I’ve recently been inspired by the catalog from the Colorful Realm exhibit, a show of scintillating silk paintings created by Japanese artist Ito Jakuchu, which was on view at the National Gallery of Art earlier this spring. (Click the first link in this post to see a great slide show of some of the works.)
Jakuchu completed these 30 large silk scrolls of (mostly) flowers and birds between 1757 and 1766. There is so much to see and learn looking at the images. I find it fascinating that Jakuchu sometimes painted pigments (mineral and/or vegetable) on the verso (back) side of the silk to subtly influence the color on the front. The excellent detail images in the catalog convince me that I can see these hints of color and tone peeking through from the reverse.
This intriguing fact floated in my mind as I began to work on several wool scarves. The thought occurred to me — what if I paste a different stencil on the front and back of the fabric — and then dip the pieces in indigo? Perhaps the images will combine in an interesting way when viewed from either side. And so an idea from a master silk painter of 250 years ago influences my katazome exploration.
This is a medium weight wool — so called “Italian suiting” (???). I knew it would be sturdy enough to paste on both sides yet soft enough for a scarf. After washing and drying it became very soft (and did not felt). I’ve chosen to use my water and spring stencils because they combine nicely.
After pasting the water stencil on one side of the wool, I pinned the work to my carpet-covered table and allowed the paste to dry to a leather-hard state, i.e., still damp but not at all sticky.
I turned the pieces over and pasted the 2nd stencil (Spring).
After the paste was completely dry, I dipped the work in an instant indigo vat, but soon realized I wouldn’t be getting the depth of color I wanted with the wool (protein) fiber. So, I stretched and soy sized the scarves, and then gave them several quick coats of indigo pigment on the front and black (soot) pigment on the back. I like how the images mix in a soft-edged and subtle way.
The Black Walnut dyebath gave some wonderful color. The wool came out very rich; the silk is a soft tawny brown. Interesting facts re: this dye (from Michelle Wiplinger’s Natural Dye Instruction Book):
- The dye is high in tannic acid, and is a substantive dye, so it does not need a mordant. Mordants can be used as color changers.
- The rich browns develop with oxygen (indigo also required oxidation). So she recommends simmering the hulls for a couple of hours with an overnight cool-down before adding the fiber. I simmered the hulls about an hour with an overnight cool-down.
In between extracting the color and dyeing the cloth I stitched a magic feather for Jude’s inspiring Magic Feather Project. Background: a scrap of muslin – my natural pigment palette. I use scraps of muslin to offload the brush and test colors. When the scraps become lively with marks, scribbles and color I throw them in the scrap pile. I chose black and yellow for the feather because bumble bees and Goldfinches are now feeding on my fall flowers and seed heads! I also tried a kantha stitch with a rippled effect that I have often admired on the Spiritcloth blog.
I took a wonderful one-day workshop at Minnetonka Center for the Arts with Karen Rognsvoog, who has been dyeing with plants and teaching others how to collect, grow, and dye with plants locally for over 3 decades. Check her website for upcoming classes if you are in the Minnesota or Wisconsin area.
We each dyed 8 oz of natural wool yarn and 2 silk scarves, using a selection of plants grown and/or gathered locally by Karen as well as a few extracts and dyestuffs purchased from other sources. Here are my results, followed by a list of plants we used. Karen really has her teaching process down – with 3 hot plates going and many buckets of soaking plants. I was really impressed with how much we could dye in one 7 hour day!
Plants used, starting with the palest yellow include:
- bracken fern
- sunflower with a bit of tin added to the dye bath for a second dip (to brighten the color)
- osage orange (not a local plant, but with wood shavings from a piece of wood on sale from a hobby woodworking shop)
- madder root (pale peach)
* madder root along with iron added to sadden/darken the color
- white yarrow (the pale green) with copper added to modify the color
- buckthorn – brighter green (an invasive here – good use for it!)
- buckthorn with copper (the avocado shade)
- logwood purple (from extract powder)
The silk scarves were dyed first in sunflower, manipulated with shibori techniques, and then over dyed in logwood purple (left scarf) and indigo (right scarf).
I may just knit a pair of multicolored socks in time for next winter…
I’m interested in applying this new plant dye knowledge along with katazome materials and techniques in creating more layered works.
Starting tomorrow I will be attending the International Surface Design Association Conference – Confluence, which Minneapolis is hosting for the first time! I’ve never attended before so am really looking forward to taking it all in!