A week of indigo

It was definitely a blue fingernail week last week! It started with a couple of days in Hove with a wonderful group of textile friends who try to get together every couple of months to do a little felting or stitching.

This time, Barbara was rash enough to offer her garden to do some indigo dyeing – though some parts (usually featuring pale limestone!) were definitely out of bounds to people carrying dripping blue fabric. 🙂 The weather was glorious – the last two days of our prolonged heatwave – and the food and drink was plentiful and excellent. Barbara even baked a belated birthday cake for Carol, my partner in Women of the Cloth.

In between the eating, drinking and laughter we even found some time for dyeing, and everyone produced some great work.

When I got back home, it was time to filter my second indigo extraction from my homegrown indigo, which I’d fermented and left to settle while I was away. This produced another 4g of indigo.

Then on Friday I harvested 75g of indigo leaves, blended them with iced water till it was bright green and strained it through silk.

I used this to dye two silk scarves, one plain and one ecoprinted. Interestingly, some of the leaf prints seemed to resist the dye, while others changed colour as they were overdyed.

Also interestingly, the silk I used to strain the vegetation shows a range of colours, from the expected turquoise, through pale green to red from indirubin.

All natural indigo contains indigotin, the blue pigment, and indirubin, a red pigment – the indirubin is usually hidden by the indigotin, but shows up once the indigotin is exhausted.  Fascinating to see it separated out here!

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Extracting indigo from homegrown plants

A couple of years ago I grew Japanese indigo in my London garden for the first time, and tried dyeing with fresh leaves as well as making a reduced vat.

This year I planted more Japanese indigo – I got the seeds from Ashley Walker of Nature’s Rainbow at the natural dyeing workshop I did in January. He said that there were two variations – broad leaved and narrow leaved, and that he had found that the broad leaved variety contained more pigment. So I planted them in two separate patches, and thanks to the wet spring and summer heatwave they have grown really strongly.

I’d read about extracting pigment by drying and composting the leaves, but this seemed to be quite a large scale process – I got the impression that I would need several years’ worth of leaves before this became worthwhile! But then I joined a Facebook group on indigo pigment extraction methods, whose admin Brittany Boles published a description of aqueous alkali precipitation extraction and also linked to a detailed account of the process by Fibershed.

So last week as our heatwave reached its peak I took the plunge and had a go at fermenting some of my homegrown indigo.

indigo harvest

I cut about half the broad leaved plants down to 7-8 inches and stripped off the leaves, ending up with 215g. I covered them with bottled water (chlorinated water is a no no and there wasn’t much rainwater around!) and kept the leaves submerged with a couple of stones.

indigo fermentation start

A couple of days later I could see an oily slick on top of the water – a good sign that fermentation was happening.

indigo fermentation middle

Then only a couple of hours later the water had turned bright green and there was a characteristic fruity smell – bingo! I decided to remove the leaves, because if you leave them for too long the yield of indigo pigment apparently drops drastically.

indigo fermentation end

I added lime (calcium hydroxide) to reach pH 10 and then whisked…and whisked…and whisked until the liquid was a deep indigo blue.

Because I’d used a dark grey bucket, I decanted a bit into a clear jar so I could get an idea of how the pigment was settling. Two days later I could see a dark blue line at the bottom of the container where the indigo had settled.

indigo precipitation

So I decanted most of the liquid from the bucket, adding it to my current indigo vat.

indigo decanting

Then I poured the sludge at the bottom into a coffee filter.

indigo filtering

After filtering and drying, I was left with 4g of homegrown indigo.

indigo pigment

I also saved the stripped stalks of indigo and stuck them in a jar of water. One week later they have developed new roots – ready to replant for the next round!

indigo rooting

I don’t know how pure the pigment is – apparently this method produces fairly low grade indigo, with bits of leaf and other impurities. But it’s a great feeling to have grown and extracted my own indigo pigment! 🙂

Second random weave puzzle ball

After my first attempt at a random weave puzzle ball I was determined to try again incorporating what I’d learnt. This time I went for five layers!

random weave puzzle ball

The inner three layers were woven from hemp that I bought at the textile market in Belgium. The innermost ball is black, so you can’t see it very well. (Lesson for next time – make the inside ball a light colour!)

The fourth layer was made from paper yarn dyed with onion skins.

And the outer layer was paper yarn dyed with indigo.

random weave puzzle ball

With five layers it was even more fiddly to get the inner moulds out, but I got there eventually without destroying the outer layers. I’m not sure I could do any more layers though!

I also had a go at making a random weave cube – this was a harder shape to mould. Because I left open areas it was also harder to photograph, as it’s difficult to distinguish the different surfaces.

open weave cube open weave cube

Marbling on paper and silk

About four years ago I did an evening workshop on marbling paper. It was fun but the results were not fantastic. So I thought I’d give it another go on a three-day workshop at City Lit with Royston Haward.

marbled paper

We started by learning about the history of marbling and saw examples of different patterns.

Then we started to get our hands dirty with suminagashi, a marbling technique used in Japan. This uses sumi calligraphy ink or other permanent inks, just floating on water, no size. These are some of the small samples I did.

suminagashi samples

We also tried it on rice paper.

suminagashi on rice paper

And I’d read that it works on silk too, so I took some unmordanted fine habotai silk in to try – it worked beautifully.

suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk

Then we moved on to Western marbling. Unlike suminagashi, this mixes carrageen moss (a kind of seaweed) with the water to thicken it and support the colour. Patterns are created with toothpicks, combs or spatulas – sometimes a combination.

We tried with acrylics and gouache – most people seemed to get better results with gouache. The colour of the paper also affected the final result. Below are some combed patterns.

Below left is another combed pattern; on the right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is an antique straight pattern; right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is Spanish Moire pattern, made by rocking the paper as you place it on the size – close up it looks like folds of fabric. On the right is Italian pattern (nearly! – I should have added more wetting agent).

Below left is ghost marbling – one pattern marbled on top of another. On the right is a combed pattern.

I did have a go at marbling silk with gouache, but this came out very faint. It may have been better if I’d mordanted the silk first. (Paper for marbling requires mordanting with alum, unlike suminagashi.)

We also learnt how to make our own brushes and combs, as well as about polishing the paper afterwards, so it was a busy three days!

I have since washed the suminagashi silk and the pattern remains very clear. Could be another new product line? 😉

RHS Plant and Art Fair and hapazome workshop

I was hard at work last week replenishing my stock of ecoprinted scarves for the RHS Plant and Art Fair this week.

With botanical art and photography competitions, talks and demonstrations on ikebana and Japanese garden design and of course some wonderful plants, this should be a great show.

And with this heatwave we’ve been having, I’m getting some great prints.

The RHS Plant and Art Fair is at RHS Lawrence Hall, London SW1P 2QD. There’s a late event tomorrow evening 5-9pm, then it’s open on Wednesday 11am-8pm and Thursday 11am-6pm.

Then on Sunday I’m running a hapazome workshop at Brixton Windmill’s Art in the Park. Hapazome is the technique of leaf (and flower) pounding, where you pound vegetation on fabric or paper to leave an imprint.

Here are some samples I’ve made for the workshop.

Let’s hope that people aren’t too busy watching the World Cup final and/or the Wimbledon men’s final to turn out!

Goodbye flaming June, hello flaming July

June has passed in a flash, as I have been preoccupied with running a four-week crowdfunding campaign for the Friends of Windmill Gardens – another of the hats I wear (which is much needed in this weather!). I’m relieved to say we exceeded our target.

Central Saint Martins textiles degree show

I did take some time off, though, to visit some of the degree shows. My favourite this year was the textiles degree show at Central St Martins, which always seems to be particularly strong in constructed textiles. AND they produce a decent handbook with photos and statements about the students’ work.

I was particularly impressed by Andrea Liu, who had tanned, dyed, woven and stitched smoked salmon skin that she collected from a local warehouse. Perhaps not surprisingly, she won the Mills Sustainability Prize.

csm andrea liu

I also liked Zoe Atkinson‘s rhythmic 3D knitted fabrics that incorporated solid materials like leather, calling to mind organic and manmade armour.

As a felter, Henrietta Johns doesn’t really fit into any of CSM’s categories of print, knit or weave, but naturally her experiments with felting through stencils and using natural dyes made her work of interest to me.

thread 2018

Last Saturday I got up at 5.30am to pack up the car and drive to Farnham Maltings to set up my stall at its flagship textiles show, thread 2018. This is the third year I’ve done it and I always enjoy the quirky venue, the interesting range of exhibitors and the great organisation.

Despite the heat, the morning was extremely busy – it was some time before I could get a photo of my stand without lots of people in front of it. 🙂

 

Then in the afternoon I gave a talk about my upcycling work. It was both flattering and terrifying to see the number of people who turned up for it – some were even sitting on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs! No pressure at all…

Thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy it, judging by the questions and enthusiastic comments at the end. And it was lovely to see some familiar faces, like Ginny Farquhar of Alice and Ginny, who I met at thread last year and who is also interested in natural dyeing (as well as much else) and is also growing Japanese indigo this year – we were able to compare notes!

And many thanks to my friend Magdalen Rubalcava, who got up early to come with me and hold the fort on the stall while I was giving the talk.

SLWA exhibition Silence is Over

After packing up and driving back to London after the show, it was straight off to the private view of Silence is Over, the exhibition by South London Women Artists.

I was pretty late so missed the speeches and poetry, but it was fantastic to see how the collective billboards turned out – very strong, thought provoking and provocative.

After that it was off to bed, exhausted! Hopefully July will be a little more relaxed. 🙂

 

 

 

Felting workshop with Charlotte Sehmisch

Around five years ago I first came across the work of felter Charlotte Sehmisch, who makes amazing “cellular” felt structures.  But it wasn’t until last month that I managed to attend a workshop with Charlotte herself in Belgium, organised by Vrouw Wolle.

charlotte sehmisch

I wasn’t sure about the wool I had taken with me, as the materials list, which I received very late, specified “500g of merino or mountain sheep (both fleece)”. “Fleece” in this context means batting, but I didn’t have 500g of merino batting to hand, so I took some rather coarse mystery batts that I’d picked up at a stash sale. I did find time to do a quick sample square and found that it felted quite quickly, but that was all I knew about it!

charlotte sehmisch samples

Charlotte had brought both 2D and 3D samples with her – we started on the 3D pieces. You can probably guess that the layout involves multiple resists. Because I was using coarser wool, I made my resists larger than everyone else’s, so my piece was by far the largest in the room.

After laying out and felting comes the tricky cutting part – where, how far and in what direction! There were some rather nerve wracking moments, as I’d miscalculated the width of some of the “ribs”. But after firming up, shaping, and hardening with gelatine, I was quite pleased with the final result.

charlotte sehmisch workshop piece charlotte sehmisch workshop piece

This was another excellent workshop organised by Vrouw Wolle, although the weather was unseasonally hot and humid so not ideal for felting. And although I’ve previously experimented a bit by myself with cellular felting (you can read about it here and here), I learnt a lot from Charlotte.

The workshop was part of a veritable felt jamboree over the whole weekend, with several other renowned tutors including Judit Pócs, Andrea Noeske Parada and Leiko Uchiyama running other workshops. There was also an inspiring exhibition of work by students from the Felt Academy, along with an excellent textile market.

Annemie Tibos
Henny van Tussenbroek
Keetje van de Koogh
Ann Mariën
Marleen Piron
Textile market

Last week I finally had a go at making a sample starfish using the technique I learnt with Charlotte. At least, it was going to be a starfish, but I decided to make it with just three legs to test out the principle, in case it didn’t work. And then during the fulling it seemed to be more interested in developing into some kind of alien creature!

charlotte sehmisch sample piece

As you can see, there is lots of potential for experimenting with this technique! 🙂

 

Silence is Over: SLWA exhibition

South London Women Artists’ latest exhibition, entitled “Silence is Over”, opens at the Portico Gallery in West Norwood, London, next Friday.

Participating artists (including me) were each given an identical blank canvas to interpret the theme of coercive control and sexual abuse. The canvases are going to be assembled in a series of billboards, reclaiming a space traditionally used for advertising and often objectifying women.

I decided to highlight the excruciating and disabling practice of foot binding that effectively disabled many Chinese women in the past. So I made a pair of lotus shoes and then shredded one of them, showing bloodstained bandages spilling out of it.

“Lotus shoe” sounds like an object of beauty, but it conceals the agony behind the process of foot binding. The four smaller toes of young girls were curled under, pressed until they broke, and then bound tightly against the sole of the foot, breaking the arch so that it was artificially raised. Infection, paralysis, rotting toes and lost toenails were common problems.

The “ideal” foot size for an adult woman was 3-4 inches long. Why? Some say that men found the tiny steps and swaying walk of women with bound feet erotic. Others say that it was a way of controlling women, confining them to home and repetitive but economically important tasks such as weaving, spinning and other handwork.

The practice was officially outlawed in China in 1911, but the last factory making lotus shoes did not close until 1999.

“Silence is Over” runs at the Portico Gallery, 23A Knights Hill, West Norwood, London SE27 0HS, from 29 June to 3 July. The private view is on Saturday 30 June, 6-10pm – all welcome.