Halfway through a crafty holiday, it’s starting to get interesting.

Yesterday was preliminary instruction in the preparation of natural dyestuffs and how to modify colour in various ways, so that one dye bath can produce various shades.  plus an exercise in rust printing.  The day was very warm, the reek of boiling vinegar and uncontrolled chemical reactions was powerful, and if I never dye anything else the smell will be responsible.  In mediaeval times dyers were not allowed to have premises inside town walls, an early instance of environmental health intervention, and quite right too.  It was interesting, though.

Today we began with eco-printing.  I am unable to become excited about this, as it is my personal conviction that all we will produce is some brown smears and pinkish blots.

The second part of the day was given over to shibori, a kind of very sophisticated tie-dyeing using indigo and folding, clamping, twisting, sewing, and using random objects to resist the dye.  The indigo is a peculiar brew, smelling gross but more tolerable than yesterday’s acrid vinegar (and it was a breezier day), and with a magical quality – the vat is de-oxygenated by adding a reducing agent, the cloth is dipped for only a few minutes, and emerges a yellowish green.  It then develops like a photograph, your fabric turning blue as it meets the air and warmth and the indigo is re-oxidised.  I think this is the dyeing equivalent of raku – no hanging about, be quick, be careful, be surprised.

It has mileage as a technique as I can already think of about twelve different things I would like to do with it if I had time.  And a lot of indigo.  And a peg on my nose.

Click below for the gallery.

3 responses »

  1. That explains whey they found so many dye vats just outside the castle walls in Bristol. Thought it was just to be near the water. There was also the fixing process with alum – didn’t that involve boiling down urine? Lovely. There used to be plenty of dyes, but few were colourfast, hence clothes were never washed.

    • Yes, urea is used in dyeing, I believe, goes well with the boiling vinegar and such … actually the overboiled vegetable smell is pretty grim even for the simpler natural dyes. reminded me horridly of school dinners in the bad old days. Blackberry was the honourable exception!

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