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.

I am happy to announce the second installment of my natural dye series at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. This time, we will look at two ways of achieving blue using natural Indigo pigment, one “chemical” and one “organic.”  The synthetic pre-reduced indigo alternative will also be considered. This is a two-day workshop.  We’ll build the vats on Day 1 and prepare samples for immersion, including pieces printed with a simple paste resist.  Day 2 will be dedicated to using the vats, comparing and contrasting results.  Saturday, February 8th through Sunday, February 9th. Both Sessions: 1-5 pm. For details visit: SEFAA Center/Indigo

It has been a full month since my last post. Teaching/facilitating technique through one-on-one, small and large group gatherings has become a more regular feature of my weekly activity list. Among other things, Indigo has figured prominently in this work. As noted elsewhere, I have also increasingly incorporated other natural dyes into my creative practice and will be facilitating another workshop this July at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. See the sidebar for the link.

I have had three opportunities to share the indigo experience this year so far. One I mentioned in my last post. The two most recent were quite contrasting experiences: In one case, I worked with pre-reduced indigo serving 80+ participants during a “Family Fun Day” at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta; in the other, I facilitated a gathering of two at my home studio, where we worked with resist paste and an organic indigo vat. Both events were inspiring, energizing and life-affirming. Here are some images:

From the Carlos Museum/Indigo on the Quad:

From the Organic Indigo Vat workshop:

So…you have probably noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Sometimes I question the purpose and relevance of this blog’s existence; sometimes I am just distracted – writing takes time and focus and both are at a premium!  That said, I have committed to resuming and aim for regular posts.  The reason being there is suddenly much to write about again!  First some news: After a post-ACC show break, the paths open before me once again.  I will be participating in this year’s Swan Coach House Summer Invitational, and on the wearable front, a new Petal-Una Collection is in progress and will be available beginning in August.  For sneak peeks at process, works in progress and other images follow me on Instagram (@kathycoltartisan) and/or Facebook.

Meanwhile…back in the studio:

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I am examining many of my textile studio practices (more about this in future posts).  One of the areas I am looking at is dye use.  It has been nearly 2 years since my memorable experience at Arrowmont learning about natural dye processes with Catharine Ellis, and while I continue to use synthetic dyes, I am slowly transitioning to natural colorants for much of my work.  Since that workshop, I have contemplated (among other things) building an Indigo vat spacious enough to accommodate larger pieces of cloth.  Well, I finally made that happen: In March, I started a 70 liter, medium-dark strength vat (images above).  For the uninitiated, Indigo is different from other dyes to the extent that it does not become soluble in water until oxygen is removed from the solutionOnly when the solution is re-oxygenated (i.e., removed from the vat) does the color “develop.”  So the process for accessing the color is a bit more complicated than that for other dyestuffs.  A chemical balance must be struck to achieve reduction in the vat itself and thus actually dye with the Indigo.  There are more or less environmentally-friendly ways to achieve this reduction.  The term “organic” refers to the fact that a balance between plant sugars and an introduced base (in this case, calcium hydroxide) creates the right conditions for reduction.  I should add that those conditions differ depending on whether one is dyeing plant (cellulosic) fibers or animal (protein) fibers.  It is a laborious process getting the vat up and running, but it requires very little input to keep it going.  (A more thorough and concise explanation of the indigo dyeing process can be found in one of the many informative downloadable resources from Maiwa Handprints Ltd.  Thank you Maiwa!)

I say that my indigo vat is relatively low maintenance now, but in its early weeks, particularly while a late winter chill still hung in my basement, things weren’t quite so mellow.  I was admittedly a bit fussy in my care of the vat in the beginning.  However, since those early, tentative weeks, I have learned to relax into a rhythm with it.  Some action on the part of the dyer is crucial to keep the vat humming during active dyeing times, and to keep it “on the ready” during less active times.  Ultimately, we have a little collaboration going: the vat shows me what it needs, via liquor color, “flower” (the foamy bloom on the top), and pH, and I respond accordingly.

More simply put, I am beginning to build a relationship with indigo.  As a dyer, that’s important.  After all, Indigo is a foundational, fundamental dyestuff and color and I want to get to know it well.  At almost two months, I do feel this vat has a definite presence in my life.  I am conscious of its well-being and check on it regularly (although not obsessively); I may feel even a slight twinge of anxiety if I haven’t engaged with it for several days.  If a week has passed, I am always relieved to remove the cover and see it “looking” up at me, its lovely foamy “flower” and coppery film intact.

The earthy-sweet, grassy odor, the “flower”, the maintenance, the process of dipping and oxygenating – these facets of the living vat are all satisfyingly “grounding”….and yet still a bit esoteric.  While my modern human brain (read my left hemisphere) wants to know there is an explainable chemical process at work, and that steps followed yield calculated results, I resist the impulse to micromanage.  I sometimes feel more like a facilitator rather than a control agent.  I am okay with not having a linear, scientific understanding of this process.  I am okay with working in cooperation with the vat.  My understanding and experience of Indigo is of a sensing, feeling nature.  There exists in this vat, and in this process, a fundamental mystery which speaks to the part of my brain still able experience magic and wonder in the world.  That’s something I am happy to welcome into my dye studio!

Hello all!  Relieved once again that it’s Spring?  I have been in the studio or at the drawing board most of the Winter and work is beginning to emerge.  Included in that work are felted interior textiles and artworks, artwear from the petal-una collection (original designs made with hand-dyed/printed & discharged cloth), and 2-d work (more on that later).  Also in the mix:  I finally started my organic indigo vat in February (yay!).  Although, I have been distracted by other dye work in recent weeks, the vat has been maintained and is patiently awaiting my return.  I did recently take some time to make a rice flour paste resist.  It was labor-intensive and the paste didn’t hold up past the first dip…but the results were gratifying.  Although the rice paste resist resulted in some beautiful subtleties, I am planning on working with the gum-Arabic resist I learned from Catharine Ellis last Summer at Arrowmont – my experience demonstrated that the gum paste holds up better in the vat (i.e., 2 dips were possible, yielding a more intense indigo).

4 months until the ACC/San Francisco Show!!!….things are progressing there and I will be blogging more about that in the future but first, back to the petal-una collection – my show of that work and a sneak preview of the ACC work is on Saturday, May 3rd.  Mark your calendars!