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.

1 comment:

  1. looks like they are going to have a great 9 weeks!

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