Sunday, April 18, 2010

Indigo Seedlings Progress and Altered States

My little indigo sproutlings now have leaves.  The lovely little green leaves are arching toward the sun so I turned the Jiffy Planter around.   I will probably have to turn it every day to keep them growing straight.  I am going to do a count tomorrow and estimate how many have come up.

I had forgotten how much fun it was to start something from seed and watch it grow.  I am almost like a giddy school girl planting seeds for the first time in science class.  I do believe I need to start a journal and take notes--although I am doing that here, it might be cool to do one like an altered book. 

I am currently taking Juliana Coles online class "Altered States: Altered Book as Extreme Visual Journal."
I bought several cheap books at Big Lots and have been ripping out pages to make room for the collaging we will do next.  It was really hard to rip pages out of a perfectly good book.  I chose to start with a book called "Dictator Style" that shows the lavish lifestyles and homes of some infamous dictators.  After reading a bit about them it was easier to rip out the pages.


I think it will make it easier to paint, stamp, mark and glue all over them as well.  I also used a deckle ruler to make the pages less wide inside the book cover so everything stays contained (mostly) inside the covers.  Creating an altered visual journal is a big departure from what I usually do so I am going to just close my eyes and take a big leap of faith and just do it.  It does not have to be pretty, it does not have to be exact, it does not have to make sense--it just has to happen.  Now to go dig out the supplies I need for the next lesson...

Shibori Samples--Larch

Larch is usually circles stitched on a fold in continuous rows.  Other shapes may be stitched with this technique as well.  It really saves time on tying knots, re-threading your needle, and tying off the ends.

In the pic above, you can see how the thread skips over to the next group instead of being tied off for each circle.  In one row, all the small circles are stitched with one length of thread and then again for the medium and large circles.

In the pic above you can see how the cloth looks gathered up.  The pic below shows the row of three circles dyed in indigo.

Shibori Samples--Maki Nui

Maki Nui is stitched on the fold like Ori Nui.  Maki Nui uses a whip stitch instead of a running stitch.  Depending on the size and angle of the stitches, Maki Nui makes a chevron pattern.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shibori Samples--Ori Nui

The fabric is pleated for Ori Nui and is stitched with a running stitch close to the fold.

The fabric is gathered tightly, the pleats between the lines of stitching arranged, the fabric is moistened to swell it, then it is tightened again and tied.  The Ori Nui is soaked to prepare if for dyeing.

Ori Nui makes a pattern that resembles rows of teeth--roots and all!  The Ori Nui sample was dyed with pre-reduced indigo.

Shibori Samples--Mokume

My students have begun working on their shibori samples to learn the basic stitch styles to stitch shaped resist dyeing.  I always start them off with mokume as it is easy to learn.  We work fairly small so they can see results fast.  I tell them that mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them.  When we open their shibori up, the students know who's looks the best and who had some problems and they ask each other about it.  They learn from each others triumphs and errors. 

Mokume is made by creating rows and rows of straight stitch on the fabric.  You need to make a really big knot of doubled sewing thread and then stitch across a single layer of fabric.  The size of your stitches, how far apart the rows are, and how tightly you gather and compress the fabric will change the appearance of the pattern you get.  When I do an example for the students I use black or red thread so they can see it more easily.  You really want to use plain old white sewing thread as it won't stain the fabric and it is easy to break the stitches later (though some prefer using a seam ripper to remove stitches). 

The knots all need to be on the same side as each other.  The tails are pulled up, the fabric is tightened against the knots, and then you wiggle the fabric to align the pleats that form.  You can spray the fabric with a little water to just dampen it and this will help the fabric and thread to swell and it will be easier to tighten the gathers.

Once the fabric is tightly gathered, all the threads have to be tied off.  You split the double thread, untwist it down to the cloth, and then double tie it against the fabric.  You want the knot to sit flush to the fabric to hold the fabric tightly into the folds.   The mokume is then soaked in water to finish swelling the fiber and the stitching as well as to prepare the fabric to accept thy dye more evenly.

After dyeing, the knots are removed and you get to see the pattern you created.  Mokume is said to resemble a fine wood grain pattern ideally.  By lining up your stitches you can make it look like stripes.  Once you get a lot of practice in, you can control the pattern by your stitching.

The piece above was dyed in an indigo vat made from pre-reduced indigo.  I really love how indigo has subtle changes across the folds. 

I also have a slide show on Mokume I made to use with my students that can be found here.


Yay! I have sprouts of indigo!  I am so excited.  Below, you can see I used one of those Jiffy Greenhouses with the peat pellets to start my indigo seed.  I followed the Jiffy instructions and poured the water into the tray and let the pellets expand for about an hour.  I then used scissors to make sure the top of the mesh was open and to stir up a little of the peat on the top of each pellet.  I dropped several seeds (they are tiny) onto each pellet.  I will have to thin them out and I am sure there will be some that don't make it.  I did my planting on Monday, April 12, 2010.

I have to admit to be a bit worried on Tuesday when I saw some fuzziness on top of the pellets, but then I remembered that some plants have fuzzy little roots when they are sprouting.  I decided to take the giant leap of faith and not look at them again until today (Friday) and my reward is seeing these lovely sprouts.


My favorite pic of my new indigo sprout babies is below.

I am going to start another flat with the remaining seed.  I have a few other friends who would like to try out indigo and we are going to see if we can keep a few going indoors year round for fresh leaf dyeing as well as some outdoor planting.  We will find out who has the best outside soil and who has the best indoor conditions and do some sharing.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Indigo Seed

I am so happy--my indigo seed arrived in the mail today. Polygonum tinctorium also known as Dyer's Knotweed from Companion Plants. I was not exactly sure how much seed would be in each packet so I ordered six packets. I am now the proud owner of 300 indigo seeds. I really only planned a planting bed for 48 plants, not a whole field. My original plan called for about 100 seeds in hopes that I would end up with 48 plants healthy enough to transplant from seedlings to planting bed. I am putting the extra seed packets into the fridge for next year now. If all goes well I will be able to harvest my own seed at the end of the season. My hubby is even on board with this project as he likes to plan our yard space and likes growing things.

I am going to start the seeds this weekend and will keep posting my progress here. I am thinking of taking a plant or two to school to grown indoors there year round and see if I can keep it growing over the course of a year to do fresh leaf vats in the off season.

All of this--the persimmon juice fermenting into kakishibui in my basement, the indigo farming, the ebaying to get bolts of antique silks--just to make one dress. A very special dress for one of my nieces. She is quite the artist herself and sat down with me at one of our family gatherings to give me some input on how it should look. One of my other nieces is going to assist with the beadwork and make the jewelry to accompany the dress. I have never taken so long to plan or make anything before.


My students are having a hard time keeping track of their needles for their shibori. And then, on my yahoo page, I saw the answer. Pincushions via the Whipup feed. If you use yahoo, you need to add this to your page. You can also visit them at Whipup finds some great crafty and artsy links and collects them for us. Thank you whipup! So, back to those pincushions--there they were in the feed just when I needed them. I zipped off an e-mail to all the teachers and by the end of the day I had enough soda bottle plastic lids to make some lovely little pincushions for each child. Add some felt, some stuffing, some bali fabrics, and a little elastic to those bottlecaps and you can end up with a great little pincushion. I must warn you that it can be addictive to make these. Here are some links to different instructions:

We punched holes in the lids to add elastic so we can wear them as a ring or as a bracelet. Keeps them from losing their pincushions. Have I mentioned they lose things?

Here are the examples I made.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Indigo Magic

It feels good to be up and running with my art again. I am hoping my excitement over creating rubs off on my kids at school. I decided to do only indigo with them this nine weeks. Some of them were a bit disappointed when I told them we were doing blue and more blue. Until they saw how an indigo vat works--and then it was "Indigo is magic!" They liked the subtle variations in blue it made on their mokume samples.

My students are doing small samples of different techniques and then they will work on a larger finished project. I have them start off with mokume--rows and rows of running stitch gathered tightly to make a woodgrain pattern. We discussed how your stitch and row size would change the pattern as well as how tightly you gather and compress the cloth. I think indigo is a little more forgiving than some of the other dyes in that it will give you those subtle in between shades in areas that are not gathered as tight.

In order to make our vat, I bought a two gallon white plastic bucket with lid at Lowes, a package of RIT Dye Remover, and package of indigo crystals from Paradise Fibers. $11.00 for a 2 ounce package is reasonable when you find out how much dyeing you can do with it. I used a heaping teaspoon of the indigo crystals with the bucket filled 3/4 of the way up with water. 1 tsp of the Rit Dye Remover is added to the water and allowed to dissolve and then the heaping teaspoon of indigo crystals was sprinkled over the top, allowed to dissolve and then gently stirred with wooden dowel rod.

You can see how the water turns a lovely green color as the indigo gets suspended in the reduction vat. It seems a little odd using dye remover to dye with doesn't it? Indigo will not dissolve in water, so it has to be reduced in water with the oxygen sucked out of it by the dye remover. Okay, that is a bit simplified for those of you who are advanced dyers, but I work with middle schoolers all day.

In the pics above and below I am doing a test dip to see if I have the right balance of indigo and dye remover. If you have too much indigo it can "crock" off and you are wasting the indigo. When it crocks off it is not bonding with the fiber and is floating on the surface of the fibers like a coating. If you have too much of the dye remover, it will strip out more color than it bonds on each time you dip and you will waste a lot of time dipping and not getting those deep blues.

The test strip is greenish as it comes out of the vat and starts to turn blue. I have found that different types of indigo and different types of vats will have a different green color and will also produce subtle differences in the blues you get. A natural fermented vat will have a slight purple to the blue--maybe because of the madder root used to help along the fermenting?

If you can see the slickish slimy looking dark blue goo on the test piece above, that is part of the "flower" or bloom that forms on top of the vat. I did not bother to take it off for the test dips. When you do scoop it off the top before dyeing, you reserve it to put back on when you let the vat rest between dye sessions. I usually scoop it onto the vat lid or into a small plastic container.

Below, we have students dipping their mokume samples and removing them after a five minute dip. You have to be careful to not swish too much and add air into the vat as it will oxidize all your indigo. A slow gentle dip in, gentle slow swirls, and slowly lifting out after your decided length of time. Since these are samples only, we only did one five minute dip. For really deep blues I would do several 15 minute dips, allowing it to oxidize in between each time. The really deep deep blues on some Japanese textiles are dipped over 50 times.

After a quick rinse in water, the students used a small fan to help speed up the oxidizing of the samples.
Stitches have to be removed and the pattern is revealed. The students asked great questions about why some people had more white patterns left and why some had more light blue and why some had hardly any pattern.
All of the students lovely samples drying on the rack in the back of my art room--tomorrow we will discuss why they look the way they do and talk about being in control of the pattern and getting it to do what we want when we want. I really don't care when my students make "mistakes" as long as they learn from them. It is great that these samples are not all perfect as we all get to see what happens when you do things differently. To be honest, my students are my own little dye experimentation lab and I learn as much from them as they do from me.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Here is my machine knit scarf with the wooden balls rubber banded in. I wetted it out, and put it into a fuschia dye bath. It just seemed wrong. I quickly poured off the dye, rinsed the scarf and started over. I thought warm was the way to go, but seeing it floating in the dye bath made me think this scarf was more organic and needed to be an earthy color. What is more earthy than brown?
Brown it is! In the pic below you can see how it felted up nicely around the resists and the greyish brown I dyed it. A side benefit of the process is cool patterns dyed onto the wooden beads used as resists. I have some ideas for another project based on those,
With the resists removed, the scarf has this lovely bumpy "growth" on it. The rubber bands also resist the dye so each bump has a cream colored ring around it.
Up close it is like a landscape of yarn.
The backside is really interesting too.Now I need to decide if it is finished or if I should play with some needle felting to embellish it? I am going to crank out some more scarf blanks on the knitting machine this summer to get ready for the winter season. I really loved how the Fisherman's wool felted up.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Back to work

Finally I am getting to start on projects again. I still have some swelling and have to rest my hand, but it really feels good to be making things again. I dug out my old knitting machine and after some frustration over getting the tension right, I was able to crank out a scarf.

I used Fisherman's Wool Yarn from LionBrand in natural so I can dye it. I plan to shibori felt it and dye in one step. Just trying to decide what colors. I am in an indigo mood as I have some seed on the way from Companion Plants, but I want to make this more colorful so I think acid dyes in a warm palette are in order for this project.

I am hopeful that we will have a warm sunny weekend so I can set up the dyepot on the back porch. I just need to finish putting the wooden beads into the scarf to act as the resist.