Tag Archives: blue glorious blue

Plumbing the depths of indigo ignorance

Now for something totally out of its logical place in the order of things. Before I went to Allansford, I decided to go all out in exploring the depths of my ignorance.  It’s my observation of learners that many of us over estimate what we know.  We haven’t grappled with our own ignorance sufficiently to realise what a teacher has to offer us.  We haven’t applied what we think we know enough to realise where its outer edges are.

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I decided on an all out attempt to use my stock of knowledge and supplies to find the limits of my own understanding. I’d been itching to dye and unable to find time, so holidays were a gift.  I had multiple attempts to dye with woad and then turned over to dyeing with what indigo I still had.  I used up my remaining fructose, and couldn’t find more.  So I experimented with sad fruit from the bargain pile at the local shops. I also collected fallen fruit and such. I read all the books and instructions again.  I had no joy with the woad no matter what I did and in the end composted two vats.

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I tried a yeast vat.  It was quite something watching it fizz! In the end, I weakened and bought another package of colour run remover and rescued some indigo with that. between all these vats, I overdyed leaf prints I hadn’t liked much.  I dyed scraps and offcuts from old shirts that had been turned into drawstring bags.  I even tore up a very worn, patched and mended damask table cloth from the stash and dyed that.

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I achieved only soft blues, but soft blues are beautiful.

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I went to Allansford convinced that I was struggling with achieving reduction, and maintaining temperature, and quite possibly other things besides.  And it was really helpful to go, knowing this, and to be able to see that I had been aiming (mostly) at the right things, checking (mostly) the right things, and had some concepts right, but was applying them in wrong places.  It gave me a really strong sense of the limits of my own judgment.

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Some of the bits and pieces have already begun to re-form… a bit like my understanding of how to dye with indigo!

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

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Over the holidays, I went to a summer dye cap at the Botanical Studio run by Beautiful Silks, in Allansford (near Warrnambool) country Victoria.  I stayed in a cabin at one of the caravan parks by the beachfront in Warrnambool because the on site accommodation was booked out.  I haven’t been to Warrnambool since I was a child.  It was just beautiful.  The frisking around of many small people on skates and scooters and bikes had me in mind of childhood holidays at the beach.

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I arrived early and had beach walks and runs before dye camp each day and long strolls through town too.  My photos of scenery are a bit rubbish and really don’t reflect the glory.  Like me, my photos are largely focused on small lovelinesses such as lichen.

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After dark there was spinning and some experimental printing on paper.  Since I had the car to myself, I came with wheel and dye pot! I converted carding waste to yarn and knit some yarn bombs. One night I had a wonderful dinner with a couple of the other dye campers.  I taught one of them how to cast on a sock and how to turn a heel with short rows, and we talked blogging and dyeing and, well, everything.  Awesome and lovely.

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All round, it was a fabulous holiday.  But dye camp!  Dye camp was focused on indigo and woad.  We had Jenai Hooke from Eudlo in Queensland as our expert guide and instructor, and I learned so much.  There were some big fructose vats.  The method I really do want to learn. Perfect.  We learned how to start them, how to feed and tend them, how to dye in them.

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There was making of little vats so we could grasp the principles.

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There was a massive pot with leafy bundles in it. E Crenulata sent its spicy notes through us all on the first day.

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Who doesn’t love leafy bundles?? Some of my companions had brought along leaf printed samples, their own indigo dyeing, their hand made and dyed scarves and bags, samples of their wild and creative experiments in dyeing yarns, and of course their genius, skills, ideas and energy.  There was hand sewn and hand made clothing, spontaneous pattern drafting and people’s own clothing designs. There were three other women from Adelaide, hurrah! In short, I was among my people, and this seemed to be a shared feeling.

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There was ice-dyeing with fresh woad leaves.

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There was shibori.  Jenai is a shibori expert and teacher, and taught the basics to some of us with spectacular results (the others were too busy dyeing to stop for that!).  In short, there was dyeing.

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So much dyeing.  I could not believe the number of garments and other things that turned blue.  Light blue, mid blue, blue-black. Turquoise-green colours from the ice dyeing.   Oranges and browns from eucalypts.

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We ran out of drying space.

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I dyed bags.  I know, shocking.  I got deeper blues than before.  I believe I deepened my understanding. And it was good to be reminded of the complexity of the skills, the complexity of the process and the years of apprenticeship that would have been undertaken by historic dyers. A little humility is a good thing in the face of a large learning curve.

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I even dyed a linen shirt.  I pulled it out of the cupboard where clothes go awaiting reincarnation, and felt moved to try it on (it was an op shop find).  I decided it just needed a new button, and it was clamped and dyed and has been out in public several times already!

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Immense thanks to Marion Gorr and Elephant at Beautiful Silks for a wonderful learning opportunity and fabulous catering and company, and to Jenai Hooke for such wonderful education!

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Colours of woad

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Now that everything is clean and dry, I thought I might show some outcome pictures.  First there was a linen gauze scarf.  I am hoping it might offer some portable sun protection for my neck over summer. Later there was some clamp action.

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These are handkerchiefs I made some time back from a buttery yellow sheet that passed beyond being able to be used on a bed.  I simply did not prepare for woad success and expected far less colour.  Then I remembered that I had intended to stitch and ye them with indigo…

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I do like the way they turned out!  I am still figuring out whether multiple dips actually does give me deeper colour.  If I am at the start of something and not having a – success experience with woad, I will experiment so I can make comparisons.  So far I have not been convinced that multiple dips gives deeper colour.  I am not sure whether my perception is incorrect, I have skipped a vital step, or I have prepared some of my vats in a way that means colour gets stripped out and re-deposited, which is how it seems to me.  It will be simple enough to run a test and figure out whether it’s my own eye and mind.  My technique will surely improve if I keep going.

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And finally, as the Ph of the vats dropped into the zone more suitable for wool and there was still colour, in went grey merino locks.  LOTS of woad dyed wool! So there is woad spinning yet to come.  Happiness!

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Mellow blueness

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The woad has been thriving in this time of rain followed by warmth.  (The potatoes aren’t doing badly either, as you can see). And that can only mean one thing, when free time opens up!

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I managed to obtain Jill Goodman’s A Dyer’s Manual recently, and had the benefit of others helping me to grasp the chemistry of fresh woad and how it differs from using indigo that has already been prepared from fresh plants by someone else. I came by the book at the annual spinner’s retreat where there were folk with interest and knowledge–perfect, and very helpful indeed.  So this time I felt I knew why I was adding air in the early stages of the process, only to then remove it in the de-oygenation process required to have the dye become fully soluble and able to attach to fibres.  Previously this has been a total mystery or had me feeling I had done something wrong, or both.

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I still had part of one package of hydrosulphite left.  I am pretty keen to have it be the last.  Hydrosulphite is a substance the earth could do without. But equally, since I have it, better to use it rather than let it become stale and unusable for this process.  So I tried two vats: one with hydrosulphite and one with fructose.  The picture above is grey merino fleece descending through the ‘flower’ on the surface of the hydrosulphite vat and into the yellowy depths below.

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This image is the fructose vat, which involved some guesswork on my part (no way to measure how much woad pigment there was in my solution). I am not experienced enough to have great judgment or to trust my own judgement.  I can measure temperature and I can measure Ph.  The complex part is judging the reduction (de-oxygenation) of the vat. This looked very promising to me!  That said, there were moments when I had realisations that gave me pause.  Jill Goodman, for example, seems to live in England and I suspect her conditions and mine are not the same. She goes from scalding leaves with boiling water through various processes to heating the vat to raise it to 50C (there was a lot of conversion to metric involved for me)… I did the processes concerned and still had a vat at 70C and decided in the end to put the vat in a sink of cold water and ice!

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This linen scarf did the amazing woad magic of going from yellow to green to blue when put out into the air.

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Both of my tied textiles dyed only on the outside and therefore were re-tied and re-dipped. The greeny-blue of the image above converted to blue very quickly on rinsing (you can see an image further down).

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Soon I had dyed my planned fabrics and imagined that the vat would be exhausted, because previous vats have yielded so little.  The next day it was clear that the hydros vat was not exhausted, so I adjusted Ph and temperature and set about continuing to dye. The fructose vat was still not reduced, so far as I could tell with a test dip, though again it looked promising and eventually looked much like the hydros vat.  However, it still had not reduced, and thus, was unable to dye.  In the late afternoon I decided it probably didn’t have any dye in it. Do not read on if you have a weak constitution–but one of the reasons for my belief was that I had accidentally boiled the fructose vat early in the process. Eeek! I had a very little hydros left, so added some to the fructose vat.  Then half an hour later, a little more.  30 minutes later, it came into order and began to dye, and I dyed using both vats until bed time using the only clean fleece I seem to have. The fructose-hydros vat dyed over two more days, as it turned out!

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I threw in more cloth and went to bed, feeling extremely pleased.  On the down side, I used hydros.  On the up side, it can only have been a matter of time before that fructose vat would have reduced.  I just needed to hold my nerve and be patient.  Maybe add more fructose. Admittedly, time is one of my biggest issues because I do have a day job and other commitments.  However, this is by far the most successful woad effort to date.  I now understand that I need to use a vat rather than direct dyeing for the woad to be wash-fast.  I think I now have a sense of how to tell whether there is dye in the vat (at all) as I process the solution.  The low concentrations of colour claimed for woad are not so low as to make it useless, and I have quite a bit of leaf.  One vat with 1.6 kg leaves and one with 900g leaves from one part of the garden where other things have struggled to grow well–and this is my second harvest from them.  I also have the happy sense that my understanding is sufficient to reach success with a fermentation/fructose vat given time.  The pigment from my previous crop of woad is in a different vat which has not shown promise even though I have been waiting for weeks.  But it still may!  And I am confident now that reduction is the main issue and not one of the other possibilities.  Very encouraging mellow blues–and more pictures to come when everything is clean and dry.

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New year’s crafty wrap up

I realise that new year passed a while back… but there are a few things to report.  I did some serious plying on my January holidays–

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This is the indigo dyed grey crossbred fleece you might remember.

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Surprisingly hard to photograph, but I like it very much.

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I also plied two immense hanks of black alpaca yarn.  The fleece was a gift from a community with lawnmowing sheep and alpacas.  I am thinking I will check whether any of the resident knitters would like this yarn.  It is deep black and happily… now virtually free of scurf.  Spinning is such an educational pursuit!  I had not encountered animal dandruff before, but my online research reassured me it was just one more of the things to pull and shake out and nothing to be afraid of… 2015-01-14 15.19.11

Last year’s calendars have been turned into envelopes, as they so often are.   This lovely piece of whimsy covered in Indigenous animals and detail of lunar cycles is by now-local artist Lucy Everitt. She also has delectable cards and other items for sale, and a beautiful blog. Her 2015 lunar calendar is available here.

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This calendar, all about Japanese art.

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Did I mention the shopping trolley?  My beloved and one of our friends restored the metal parts of this vintage item to their former glory.

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I had the job of taking the ripped, torn and stained vinyl cover (yellow, green and white) and making a new one from red vinyl.  It didn’t convert me to vinyl at all!

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And then there were the late 2014 slippers.  Two different models in blue alpaca yarns. 2015-01-17 08.39.54

Apparently the procession of slippers will never end, as I have long suspected might be the case… 2015-01-17 08.39.34

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The after party: indigo exhaust

The indigo vats got another look with a view to exhausting them a couple of days after the recent big event.  I prepared a little more fabric (ah, holidays).

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The fructose vat seemed in order but I thought it might be exhausted.

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The first dip confirmed this. Well, we’ve been discussing this in the comments… but this was the conclusion I drew on the day.  The fabric was very pale even when wet.

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Reheating and adjusting Ph and adding more colour run remover produced spectacular results on the colour run remover vats.

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I adjusted the Ph for one vat to suit cellulose fibres and re-dipped my calico samples several times.

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Happy results!

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The other I adjusted to suit wool.  In with some pale, spotted polwarth (cream and tan).

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During…

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After…

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There still seemed to be colour left in the vat so I entered a lot of grey crossbred fleece.  The last, overlooked bag of Macchiato the Mongrel.  I think he was named a mongrel partly because, you know, crossbred.  And partly because he ate the neighbour’s pea crop and had to be found a new home.  Thus capturing both meanings of this word in Australia.

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I’ve been spinning the deep blue result with delight since.  This is quite a coarse fleece, but I have just loved spinning every bit of it, and one of Macchiato’s humans brought me another fleece a while back… so once I’ve washed it, I can go again with all that pleasure.  Most of the first fleece went to a friend of my beloved’s who wanted to knit a jumper from it.  I don’t know whether she ever did, though!

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Summer Indigo 3: Happy endings and learnings

One of the fun things about doing a vat dye is watching the transformation through its many stages.  With indigo, even more so–because of the magical qualities of the dye–yellow while in solution in the vat but turning blue as soon as the fibre enters the air and oxygen reaches it, paired with the process involving multiple dips to build up depth of shade. Given my friend’s generosity with the camera, here are a few efforts to follow specific items through the process.

Cotton t-shirt with rubber band and loom band resist: before…

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After…

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Lacy shirt rolled around a bottle and tied:

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Pair of pants wrapped around a piece of garden hose and tied:

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Screws tied into calico:

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Really tightly tied!

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There was a spectacular effect when they were untied–but it was temporary–the binding was so tight that air hadn’t reached the inside pleats despite rinsing and time on the line!

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Marbles and rubber bands in a yellow t shirt:

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So, given that all indigo vats are going to be learning experiences for me, possibly for the rest of my life… what did I notice and what did I learn?  Preparation of the fructose vat a day earlier worked well and this experience gave me confidence to try this process again and keep experimenting.

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This time, I tried to hold onto what I learned from the last one: to trust my judgment about when to stop.  I am a beginner at this process.  But, limited as it is, my judgment is what I currently have, and judgment is there to be developed.  In my experience as a teacher, judgment is one of the most difficult, yet most important, things to acquire–but at least in dyeing the repercussions of poor judgment are more limited than in an operating theatre or a court!  This time, no evidence of crocking.

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Some things were pale blue even after several dips. All of the calico items that went into the fructose vat, for instance.  I like the colour, but had not expected this.  I noticed that most of the items that only went into the fructose vat remained pale shades.  Some went from there to the colour run remover process when the fructose vat needed a rest–they were deeper.

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This might have been because the natural indigo in the fructose vat gave a different outcome to the synthetic indigo in the colour run remover vats.  It might have been due to the difference in processes or some failure of my understanding of the fructose process resulting in the oxygen not being sufficiently removed from the vat–though the colour of the vat was good.  It now occurs to me that I could have tested this by adding hydrosulphite to the exhaust of the fructose vat when I really couldn’t get much colour from it two days later. Next time?

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It might have meant the calico had a treatment that resisted dyeing–but other fabrics also came out pale.  We did dye a LOT of materials–and perhaps the fructose vat ran low on indigo.  It was in a bigger container so may have received more fabric (and more oxygen). But I had an exhaust vat extravaganza two days later and the colour run remover vats still gave colour–one in particular dyed quite a quantity of wool (after adjustment of the Ph to a level more suitable for protein fibres).

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Mmm… the indigo vat curiosity and the love continue… here, the fructose vat gets a cuddle as it warmly rests.

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Summer Indigo 2: Dyeing and the colour run remover vats

When the big day arrived, I had more company than initially expected, with two of our beloved friends staying with us and keen to try indigo, and more coming over.  I have to say, I am intimidated by indigo and it was a holiday project that kept me nervous, planning this indigo dyeing day.  What if it didn’t work out?  What if my ignorance trumped my effort? What if people were bored? What if nothing worked and people’s things were ruined?   The funny thing about fret is that so often it has me focused on myself and my overdeveloped sense of responsibility, and that’s neither sensible, nor fun, nor realistic.  How could I even temporarily forget how wonderful my friends are, in the face of fret?  Everyone who came knew at least some of the other folk and it was such a generous and friendly gathering.  One of my near and dear spent the day taking photographs, so a big thanks to her for those that follow…

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We practised our skills at getting fabric into and out of the dye without adding needless oxygen.

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This time I had a dependable thermometer and used it!

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I also now have a Ph meter.  My dear Dad asked what I wanted for my birthday last year and when I said I wanted a Ph meter but wasn’t sure where to get one he had the answer!!!  You don’t know him, but eBay, my friends, is the answer to a shocking number of things for Dad…

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There wasn’t just the fructose vat.  I have decided that aiming for fermentation and fructose vats is a good long term goal for environmental, health and all kinds of other reasons (pure curiosity, for a start…) and I am growing woad and indigofera australis and Japanese indigo.  However, I have decided that in the interim, colour run remover (mostly sodium hydrosulphite) can rescue failures in my judgment and experience and save wastage of indigo. Since I have some synthetic indigo, I decided to use that in any hydrosulphite vats as it may not be so suitable for fermentation or fructose vats.  There was a lot of fabric when everyone piled in–so I set up two hydrosulphite vats and was delighted not to need to use hydrosulphite to troubleshoot the fructose vat.

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This is something-or-other coming out of one  colour run remover vat quite yellow and beginning to turn blue as the air strikes it.  For these vats, I tried Jenny Dean’s recipe for a colour run remover indigo vat from Wild Colour.  It worked really well and uses washing soda, a much milder alkali than some proposed in other books. It’s also designed for colour run remover and not pure hydrosulphite–and that is what I had.  The fructose vat smells MUCH better!

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I love this process of transformation!  The best item of all for this effect was a pair of pants tied around a length of garden hose.  It was long enough to be yellow at one end, green in the middle and various shades of blue as it slowly emerged from the pot.  My friends had been out researching techniques for resist–so there was stitching, wrapping, bundling, string, thread, rubber bands–and even wax resist, some applied with a biscuit cutter and some freehand.

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With three vats going, and regular monitoring of temperature and Ph and so on, the scene at the clothes line kept changing.

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There were whole-garment makeovers, a purpose made bag, scrap fabrics, an opportunistic bag makeover and the pieces for a pair of pants yet to be made.

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The shades kept changing–wet to dry and dip to dip.

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…Until finally we had done all we could do and time to head to our various homes started to arrive.  Then there was a lot of undoing and exclaiming… and I’ll save that for another post!

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Summer Indigo 1: Preparation of fructose vat and fabrics

I’ve had indigo on my mind (oh, and on my fingers, too!).  I’d been planning a summer indigo dyeing day with a bunch of locals–and there are folk at the Guild who want to try indigo too.  I was keen to try the fructose vat again.  My last experiment with the fructose indigo vat involved some errors on my part… so I decided on treating it (and all other indigo vats) as a learning experience and trying again. I love the idea of being able to run an indigo vat without using sodium hydrosulphite, and I also love the idea of being able to use local fruit and even the leftovers from jam or other uses of fruit to prepare a vat, thus wasting nothing.  This is what the fructose vat has to offer… So, I took up Maiwa’s instruction sheet for Michel Garcia’s fructose vat, and began.  I am just so delighted to have access to Michel Garcia’s wisdom on this subject.  You can see the instructions as a blog post here or a downloadable pdf here.

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I decided to make a starter: beginning with a concentrated solution first and adding it into the larger vat later. The instructions on hydrating the indigo with marbles in a plastic jar are just such genius… so I started there. I also decided to start the day before I planned dyeing with my group of friends–this was one part of the instructions I missed last time.  Soon my strong solution was ready. Freshly mixed:

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And then… the magic started!

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I mixed the starter into the larger vat and then contrived a very sophisticated system for overnight: a very big bucket with a towel and my two woollen dye blankets inside for insulation, then the vat.  Wrapped for the night!

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Next morning… it all looked rather fabulous!

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In the meantime, I’d been plying my needle during various festive gatherings.

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Can you see the half-circles in the half-light?

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I read Vivien Prideaux’s A Handbook of Indigo Dyeing and tried out some of her ideas in a rather less precise manner than she proposes.  Essentialy, I decided that anything I could prepare to dye in advance was a bonus and precision was the least of my concerns.  her ideas were very helpful.

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I had so much calico from my most recent inheritance I really just stitched whenever I could find time and interest…

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And piled up a little stack of fabric in preparation.

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Ply time!

A while back I had used almost every bobbin I own, each with a different colour of thread on it.

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Over time there were even more bobbins of singles than this pictures shows…  finally there has been a season of plying, skeining and washing, and now I have this pile instead.

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Logwood purples, purple-greys and purple-browns, a cochineal pink (and a cochineal-logwood exhaust), three indigo blues, two madder exhaust-oranges, and a coreopsis exhaust yellow.  I didn’t take good enough notes of the fibres–some are on merino roving (the madder), some on polwarth, some on grey corriedale. Maybe there is a little of Malcolm the Corriedale in there too!

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And there has been even more bee swarm action in the neighbourhood.  These bees have taken up residence on a rainwater tank, with some support from a ladder! And… I am so over tending the silkworms 🙂

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