Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Indigo Workshop

After the three-day intensive Mud Cloth workshop in Mullumbimby, Aboubakar had a day off to prepare the next workshop - the indigo four day intensive. This meant I also had a day off to explore Mullumbimby and surrounds, so I took a ride to Brunswick Heads to have an early morning swim in the ocean followed by a fantastic vegetarian lunch. Later, I prepared a few stitched samples for the workshop, just simple karamatsu shibori, or larch design.
As Aboubakar had previously run a 10 day intensive class, the fermented indigo vat that they had set up was still resting and maturing.  He had also started a new fermented indigo vat for the class after ours, so in total there were two fermented indigo vats that needed to be looked after each day and two fructose vats that we could work with.
The large blue vat is the fermented leaf vat, and the brown
vat at the back is the fructose vat.
The difference between the two types of vats is immense. The fermented vat uses the leaf matter from the indigo in Nigeria, Lonchocarpus cyanescens, also known as Yoruba indigo. This type of vat is a "living colour" vat, where bacteria grow to ferment the leaves so that the pigment can be released. This process can take up to 14 days and is heavily dependant on keeping the temperature of the vat warm, which is why we were doing the workshop in muggy Mullumbimby! I will not go into the process of the fermentation vat here because we were not taught this in our 4 day workshop, so I will concentrate on the Fructose Vat.
Aboubakar carefully hydrating the indigo powder with
water before adding to the vat
The Fructose Indigo vat we prepared follows a similar recipe to other natural vats I have prepared in the past using the 1:2:3 ratio of Indigo, Lime and Fructose. Aboubakar has his own method of achieving his indigo vat, through years of research in Japan and his home country. The more I participate in Indigo workshops the more I realise how attached masters can become to their vats and ways of preparing and caring for them, so it is futile to start comparing one method to another, because you start to realise that it is not comparing apples to apples at all, it is more like comparing children, and as we all know, no two are alike, even from the same parents!! Although I prepare indigo vats for workshops in natural dyeing, and am very happy with my results, I do not keep a vat as part of my arts practice, the way Aboubakar does (or in his case, thirty huge vats or so!!).  Many people are puzzled by this because  indigo is seen to be such an essential part of a natural dyeing practice - especially to get greens and purples etc.  Indigo is such an intense experience that I am almost afraid if I start it (properly) I will never want to stop and do other things anymore...this sounds dramatic ....but some of you will understand what I mean. Also, vats really do need to be tended and cared for like babies, particularly the fermentation vats.  You must monitor them every single day in order to keep them happy and productive. The 1-2-3 vats are much simpler and easier to create and can be left dormant for periods of time.

Fructose vat ready to use.
After the addition of lime and fructose the vat is stirred and left for an hour, after which time the "flower" or "bloom" on the top has increased in size and diameter, and the liquid underneath is a yellowish colour, signifying that the vat is now ready to use. The surface has a coppery tinge, and often has a wrinkly appearance - this is the vat's "skin" to protect it from air.

Aboubakar prepares to test the vat
The first dip in the vat
Aboubakar has a very particular way of immersing fabric, yarn and shibori textiles into the vat in order to get a good even dyeing.  We learnt how to "massage" our textiles beneath the surface of the vat so that our fingers did not leave marks on our samples, and to open up pleats and yarns so that the indigo could penetrate where it should. It was nerve-wracking at first but after a while you get the hang of it!  Aboubakar then set us our first task - to take seven identical pieces of calico to achieve the seven shades from white to deepest indigo/black.  This is one of the tests for the prospective indigo-dyers and believe me, the lightest shade was the hardest to achieve.  Afterwards Aboubakar shared his insight into this special pale blue - it is often done with the oldest "grandmother" vat which is nearly at the end of its life and takes a lot of skill and sensibility to produce. He says that often this colour is the most desirable because it is so hard to achieve. The colour must be pale, but the cloth must still be saturated properly, and in a young vibrant vat there is too much energy for even a 1 second dip to produce a "last-breath" blue.

Aboubakar's seven samples of indigo...perfect
During the course of the workshop we explored many processes of shibori and rice paste resist.  Aboubakar does not use the clay resist in his vats because the minerals in the vat would contaminate and interfere with the fermentation bacteria. The resist paste worked very well and I played around with multiple stamping and printing and dipping to achieve layers of colour and tone on small samples.  I also completed my Seven Indigo samples to perfection - not on the first day, mind you, but the next day once the samples had dried, I realised one was slightly out and I wanted to take the time correct it whilst I still had the same vats.  Of course, when you change one sample...all the others proceding it must also change...haha! However by the end of the exercise Aboubakar was very happy with my samples and I think they looked very close to his. I also made a beautiful indigo scarf with the pleat and tie method shown to me by certainly pays to have long fingers and lots of patience!

Some of my indigo samples with resist paste, shibori and repeat dyeings.
 And lastly, there was another RYDER in our group - Angela Ryder - which is so uncommon we both freaked out a bit, but she made some beautiful work including this lovely rice-paste resist piece which sums up the wonderful workshop with Aboubakar in Mullumbimby....

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