Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Indigo adventure at Ambatalia


The history and magic of this natural permanent blue dye comes from many species of indigo plants and goes back 4000 years through out many countries of the world including India, Japan, China, El Salvador, Africa, Indonesia and U. S. A just to name a few.

In south Carolina a million pounds where grown by slaves and shipped to England from 1740- 1776. In Bengal India from 1777 to 1859 Indigo was grown by peasants under brutal treatment by the planters instead of food. They finally refused to sow a single seedling of indigo with the support of Bengal called the indigo revolt in 1859, a fore runner of the non- violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhi.

Since the 1850's when synthetic dye was invented by English chemist Perkins and synthetic indigo indigotine also used in food coloring today was invented by German chemist Boeyer, indigo dye from plants were used less and less. In 1897, 19,000 tons were produces by the plant, dropping to 1,000 tons by 1914.

In the last hundred years there have been a handful of master dyers around the world that have kept this tradition alive. Only in the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest and more and more artists are now wanting to experience this ancient magical craft of dying with plants. Even though the Japanese fermentation vat is rare and more complex, many artists are able to use the more accessable pre-reduced indigo.

I have been inspired by the color blue since I was young and was fortunate to be able to carry beautiful indigo textiles in my old Ambatalia fabrics shop from Nike Davies From Nigeria and Yasuo Nakajima from Japan and vintage indigo from all over the world. I felt lucky to have helped build a compost floor with Rebecca Burgess guided by 
Rowland Ricketts and did a little indigo stomp as well.  I have been inspired by many masters via Internet like Aboubaker Fofana and Hiroyuki Shindo to national treasures like Ayano Chiba.

Now my indigo adventure begins at my shop in Mill Valley, California. I  built a fermented indigo vat made from the Japanese indigo plant called Polygonum Tictorium. This plant was grown and composted for 100 days here in northern California by Rebecca Burgess founder of Fibershed. Without her work with the guidance of Rowland Ricketts and many volunteers I wouldn't have this opportunity to build this kind of vat.
This adventure has been intense and it was the first vat I ever experienced, I did it alone and I would not recommend that. I think most indigo dyers learn from a teacher or master for many years and I feel humbled and a little embarrassed not to have been more educated about it. I see this experience as a gift from nature and I learned a lot about myself and the magic and history of indigo.

This experience was not easy for me. It was a long process and for many weeks I didn't know the alchemy was even working, but I kept moving forward, stirring twice a day, testing fabrics every morning to see what was happening, hoping to see some signs of blue. I prayed, I sang to it and finally after a very long time of doing this I was convinced it was dead and drained all of the liquid out of it leaving only the sukomo mud at the bottom. Again weeks went by and I just couldn't let go. One morning feeling very blue myself I went to go give in and drain the vat knowing that I wasn't able to get any more sukomo for a while. I opened the lid and there were the signs of life. There was a metallic purple film on top of the mud ( sukomo) At that moment, I cant tell you how excited I was I remembered Rolland telling me stories of a Japanese dyer that had a similar experience of losing a vat in the beginning, he had started the whole process over again using the mud at the bottom. Something was happening in all of this process for me. something was pushing me to not give up and I believe that's why I just let it sit there and even though it wasn't conscious I believe it was meant to be. I did trust some how.

Okay so there I went, again making lye by boiling gallons of water, sifting the ash to get all the charcoal chunks out of it and then stirring the ash with the water. What rises to the top is lye.  I added the lye in batches of different strengths of lye over several days and then waited for signs of fermentation, that's when you would continue adding Line stone and eventually feeding it bran. Wildly enough I did the same thing over again and nothing happened until I almost gave up again. Finally calling out to my instagram friend asking for prays for this vat. People from all over reached out and cheered me on. 
It worked and it was magic.

   Gratitude goes to the master dyers around the world that kept this magical
     Color of the ocean and sky alive for us to enjoy for the last few centuries.

THE PROCESS ( there is much time in between photos)
I start by sifting the hard wood ash that I collected from a restaurant in town.

  Gorgeous husband building the vat space, because we didn't have an indoor space I had      to think of something that would keep my vat at 68 degrees. I felt like putting the vat under  ground would be a good start, we eventually wrapped it with a seed growing mat that warmed up and insulation, then we filled the space around it with dirt and wool.

Stirring the water and wood ash

creating a sacred space with blessings

sukomo and the 1st batch of lye

stirring the first steps

adding the bran ( this is over a period of days)

inviting the indigo spirit

there was hope and then it left

this was a bad sign and I didn't give up

But then I did and drained the vat leaving the mud sit at the bottom and did it all over again
after weeks of working it ......
this happened

and this happened

Wool from woolly egg ranch

 which inspired this with love

Thank you Indigo 


Jeannie said...

Question! :) does the vat require heating at a constant temperature? What about the winter months - does it need heating then, if it doesn't at the moment? Thanks for sharing this post!!

Molly de Vries said...

Hi Jeannie,
So because I knew my vat had to be outside and I knew that the ideal temp is 68 degrees F. My husband and I dug a hole. I wrapped the vat with a seed heating mat around and then filled in the space between the hole and the vat with greesy wool and dirt hoping to insulate. It did not need to be heated until just a few weeks ago. Im now trying to keep the temp consistent by turning the mat on here and there for a few hours. let me know if you have more questions. Molly

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