Thursday, 25 November 2010

Stinking Indigo Vat at my Door

It was time to get rid of the old liquid and clean up the ceramic vat and the blue stained walls around it. For the past three years indigo pigment and slaked lime and hydro sulphate were added as necessary week after week. These eventually build up at the bottom of the vat. Eventually it starts to reek something fierce. It dyes as usual but the fun is gone with your gag reflex on hair-trigger mode.

But the strong ammonia smell of a fermentation indigo vat just smells like tough love perfection. However, it is impossible and impractical to keep a fermentation vat going throughout the year. Too much constant maintenance, way too expensive, and the vat is mostly used by students and friends and they tend to dump in anything for the thrill of watching it turn blue.. You have to be very gentle dying with a fermentation vat and it is impossible to keep an eye on who is dying what. A good friend once dyed a heavy duty hammock he picked up in Thailand in the best fermanatation indigo. Must have been a good $200 indigo dye job on a $5 hammock.

Now I make a fementation vat once a year using my own home grown indigo if there is some very good stuff needing a dye job.

The buildup sludge of exhausted pigment, slaked lime and hydro sulphate at the bottom of the vat. I dyed a full day to use up as much pigment as possible. I threw in some old sheets to absorb as much hydro sulphate as possible and neutralize the pH. These I dried in the sun and then put them out in regular burnable garbage. Then I siphoned off the dye liquid. How to get rid of this muck at the bottom is the problem. I dribbled in water for one night and let it go down the outside drain that goes into a river nearby. It would be like dumping in a bucket of bleach if I did it directly so I prolonged the process. It didn't really work and the muck was still in the bucket in the morning. I spread it out to dry and them I'll put it out in the burnable garbage. The exhausted hydro sulphate being the bad guy here.

A fermentation vat is easier on my conscience to throw away. The shock is the high alkaline and that can be soved with the dribble technique.

This little creek crab seemed to like the blue water. It was horrifying and I got him out of there and washed up and placed upstream in a flash.

Add enough slaked lime to get a pH reading of 12. Do this before you add indigo pigment so that the pH test paper doesn't dye blue. The orange paper is a more specific pH test paper used for a more accurate reading. German made electric pH readers are not so expensive and very easy to use for people not used to keeping an indigo vat.

Next add the indigo pigment itself. I use Konya brand I purchase from Seiwa. It is expensive but very very high quality.

A fresh indigo vat ready to use on a misty autumn afternoon.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Damselfly Stencil

"I want to cut a stencil to make something that is unexpected."
Eri was having a moment of creative fatigue. The straight-faced disgust of ersatz Japanese stencil life. Cherry blossoms and rabbits in the autumn grass stuff. Walking away would have prolonged her misery. On the kitchen table was an entomological book on insects filled with gruesome line illustrations of larvae and pupae and up close hair on the abdomens of water skeeters kind of thing. What about insects? Gross.
She picked it up and within minutes was at work cutting out this damselfly stencil. A little like botanical art.
It worked out and yesterday it was used for the first time. Without wetting the cloth properly it floated on the surface of the indigo giving it a screwed up dye job that somehow works perfect.

Eri will cut out a few more and it looks like she is shooting for a series of Japanese work aprons.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Mystery Dog

15 junior high school students dropped by the house to learn about silk and thread making on Tuesday. Walking down to the village entrance to meet them, it was a delight to see Snoopy walking up with them as a good guide would. With a tail wag and a nod, pointing out the shrine, the pride of the village and other village spots of interest.

Does your class keep a dog and take turns looking after it on weekends?
Well, whose dog is it? One of you brought it from home?
No. It just showed up a way back and is following us.
I've never seen it around here before. It has a tag, maybe it's name is written on it.
Is it a male or a female?
(They shyly check.) Female

When they arrive at the house Snoopy walks in the door and drinks from the bucket of water inside the door. The students gasp. Teacher! Is it OK?
No problem. I just use that bucket to wash my shoes. The water is clean. (It is their first time in a house of a non-Japanese and I suppose they swallowed this shoe wash bucket oddity with out much thought.)
She is jumping up into the chair!! Is it OK?
No problem. I'll call the dog catcher later and they will come and pick her up. (Looks of disbelief and horror.)
Does anyone want her? I can't keep a pet here.
No. My grandma hates dogs. I have a Yorkshire Terrier already.
OK. Off to the pound.

The cocoon reeling demonstration goes on and Snoopy is getting sad desperate looks and gentle pets. I get a few puppy dog looks from the kids... Can he be that cruel? Sending a dog off to the pound so casually.
Suddenly one kid spots a photo of Snoopy on the table...Teacher!!!!!!!!!!!!! Snoopy lives here!!!!!!!!!!! Their faces all light up and there is a huge collective sigh of relief. Being a little choked up at Snoopy's faux-death-row-last-minute-reprieve the demonstration took a few second break while Snoopy got smothered in almost visible waves of good will. She soaked it up, her coat seemed shinier and the class continued.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Haven't Woven in Sixty Years...

Ogata san is 92 years old. She lives nearby and has come regularly to my Tuesday class for years now. She does indigo dying but it is getting colder and I am worried about her outside getting a chill with her hands in the indigo in the winter. She makes lunch for us all from whatever is in her garden. She still tills the ground by shovel herself and grows just about everything. It is not like, 'Granny is still pretty sharp.' No, this Granny is actually sharp. She is my bud and we drive around like old friends flirting with each other. I can't help but make cracks about her age. I was telling her how I will fix up my clay storehouse next to my house. "It is in good condition for 150 years old. Well, actually Ogata san it could be your older sister... " This kind of thing. She was already an adult at the end of WWII. Her grandparents lived in Edo period . They wore kimono and lived in a culture we can't really imagine. Now here she is coming to my place and studying traditional Japanese textiles from a Canadian. Nuts.

Something sad about it actually. I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps it is the depressing reality of my role in Empire.

We all love her. I've had this monstrous Finnish loom that I have no real idea how to use taking up half a room for several years. Today it started to function again. Ogata san wove kimono for many years when she was young for herself and her family. She hasn't woven in sixty years and a few of us were almost teary watching her give it another shot all these years later. I set it for a tweed and she quickly took it on a joyride and showed us what it could do. She later confessed that she actually couldn't remember the pedal sequence.