water does remain a threat to traditional dyeing practices all over India.

Back in the village we are shown new bedspreads designs, printed and dyed with rhubarb and indigo on organic cotton grown in Gujarat. Hand printed fabrics in indigo, Indian red and Kasis (iron and tannin) are chosen for suits, dresses and shirts.  They show us printing on both organic and non organic cotton and explain how the organic cotton seems to improve the take up of dyes and intensify the colours. After a very informative and productive day and a  lunch of chciken, goat and vegetable curries with rotis seated on the floor of the office we leave with our bundle of sample fabrics and cotton stoles.

The next day a drive to Bhujodi to visit master weavers and choose shawls and stoles. We are shown yarn dyed this time in indigo fermentation vats in the ground . They are kept to an even temperature by burying the vats in goat dung which keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The master weaver noticed a shawl that Denny was wearing. One which she bought in 1996. He recognized it as his work and so a wonderful reunion took place followed by a celebration meal seated on the floor of his home. Wonderful hospitality in such a beautiful place.

A visit to the legendary, Mr Wazir, who shows his amazing collection of textiles to those who share his passion and might help him with his dream of opening a museum.

Mr Wazir

Mr Wazir

Next day we head off on the 12. 25 for the next18 hour train journey of books, twisted sheets, calls of the chai wallahs walking the corridors and food sellers calling “ommelit, cutlit “. In the morning the Pink city awaits.

Above the clouds

As a child of an airline employee I was born and spent my early years abroad in warm climes. Many hours were also spent on long haul flights around the world. I loved looking out of the windows at the brilliant blue stratosphere and wonderful cloud landscapes beneath. Happy memories for me have not a rose tinted hue but one of various shades of blue.

 

In cold, dark and cloudy January it is sometimes hard to imagine the long summer days when you are torn between the garden and various creative projects. Making a mess outside and hanging indigo dyed cloth from washing lines to dry under warm blue skies seems a long way away. It is a good time, however, to make plans, buy seed, fabric and materials in readiness.

An exhibition with a friend, Noriko McFarlane, during Oxfordshire Artsweek in May is already in the diary. A conversation about the colour blue has led us down new paths with plans for work in indigo and pottery with blue glazes. Speaking of future plans a big thank you to those of you who have been in touch about workshops. I have people booked on every one though non are full yet. There is a new 3 day mud resist course penciled in for the August bank holiday if anybody is interested.