In June I attended a ground breaking exhibition ‘From the Earth’.
The curators Caroline Bell and Jenny Leslie wanted to enable the subtle tones of plant dyed textile art to be appreciated in a sympathetic setting. The main exhibition site was Mardelybury Gallery near Datchworth, not far from where I live in Hertfordshire. The art and craft supplier Art van Go hosted a series of linked workshops at their shop/studio workshop in Knebworth, accompanied by an exhibition of work by the tutors.
The exhibition at Mardelybury ranged from pieces by India Flint to water colours using plant pigments. But the highlight for me was attending two of the workshops: Jenny Leslie’s ‘Organic Indigo Vat’ and ‘Screen Printing with Natural Dyes’ run by Alison Hulme and Caroline Bell. Here’s a bit about the first of these two workshops.
First we learned about creating crackle on cloth with a simple batter of flour and water. Spread with a palette knife, optionally scratch designs into the semi-dry resist, leave to dry completely and then pull the fabric from different angles to create cracks.
Paint iron/tannin dye ontop for a wonderful visual texture. Variations include use of porridge or other sticky starchy grains. Use mordanted cloth and overdye after removing the pastes.
These are not strong enough resists to withstand a dyebath, so the iron/tannin ink is used to capture the pattern instead.
Jenny also set up a fructose indigo vat for shibori resist. Seeing this ‘in the flesh’ gave me the confidence to work an indigo vat without synthetic reducing agents. Up to then part of me simply didn’t believe it could work.
Inspired by the course, I collected together all of the tail ends of indigo vats we had kept from previous years (see below) plus some recent additions from William. Will is a friend we taught to grow and use japanese indigo. He has amazing green fingers and produced some terrific plant dyed yarns but now he’s living on a canal boat he has other priorities. I hope to pay him back for his dye pigment in plant dyed yardage.
I love these sludges! When you grow your own indigo rather than buying it, every last speck of blue is precious. This was the dye shed much earlier in the season.
Once the indigo has been extracted from the woad or japanese indigo leaves (with alkali, heat and oxygen) the solution can be left indefinitely. The indigo particles settle over time. Carefully decant the excess water and harvest the sludge.
The combined volume of the best of these sludges filled my largest steel pan. I commandeered a corner of the cold frame outside the kitchen door, added the lime and fructose (fruit sugar) and away it went.
I am still learning how to condition the vat and probably added far too much sugar at one point. But it’s been giving a good colour for weeks and remains actively reducing.
Here’s the most recent piece I have dyed with the vat: a bomaki shibori based on a method Vivien Prideaux gives in her book on Indigo Dyeing. I used a natural calico from Art van Go which has been recommended by quilt artist Bobby Britnell for its ability to drink up dye. The cloth was crispy with sugar frosting by the time it had dried out for the last time.
The fabric was probably rather thick for the number of layers of cloth involved, so the colour didn’t penetrate fully. I should have scoured the cloth beforehand, but usually it doesn’t seem to need any preparation. I’ll do another resist on the top later.
Even if you read about a new technique, see it on u-tube, watch on dvd, there’s still no substitute for learning alongside a tutor in a workshop. Thank you Jenny Leslie! http://www.regenerationtextiles.co.uk/