Soy (Soil) Pearls

To quote Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland, “Begin in the beginning.”

I’m ready to begin the katazome dyeing process. The stencil is ready and my fabric is washed. Soy milk is used both as a sizing for fabric and as a binder for the natural pigments. As a sizing it gives the fabric body and makes it easier to handle while pasting — a more paper-like surface. The pigments require a binder just like any other pigment (or paint), to adhere to the surface of the fabric (unlike dyes, which penetrate the fiber itself).

The first step then, before pasting and painting, is to make soy milk. It is easier than you might think. Here are some before and after pictures.  The beans swell quite a bit during their overnight soak in water, but peering through the water magnifies them even more.


Below, the soybeans have been blended with water and strained through a damp muslin scrap.


A second whirl in the blender with more water, a second straining, and voila, the completed soybean milk. I throw the mashed soybeans into the compost bin.


Spilled Milk and this Week’s Progress

Yesterday I forgot to screw the bottom of the blender on tightly so the soy milk spilled all over the table and floor (I walk away while it’s blending to save my ears). This gave me the perfect opportunity to try John Marshall’s “quickie method,” which involves grinding dry soy beans in a coffee grinder and then swishing and massaging the resulting flour around inside a damp cloth inside a bowl of water. I like the slow method better, which is actually faster (provided you remember to soak the soybeans overnight in the fridge).

The old lab cart works well because I can wheel it around my work as needed. The dry pigments are mixed in the soy milk, which is still a bit frothy from freshness. Pigments settle out, so with each application you need to stir them up a bit.

My basement studio has many obstacles I’ve managed to work around! Two vertical 6×6 posts stand in the center of the space about 10 feet apart. The boiler, chimney and water heater are between them. I’ve rigged two stretching areas, one from each post attaching to the concrete wall opposite via aluminum door handles. I added a D-ring to one of the handles, which allows me to move around more easily with a minimum of ducking and crouching. I can stretch approx. 2 1/2 yards of fabric on each side of the room.

Oil design detail ©Kit Eastman