I recently facilitated an Indigo vat workshop at the SEFAA center in Atlanta. The focus was on learning about quick-reduction alternatives. (Fn 1).  Naturally, we were dyeing with indigo as well.  In the workshop we used a simple paste resist, along with traditional Japanese “mechanical” resist techniques, to make marks on our cloth.  I, for one, came home feeling inspired by the spirit of exploration and experimentation shown by the participants.  Lots of interesting results! 

For artists/craftspeople/designers creating in the modern/post-modern reality, Indigo and its related processes offer elements of a studio “meta” practice which can provide a means of merging our deep archaic (pre-rational) and more recent, modern/postmodern (rational) sensibilities.  Taking the time to witness the transformation of Indigo, from a pigment (its leuco “clear” state) to a dye accessible to fiber (its blue state), monitoring a vat on a daily basis and keeping it active – these can be conscious, intentional acts which begin to imbue the simple Indigo dyeing experience with deeper meaning.  It does seems to me that to incorporate Indigo into our textile and fiber practice –  to dye, spin, weave, stitch, print, paint, wear, utilize, admire –  is to infuse our creative cycles with its essence and be invited to surrender to the larger Mystery, if only temporarily.  And that is a very good thing. (Fn 2)

Footnotes:

1. For the uninitiated, indigo manifests its blue color through an oxidative/reductive chemical process which is pretty cool and makes it distinct from other dyestuffs (except those derived from plants closely related to it). I am not a chemist although I am learning. 

2.  I hasten to add that there are many profound and elevated wisdom/spiritual traditions existing around the world – if you follow one of these paths, pursuing any creative process is an adjunct practice with deep historic and cross-cultural roots.

Mechanical resists are one of the most basic and enduring mark-making techniques on cloth, and although not structural, are as fundamental to the history of textiles as spinning, weaving and felting.  This class of resists includes stitching, folding, clamping, binding (including Ikat), and wrapping, and is known collectively in Japan as shibori. The results are quite complex at times for such a seemingly simple process.  Key to these resists is the dye process:  all resists are only made manifest through that alchemy (whether through immersion or direct application).

In mechanical resist dyeing there is a subtle dance of control and surrender.  Even the most skilled practitioners, who can produce a great deal of precision, allow that it is still a loose and ultimately imprecise practice (with the possible exception of stitched resists).  But that is its inherent beauty – and the root of my attraction to it.  Much of my textile production is exacting and not forgiving – This process allows me to step out of the way and let the surface unfold on its own.  Of course, I am still exercising my will over the process while I bind, stitch, etc., but after that, I let the serendipity of the dye pot take over.  And since the hand and heart of the binder/stitcher/clamper is as essential to the alchemy as the dye chemistry, I know no two pieces created will be alike….It is thrilling every time for me to witness the “emergent” in each piece (especially after folding/wrapping and binding).

There are many wonderful books on this topic, including the definitive texts written by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, as well as one classic volume by Jack Lenore Larsen (see the “Books” tab).

 

Back in the studio and delving deeper into the work…the sketching/rendering process exposes more metaphor-ia – the work is still very abstract – and although materials begin to suggest themselves, I resist the impulse to make anything solid.  Right now, I’m interested in unearthing the voices that reflect a merging of mind’s eye with subject-object…

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fantastic flaps, channels, carvings…speak of honeycombs, webs and sponges

some edges smooth and curly, soft and pliant
some dense and stiff,  rigid and articulated

exhuberance in naked, strident figures graced with animal allies and unearthly escorts on some fantastic journey…

 

there is still so much more to uncover….

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