Category Archives: Project of the Week

Dyeing with Fresh-Leaf Indigo, Limited Edition

Well, it’s finally edited, printed, bound, and ready to go! I have been working on this book for years now and am quite pleased to be able to offer it to those of you interested in natural indigo.

View showing cover and spine

The cover is Japanese silk I’ve dyed with the fresh-leaf indigo from my garden in Northern California, laminated to a wood core.

Detail of cover along with the stencil used to apply the paste resist

Above is a detail of the cover design. First, the silk–a Japanese jacquard–was dyed using a cold, fresh-leaf vat. The stencil to the right was then used to apply the rice-paste resist to the silk. The image of the tadeai indigo leaves and blossoms was dyed with the aibana saved from a reduced vat, and the entire piece dunked several times in the dry-leaf, reduced vat to build up color. Once the paste was washed out, additional tints of non-reduced indigo pigment and a touch of iron-rust pigment from my well were added to the leaves and blossoms, respectively.

Yardage with paste, stretched overhead in traditional Japanese manner

Aibana covering top of reduced vat

Accent applied over paste using aibana from top of vat

Yardage suspended over vat–first dunk

Second dunk in indigo vat

Yardage with paste and aibana accent after fourth dunk

 

 

 

 

 

Table of contents

The two pages of What’s Inside will give you a pretty good idea of all that is included.

Open to page 30/31–fountain pen added to give sense of scale

The image below is an example of the types of samples included with the directions. It was created with rice-paste resist pushed through a stencil I carved in the 1980s. Aibana pigment was applied as accents and the cotton yardage was then dunked twelve times in the dry-leaf, reduced tadeai vat before the paste was rinsed out. A final coat of soymilk was applied to prevent crocking, strengthen the silk, and help keep the silk resistant to soiling.

Detail of sample on page 31, Okinawan Landscape

Below are several sample pages illustrating the range of blues possible with fresh-leaf indigo on a variety of fibers. Each page is printed on heavy-stock, acid-free paper. The pages are dye-cut,  kimono silhouettes. The bound book is 12-1/2″ by 6-3/4″.  After quite a bit of research and experimentation, I developed a method of binding in which the pages have been laminated to silk at the spine and stitched to create an enduring hinge. The book will easily stay open without curling pages, inviting regular use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last page of book

The page above is placed at the very end of the book. It states the edition number of the one hundred copies I’ve prepared. It also includes a coupon for seeds when you are ready to plant (the coupon will be returned with the seeds).

If you are interested in ordering the book, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at John@JohnMarshall.to, or you may purchase the book through PayPal by clicking on the button below.

 

SOLD OUT


Fresh-Leaf Indigo, It’s Magic!

As a child, do you remember ever rubbing flowers and leaves between your fingers, perhaps smearing them in a coloring book hoping to preserve the beauty of that moment? Unfortunately, without some assistance most colorful plants won’t give us much more than a spinach-spittle brown.

Pokeweed berries are a wonderful temptation in red for young children’s artistic expression. Unfortunately for the tykes, it is poisonous.

Indigo, however, is one of the exceptions.
Try this: Take an indigo leaf (any of the varieties will do) and rub it well into the palm of your hand. Wait a moment and just like magic it will turn from green to blue and even remain on your hand after you wash it! While it is not the green of the leaf, it is something far more rare.

Magic!

The magic of indigo, even in this simple and direct method, is the expression of the blue as it breathes in fresh oxygen. Can’t you just imagine it coming to life in the palm of your hand as you watch it at first timidly, and then boldly declare its true nature?

All forms of indigo dyeing involve this concept of taking on oxygen to express the blue. The color essence contained in the leaf is called indican. It is colorless and water-soluble. In the presence of water it breaks down into β-D-glucose and indoxyl. It is this indoxyl that produces indigo blue when exposed to oxygen. Getting from here to there successfully is the joy of growing your own plants and exposing the beauty hidden within.

Let’s start with one of the most direct approaches, similar to the hands on method used above. Collect several nicely shaped indigo leaves. All varieties work, but what you have been able to grow will depend upon the climate in which you live. I live in the mountains of Northern California, so Japanese tadeai is my pet plant. It grows well in temperate climates.

The two leaves on the right were transferred using a large marble bead to give a pointillist look. The full leaf on the left was transferred using a wooden mallet – the flat surface of the mallet allowed for greater detail and definition. The partial leaf, on the far left, has additional lines of aibana pigment applied for definition. This will be explored in a later blog.

Prepare some silk, wool, cotton, or hemp (that is to say, any natural fiber) by washing thoroughly. Once dry, make an attractive arrangement with your leaves. Lay a plastic bag over the top and have at it with something hard. A mallet will work, but so will a large bead, rock, or that Tonka Toy you tripped over in the dark last night. Each has its own unique texture and will affect the outcome of the image transferred. Feeling better? Remove the plastic and peel the lacerated pulp from the surface of the cloth. Can you see what is happening? This is simply a more controlled version of the hand trick above. Allow the fabric to oxidize for a full day before washing to allow the blue to fully develop. Each leaf contains a different volume of indigo allowing for a wide range of variance. If the transfer is splotchy or ill defined wait until you are having a worse day and try again.

Arranging fresh tadeai leaves

Using an embossing machine to transfer a large arrangement of leaves. In this case the leaves are sandwiched between two layers of yardage–one hemp and one wool.

Pressed leaves on silk jacquard

Fresh-Leaf Cold Vat Scarf by John Marshall

 

The image at the left was dyed with the help of my sister and brother-in-law.  I put them to work picking and chopping leaves, dunking and wringing. The silk was immersed in a cold-water, fresh-leaf vat for about an hour. Once dry, I pounded in the image of the leaf with freshly picked indigo from my garden and a handy rock.

(click on the image to the left or just below for more information)

 

Left: John at work: Scruffy and unkempt, I’m in my element! (Notice the green of the scarf I have just pulled from the cold-water vat.) Right: Sienna is keeping an eye on us to make sure that there are no slackers. (You can see in this shot that the dye has oxidized into a beautiful robins-egg blue.)

While not as therapeutic, the wringer from an old washer or an embossing machine will give equally splendid results.

I live in an old flour mill. During renovations many boards were exposed that were worn smooth by particles of flour over time. Several of these have quite beautifully raised grains as seen in the rubbing below created with the help of the board above.

And this is just the beginning! Try placing your handkerchief over the bark of a black walnut tree or your mother-in-law’s tombstone, roll the leaves into a wad and rub vigorously. Just like transferring the image of a coin to paper with a pencil, the image beneath will be transferred to the surface your cloth. You are only limited by your imagination and the forbearance of your family.

My studio as viewed from the back. The tadeai indigo patch is in the foreground.

Cold-Water, Fresh-Leaf Indigo Vat Dyeing

Textile of the Week cards – scroll down to the bottom of this page for more details

Let’s take a look at using fresh-leaf indigo in vat form. I’d like to begin with the various shades of robin’s-egg blue, now that you have had a chance to try your hand at direct contact with indigo leaves in Fresh-Leaf Indigo, It’s Magic!

Eggs of the mapuche chicken – Who wouldn’t love these colors?

We’ll take a beginner’s look at the most basic form of indigo vat – one made simply from fresh leaves and cold water. I’ll be using the Japanese tadeai indigo, but other varieties will work well, too.

John harvesting tadeai just after sun up

Just after sunrise, on a cool mid-summer morning, use a scythe to gather a small basket full of fresh leaves. Choose plants that look healthy and are deepest in color, preferably ones that aren’t yet in bloom.

 

Add the leaves to a blender with ice water and churn until the leaves are thoroughly pulverized. Strain. The resulting liquid is your vat and you are ready to go! This particular vat works best with protein-based fibers, so primarily silks and wools.

Straining the pulverized tadeai leaves through a polyester rag, cookie brittle is optional

Wash your material thoroughly and rinse in cold water. The longer you soak the material, the richer the robin’s-egg blue. Whether you are using yarns or woven yardage you will want to keep the fiber moving for the most evenly colored results. You may simply swish the material periodically, or you may suspend it from rods and continuously turn it. Whether it is a books-on-tape thriller, or simply the neighbors going at it again next door, make sure you have something prepared to occupy your mind since this will take up to an hour or more for the color to develop.

The yardage has been sewn together at the ends to create a loop. Using a set of dowels to help hold a portion of the fabric above the vat, John is picking up and pulling the fabric toward himself as the silk cycles through the dye below.

Remove the yarn or yardage from the vat, wring, rinse, dry, and you’re done. Since this vat is pH neutral, there is no need to subject the dyed fiber to a vinegar rinse. In contrast, many Japanese like to give it a dip in a slightly alkaline solution (1 teaspoon of calcium hydroxide dissolved 3 gallons of tepid water). However, this does have the potential to take the color just a bit to the indigo-gray side.

Clamp resist on silk leno in fresh-leaf indigo vat

This method works wonderfully with resist techniques that can hold up to prolonged exposure to cold water, such as kasuri (ikat), rozome (batik), and clamp-resist methods.

Three samples of fresh-leaf, tadeai vat indigo: fresh leaves with silk (left); fresh leaves on ramie with a little calx (calcium hydroxide) added to the vat (center); and fresh leaves and calx on cotton (right)

So what about the cellulose fibers? Not to worry. We need only take the pH of the fresh-leaf vat from neutral to around 10.5 by adding dissolved calcium hydroxide (chalk) to a fresh vat and allowing the mixture to simply sit for about an hour. Repeat the steps you followed for the silk. You should wind up with a very beautiful blue –not quite as lively as the fresh-leaf dye on silk, but still a very refreshing turquoise.

This go around, the Textile of the Week samples are presented in a cluster of four to show off the range of colors available with the noncomposted, raw, fresh-leaf tadeai dye.

 




Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201520, $14.

Fresh-leaf vat after just one dip, silk damask (donsu)




Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201521, $14.

Fresh-leaf vat after two long dips, crinkle-weave silk.

The fabric above is silk, as are the other samples on this page. This particular weave is called chijimi, the weave structure will be covered in a future blog. It scrunches when wet and must be stretched out again before using it to sew.  But the scrunching brought out an interesting trait of the fresh-leaf indigo when used as a simple cold vat.

The weave structure forced the fabric to scrunch up tight once wet.

I imagine you were paying attention when I mentioned above that you must keep turning the fabric in the cold vat to prevent streaking. If you simply dump the material into the vat and come back later, the areas exposed to the larger volume of liquid will have a greater pool of colorant to pull from, even though the dye is uniformly dissolved in the water initially. Think of the person who walks into a room and seems to suck all of the oxygen out of it. That kind of person lessens the odds that there will be enough oxygen to go around – and your odds are decreased the closer you stand to the offender. The fiber is doing just that – sucking all of the color out of the liquid in close proximity. So bunched areas will quickly deplete what pigment is available to them. The surfaces on the perimeters are able to pull from passing currents and realize a deeper more fulfilled experience.

Or just cram it in the pot and be done with it. Streaks work. See below.

Uneven absorption of the indigo caused by the scrunching of the yardage when wet. This sample has been ironed out flat to exploit its visually eccentric nature.

This is the same yardage rinsed and ironed flat. The peaks (the exposed areas of the scrunched yardage) have absorbed the greatest amount of color and the valleys remain pale.

The same yardage as above, draped.

The same yardage as above, draped. The folds show off the iridescent quality the varying shades of indigo impart. Notice the little sticky-out bits of yarn, making it look a bit like a case of shingles? This is actually a very sought after and expensive look. It is called hige-tsumugi, or bearded slub weave.

 




Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201522, $14.

Cold-vat, fresh-leaf indigo vat with calx, one dip, Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu)

 




Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201523, $14.

The samples above and below have been dyed using the same yardage from the same bolt of Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu) to help you gain a better appreciation of the range of shades available. Both have been dipped into the same fresh-leaf indigo vat outlined above. They appear grayer than the first two samples because a little calx (calcium hydroxide) was added to the vat to bring up the pH a bit. The sample above was dipped once, and the sample below twice.

cold-vat, fresh-leaf indigo with calx, two dips, Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu)

Direct Fresh-Leaf Rubbings – Surizome 摺染め

Surizome (rubbed) Kimono

As young boys, my brother, Billy, and I played with a set of plastic King Arthur “army men” with flat knights, flat castles, flat horses, and flat trees–very simply stamped plastic with none of the three-dimensional qualities that came later in toys such as these. When preparing to do some fresh-leaf indigo rubs, I so wished I had held on to the trees to use in printing–then I stumbled upon the kimono below…

White silk rinzu (jacquard) kimono from John’s collection, with rubbed design of trees

Just what I was imagining I would like to try!

Detail of rubbed trees

While preparing the above for this blog, I got to wondering what else might work, and I came up with these–

Plastic aquarium fish and coral I found on line – all are flat and easy to rearrange

I can’t wait until my fresh crop of indigo is in this summer to try out an aquatic scene! Maybe it will look something like this–

Computer simulated fresh-leaf, tadeai-indigo rub using plastic aquarium toys

Following along with this idea, let’s take a look at this close-up of another kimono in my collection…

Relief rubbing on Japanese tsumugi (spun, raw silk)

I find this most intriguing in its approach to design–very simple and traditional. It almost looks as if it could have been done by gluing elbow macaroni to a piece of cardboard to make the template. The fabric is very high quality tsumugi silk and will only become more beautiful with age and use.

Reverse side of fabric showing good bleed through

With any fabric, it is a good idea to check for bleed through to the back. This indicates that the dye has been absorbed well into the weave, allowing for a deeper, richer experience with the colors on the right side.

Close up of kimono sleeve – some one must have been having a bad day!

I must just be a quirk of my personality, but I am always drawn to pieces that look as if the grandpa down the street could have executed them with loving hands. In this case the imagery isn’t double-shifted because the camera moved while taking the shot. The artist executing the rubbed design was obviously bumped or ogling a passerby, because the fabric made a major shift over the template while he rubbed the indigo across the surface. Perhaps grandpa just had double vision. In any case, take a close look at the area within the red circle and you will see what I mean. The purple circle is simply calling attention to the blue that was added after the silk was removed from the rubbing surface. It is one of my favorite pieces for all these reasons.