I have always been fascinated with the use of plant dyes to magically transform the colour of cloth. I love the history of their use, their softer, more muted colours, their complementary nature to each other and the fact that they are organic rather than chemically manufactured. I also love the fact that you are never quite sure what colour you are going to get, as it varies between plants, soils, growing conditions and the process used. Indigo is particularly magical as the main indigo pigments, Indicant (indico plants) and Iastin B (woad plants) are actually invisible and insoluble, being extracted by a complicated reduction process, and after the material has been dipped in the dye vat, the cloth changes from a greenish-yellow colour to an indigo blue, as the dye pigment oxidises and precipitates directly onto the fibres.
Consequently, I have bought a number of books on the topic of natural dyeing over the years. I even participated in a course at Dorrigo with a retired chemist, who now devotes her life to this very specific area, this involvement resulting in a most amusing and memorable repercussion. When I told my poor friend over the phone that I had just done a course in ‘natural dyeing’, there was a hushed silence, followed by: ‘But Janey, I didn’t know..!’ Sorry Liz!!!
In my last post on Books on Textile Printing, I finished with a book on Shibori, an ancient resist-dyeing technique used to create pattern on cloth, often using indigo dyes, so I thought I would start this post with two fantastic books on Indigo Dyeing, one theoretical and one highly practical, and both essential additions to the craft library, especially for those interested in natural dyeing. Because this post is so long, I am dividing it into three parts over the next 3 weeks, so today’s post features books on Indigo Dyeing; next week’s post is about General Natural Dyeing books and the third week focuses on books on Natural Dyeing with Australian Plants.
Indigo: The Colour That Changed the World by Catherine Legrand 2012
Indigo dyeing is a universal practice, found from Japan (Ai), Southern China (Landian), Laos and Vietnam (Cham), India (Nila), Africa (Gara) and Central America (Anil). There is even an Indigo Trail from Central Asia to West Africa. Other terms for indigo include: Indigotin; Indicant; and Xiquilite.
There are many different plant varieties that yield blue dye, including the
Indigofera family: Indigo;
Isatis family: Dyer’s and Chinese Woad;
Lonchocarpus family: Yoruba Indigo or Gara and Gambian Indigo;
Wrightia family: Pala Indigo or Dyer’s Oleander; Lan Shu and Mok;
Polygonum tinctorium (now called Persicaria tinctoria): Japanese Indigo, as seen in photo below;
Strobilanthes cusia, the Rum or Assam or Golden Triangle Indigo; and
Others: Tarum Akar (Broad-Leafed Indigo); Mohuitli (Sacatinta) and Azul (Panciga or Tinta); and
Urubu-retigma and Yangua (Llangua).
No matter which area of the world the indigo is produced or which species is involved, the basic process involves exactly the same steps:
Cultivation and/or wild harvesting of the plant;
Extraction of the pigment by steeping or crushing, drying or composting the leaves;
Preparation of the dye bath; and
Dyeing of the cloth or yarn.
It’s quite a complicated chemical process, involving reduction and oxidisation, which is explained really well in this lovely coffee-table book, along with the fascinating history and contemporary production of woad and indigo, amply supported with over 500 beautiful colour illustrations.
It focuses in-depth on the production of indigo in Europe, Japan, China, Laos and Vietnam, India, Africa and Central America. I learnt so much from this book about indigo and indeed, the different cultures and countries themselves! Did you know that:
There was a Blue Triangle (It is in the Haut Lauragais in South-West France and has been the main producer of woad since the early Middle Ages) and a Blue Mutiny (by Indian indigo growers against their British overlords in Bengal, India in 1859)
That the art of indigo extraction is extremely ancient, with woad found in Neolithic burial sites and the ink used to write the Dead Sea Scrolls; and
That denim jeans were originally made from the indigo-dyed Serge de Nimes?
In the back is a list of museums displaying woad and indigo textiles, as well as contemporary artists and studios working with woad and indigo and an extensive bibliography.For lovers of indigo and textile historians, in fact anyone interested in textiles or ethnic fashions, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a truly beautiful book!
A Handbook of Indigo Dyeing by Vivien Prideaux 2003
Equally fascinating and essential, this paperback guide is the practical equivalent to the previous book. Starting with a Brief History and Health and Safety Guidelines, it progresses to:
Natural Fibres: Cellulose and protein;
Indigo: Plants, Dried Indigo: blocks, cakes, balls or sheets; Powder; and Synthetic Indigo;
Dyeing Chemicals: Sodium hydroxide, Sodium hydrosulphite, Calcium hydroxide, Washing soda, Ammonia, Zinc and Methanol; and
Other ingredients: Soap, Gelatin, Vinegar, Sugar, Urea and Bran;Tools and Equipment: Weighing scales; Measuring jugs; Bowls; Timer; Plastic vat; Stainless steel Buckets; Thermometer; pH paper; Measuring spoons and stirring sticks; Mortar and pestle; Masking tape; Printing blocks; Clamps and Pegs; Rubber bands; String/rope; Needle and thread; Poles; Paste resists; and Found objects : Screws, corks, shells, rocks, marbles and coins;and Fabric Preparation: Pre-washing fabrics and yarn, before getting down to the nitty-gritty of:
Specialised Shibori Techniques: With detailed and easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions. I know, as I used this book extensively in my indigo workshop, documented in the photos above and below in 2014, practising the techniques marked with an asterisk.
Itajime or Board Clamping, including Kikko Folding *;
Stitched and Gathered, including Mokume (wood grain) by hand or pleating machine*;
Binding Objects into Fabric, using shells, beads, rice, marbles, screws *, peas, sticks;
or just pinched fabric bound with rubber bands or plastic ties *;
Folded and Stitched, including Ori Nui (Running stitches parallel to fold of fabric) *;
Maki Nui or Chevron Stripes (Over-stitching the fold)*
Karamatsu or Japanese Larch (Concentric half-circles) *;
Bomaki or Pole Wrapping *,
though I also tried wrapping and binding a rope *;
Katano (fabric folded and sandwiched between two polyester layers, which act as a resist) ; and
Paste Resist (Including the Nigerian adire-eleko) with flour and water applied with sponges, brushes, potato prints, wood blocks or stencils.
Methods of Dyeing: Reduction is necessary to make the insoluble indigo soluble, so it yields its wonderful colour. It does so by extracting oxygen from the dyebath, filled with a brackish-yellow liquid, streaked with blue and topped with a blueish-bronze flower. After cloth is dipped into the vat and hung out in the air, its colour changes from yellow-green to indigo blue, as oxidation occurs, bonding the colour to the fibres. Reduction is achieved by:
Chemical Fermentation with a Zinc Lime Vat;
Chemical Reduction with a Hydrosulphite Vat; and
Natural Fermentation, using a Bio Vat or a Urine Vat.
This book explains each process so well:
Making the basic bath and stock solution;
Combining the two;
Dyeing the fabric; and
Maintaining the vat, including recipes for dyeing the different natural fibres .
Post-Dyeing Treatments: Steaming; and Overdyeing and Discharging.
The author also describes a number of projects from scarves and jackets to tea cosies and cushions.
Next week, I am continuing with some inspiring books on traditional natural dyeing.