Edited to add: This post has been edited to remove all references to techniques, images of work that isn’t mine, and images of other workshop participants. Huge apologies to anyone I have upset or offended – it was not my intention. 😦
Last week I headed back to the wonderful Atelier Fiberfusing run by Dorie van Dijk, just outside Amsterdam. I love the space and relaxed atmosphere (as well as the food) that Dorie has created here.
Previous workshops I’ve attended here have been with felters Andrea Graham and Lisa Klakulak. This time I was there for a workshop with Irit Dulman, one of the leading experts in ecoprinting with natural dyes.
Here are some of the results I achieved over the four days.
We covered an awful lot in four days – all in all, a fantastic workshop that has motivated me to continue experimenting and make more of natural dyes in combination with ecoprinting!
[Warning – this is a long post with lots of images!]
Brrr! I’m still adjusting to the drop in temperature since returning to the UK after four weeks in India. 🙂
The last week was spent in Jaipur, on a mud resist block printing and indigo dyeing workshop organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Along with mud resist, there were also workshops on stitching, miniature painting, mirror mosaics, photography and Indian cookery, so it was an interesting mix.
The tutors for the mud resist workshop were Natalie Gibson, Head of the Fashion Print Course at Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design, and Di Livey, former Senior Lecturer in Textiles & Applied Print at Middlesex University, and visiting lecturer at other institutions. Both were wonderfully colourful characters, both figuratively and literally, with endless supplies of patience and guidance.
The workshop was held about 30km outside Jaipur, near the village of Bagru, at Ojjas, a company that specialises in hand block printed textiles. Company owner Raj Kanwar has 40 years’ experience as a textile designer and was instrumental in the revival of hand block and mud resist printing techniques.
The premises are in a specialist light industrial park, designed to minimise the environmental damage that dyeing can cause. So there’s an effluent treatment plant to recycle water and minimise discharges, and the emphasis is on natural and formaldehyde-free dyes.
Most of the other workers were block printing with pigments on huge long tables – one person would print one colour with one block, then others would fill in the colour with other blocks and colours.
But we were there to print using mud as a resist.
Mud, mud, glorious mud
We started by seeing how the mud (known locally as dabu) was mixed up. Potters’ clay (which they get from dried up lake beds in summer), wheat powder, gum and lime are added to water in a shallow stone bowl, and then the mud mixer mixes it with his feet. It’s quite mesmerising to watch as he swivels and scrapes – like some kind of ritual dance! Once it’s thoroughly mixed, the mud gets sieved through fine muslin – he again uses his feet to push it through.
Then it’s on to the printing. The blocks used for mud printing are different from those used for pigment printing – the carving is deeper and not as fine, as otherwise it would clog up with mud. There was a block printer at Ojjas, carving every block by hand.
After printing, the mud is covered with sawdust to prevent smudging and absorb the moisture. Then the fabric is laid out to dry in the sun (on the roof or on the pavement), weighted down with stones.
Indigo and other dyes
After printing a few samples on the first day, we did our first indigo dips the next day. Ojjas uses synthetic indigo in a fermented vat, sunk into the ground. The vat is 10 feet deep, and had a very impressive “flower” (foam) on the top each morning – a good sign of a healthy vat.
To prevent too much of the mud coming off, the printed fabric was not wetted out before dipping. Instead, it was gently submerged, flat, and moved gently from side to side for about a minute. Then it was removed and held over the vat to allow excess liquid to drip off, and laid on earth for a couple of minutes to soak up the rest. After that it was laid to dry on the roof or pavement as before, until it was dry.
After the first dip we could print again on the fabric before another dip to get two shades of blue. We also had the opportunity to use kassis, a dye made from rusty iron, and pomegranate. Kassis requires a mordant, harda (myrobalan), which is made from a small yellow plum (also used in ayurvedic medicine).
Removing the mud and finishing
Once all the printing and dyeing was finished, the fabric was soaked in warm water for a few hours to soften the mud. Then came the hard work (and fun part), rubbing it and slapping it against a stone slab to remove the mud, before rinsing and drying.
We could also overprint the finished pieces with red, blue, gold or silver pigment, creating highlights and more layers.
After all this work, it was fascinating to see the final results. Most people experimented with clothing, dyeing T-shirts, tunics and trousers, but I stuck to lengths of fabric, including silk, linen and cotton. I also added a bit of stitching to some pieces for extra texture. Here are some of my pieces at various stages.
We had an exhibition on the final day along with all the other workshops, where we certainly exceeded them in terms of quantity of work. 😉 And we even made some bunting!
We also visited nearby Bagru, a block printing village where every surface seems to be covered by drying fabric – that is, unless it’s occupied by cows or pigs. 🙂
What I learned
I’ve never used a fermented indigo vat before, so this was very interesting for me. A single dip resulted in a mid-range blue, but I don’t know how dark the colour would go with successive dips, as we only dipped each piece twice (the mud starts to come off if you dip it more than this).
Is mud resist a practical method to use at home? You don’t have to use blocks – I used the rim of a terracotta cup, an old piece of circular rubber, and a stone, as well as blocks, to apply the mud to fabrics. A large space helps, but we also saw villagers in Bagru printing on small padded boards while sitting on the floor. Something for the “possibles” list I think!
I am slightly concerned about the fastness of the indigo with only two dips. The fabric was left for 24 hours between dips and before washing, so it will have oxidised well. But I generally dip a minimum of four times to build up colour and fastness, rinse till the water is nearly clear, wash with a gentle detergent, and rinse again. In Jaipur we soaked to soften the mud and then rinsed – no detergent was used. Given the quantity of fabric we were washing, it would have been a lot of work! But I wonder whether this is the normal practice anyway. I bought some natural-dyed garments from Anokhi, and the information on the label recommended washing before wearing to remove excess dye.
Shop till you drop
One of the advantages of having Di and Natalie to hand was their knowledge of the local shops in Jaipur. Here’s a selection of my favourites.
New Madho Store, Shop no 138, Bapu Bazaar
Fantastic haberdashery shop spread over three cramped floors – start at the top and work down. A real treasure trove of buttons, beads, trims, and thread.
Khadi Ghar, 320 MI Road Government-run shop selling hand-spun, hand-woven cotton, silk and other fabrics at fixed prices, providing the weavers with a guaranteed sale of their work.
Saurashtra, 7-9 Inside Jorawar Singh Gate, Amber Road There’s a whole row of shops next to Jorawar Singh Gate that belongs to the same family. Kishor Kumar Maheshwari and his brothers sell everything from bags and scarves to pashminas and blankets, as well as some antique textiles.
Ojjas, 663 Hanuman Nagar Ext, Viswamitra Marg, Sirsi Rd, Khatipura This is Raj’s retail outlet, with a great selection of contemporary block-printed clothes, cushions and curtains.
Nayika, Tholia Building, Opposite Niro’s Restaurant, MI Road Tucked away in a small courtyard off MI Road, near Khadi Ghar, this boutique sells an exquisite selection of printed and embroidered clothing and homeware.
Anokhi, 2nd Floor KK Square, C-11 Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme Traditional block printed clothing and popular café serving safe tasty salads and cakes.
Jaipur Modern, 51 Sardar Patel Marg, C Scheme Sleek Italian-owned boutique selling stylish contemporary clothes and home accessories at Western prices. Also has excellent restaurant.
Finally, here’s a selection of images from other parts of my trip.
Apologies for the silence since Lambeth Open. We seemed to get fewer visitors this year, but I sold several scarves and we had some nice comments about our work.
At the last minute I made a companion piece to go with my pebble hanging. This used up some of the very first arashi shibori samples I made when I was new to indigo dyeing. I think I shall call the hangings Water I and Water II. 🙂
I picked up an unusual African seed pod at a table top sale. The seller wasn’t able to tell me exactly which species of plant it came from, but the texture was irresistible, inspiring me to make a felt vessel.
I also made one with larger openings, cutting away the felt above the resist, but I think I prefer the closed version.
Carol, one of my sister Women of the Cloth, attended a workshop on nuno felting with Inge Bauer over the summer, and came back with some very impressive scarves, bags, cowls and fingerless gloves.
This inspired me to have another go at nuno myself, using a silk scarf that wasn’t suitable for overdyeing with shibori. I found it very satisfying, so I might make a few more for some of the Christmas sales I’m doing.
Finally, of course, the indigo dyeing goes on – here’s another batch of shibori bits and pieces drying on the line. A couple of the scarves are already in my Etsy shop – more to come!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks – I’ve been trying to build up my stock of indigo-dyed scarves for Christmas, and also preparing for the big Makerhood event Making Uncovered, where I was showing people how to dye eggs with onion skins.
While I had the indigo vat out I did some ombre dyeing (dip dyeing) with unbleached cotton muslin, with the vague idea that I might felt with it. A couple of years ago I made a lot of indigo nuno-felted vessels, but this time I wanted to try something different.
So I made a simple flat panel or hanging, incorporating some flat beach pebbles. The bottom layers were made using white merino batting from World of Wool, which has just started stocking wool batts, though their merino is 23 micron compared with Norwegian Wool‘s 21 micron (short fibre merino). It does make laying out so much quicker!
Even ESP liked this, which is saying something given that a) he’s usually pretty sniffy about my felt and b) he always moans about having to lug home all the pebbles and shells I pick up on beaches when on holiday. Result! 😉