Report from Covelo

Back from my adventure in Covelo: the katazome workshop with John Marshall. The road to Covelo, CA follows the Eel River, officially Wild and Scenic. A wonderful place to swim too!


Classes take place in John’s home/studio, a restored flour mill. The dates on the facade are 1888-1914-1999.



A few insights:  Yes, I have been making my rice paste too thick, and the raw paste too dry. Revelation: golf balls and doughnuts are unnecessary. I really like this! Here, the raw paste is ready to steam.


I have been working with freeze-dried indigo this summer, and it was great to observe the preparation of the vat and then the re-heating of the vat the next day. Here are pictures from our indigo experience.

Introducing the freeze-dried “instant” indigo to the vat:


Here are two ways of skimming the oxidized bubbles, “aibana” or indigo blossoms, from the top of the vat, which is necessary unless you want the dark spots of bloom on your work.

skimming with a soft muslin cloth
skimming with a screen strainer

Using the 2nd method is great — you can then dry the bubbles and use them as indigo pigments along with the soymilk.

attaching cloth to frame for dipping

Ready to dip the cloth.  (That’s my Covelo house-mate Eva Pietzcker, a printmaker from Berlin who makes beautiful woodblock prints in the Japanese tradition of mokuhanga.) John has a rope and pulley system, used primarily for larger pieces of work which need the larger ceramic vat (which you can see behind John). These containers are from China and were originally designed to hold soy sauce.


The cloth goes in slowly … count to three … pull it out and over the outside edge of the vat to drip. You want to avoid introducing oxygen. John’s rule of thumb: the rice paste resist can withstand three brief dips, then must hang to dry before further dunking. If you want it darker, repeat this until you achieve the depth of color desired. Observe the paste — you want to stop before it starts to break down.


See the lovely dark green which will turn blue as it oxidizes …


Afternoon break most days featured home-made shaved ice! John has a lovely Japanese cast-iron hand-crank machine with gears – the ice is held by a vice-grip-like mechanism on top of a flat blade. A hand crank turns the blade and the shaved ice falls into the bowl below. We tried it with powdered green Japanese tea and sugar syrup on top; and with home-made blackberry sauce! Yum!

The hot dry air in Covelo is perfect for working outside, stretching fabric between uprights of the Wisteria arbor.

wisteria arbor and yard
stretching cloth with shinshi

Oh, and I must not forget Nutmeg, the cat.

clouds above Colorado

Working outside (and inside)

Indigo dyed linen
Indigo dyed linen

July 15th — and I’ve finally set up a way to stretch my work in our little old gazebo. (Both sides of my basement are full of stretched work at the moment, so this is a helpful way to work on more pieces simultaneously.) This evening I’m soy sizing some small pieces (zig-zagged together making a long piece).

Sailboat cleats screwed into the wood secure the harite (stretchers), but that’s my brush hanging there.

the cleat, the brush (jizomebake)
cleat with jizomebake brush

Many moons ago I painted these vintage linen napkins with Earthhues natural dye extracts (logwood and madder) thickened with gum tragacanth. I was aiming for some background visual texture. The results were disappointing, so I tucked them away. Then, earlier this summer using some of my small stencils, I pasted-then-dipped them a few times in indigo. Now I like them. The under layer of dye peeks through in certain places.

water, grass, egret, indigo dyed vintage linen
water, grass, egret, indigo dyed vintage linen

Considering a New Dye Brush

I need to purchase another jizomebake brush, used to brush dyes (or soy sizing) on larger areas of the cloth. I own one, but it would be helpful to have a somewhat smaller one to use only for colors. John Marshall is the only USA source for this as far as I can tell. Yesterday I came across a wonderful article, Painting with Indigo by John Marshall, published in the Turkey Red Journal last spring. The article shows wonderful examples of John’s expertise and unique style, and describes the uses of soy milk as a pigment binder for painting on textiles, specifically with indigo. In 2006, John sent out a small New Year’s gift to his students (image below). This is one of a series of small pieces he created based upon the symbols of the Japanese zodiac. The work is about letter paper size, natural dyes on a slubby-textured silk, more like broadcloth than raw silk. 2006 was the year of the dog. I love the sweet, slightly mischievous expression on this dog’s face!

Year of the Dog – Katazome on slubby silk by John Marshall