Saturday, 12 September 2015

Japanese natural dyeing workshop with Kitta from Okinawa


Naturally dyed fabrics in Trudi Pollard's studio


At the end of August, the Perth 'One Year One Outfit' crew and a few other interested dye-hards (!) travelled to the studio of textile artist Trudi Pollard in the Perth hills. We were there for a unique and rare workshop, 'The Colour of Wonder' with Kitta (Yuko Sawano), a Japanese natural dye artist, her husband and some colleagues. We had the whole day for the workshop. It was a gorgeous, sunny, late winter's day and Trudi's studio was rustic, comfortable and filled with things of beauty.

You may remember that 'One Year One Outfit' is a worldwide challenge to make an entire outfit by hand from locally sourced materials. I've already done some felting and knitting with Western Australian wool and was keen to learn more about dyeing with plants. The challenge has been incredibly inspirational and creative. I've made new friends, learned unusual techniques and become increasingly aware of sustainable fashion and our local environment.


This workshop was another fascinating component in our quest for the creation of a beautiful and sustainable outfit. We hoped to gain knowledge of dyeing to apply to our locally sourced textiles.

Following a welcome, cups of tea and homemade goodies, we chose a two metre piece of Japanese linen to use for our dyeing. The linen had been prepared beforehand and was either washed and pre-wetted in water for the blue indigo dye or soaked in soybean juice and dried for red madder dyeing. We had to choose which dye we wanted to try and select our linen accordingly. I chose some wet linen for indigo dyeing.


The Indian madder root was already boiling in water over a fire. We went outside to strain it through cloth, add more water and put it back to boil for a while longer.




Strained madder root, which can be reused

That's Kitta in the centre (below), wearing her gorgeous, naturally dyed clothes, and her husband on the left. Nicki (right) came up with the whole 'One Year One Outfit' idea and organised this workshop. Yay Nicki!


If I remember correctly, Kitta and her family, being passionate about the environment and interested in Japanese history, purchased an indigo factory in Okinawa, Japan. They revived the traditional techniques of growing the Ryukyu Indigo plants, harvesting them by hand with simple tools and extracting the dye from the leaves using vats dug into the ground. We were shown a video of the process while Kitta's husband played soporific and beautiful guitar music.


Kitta had brought some of her Indigo dye with her and it was growing and fermenting in a large tub in the studio. I'm not quite sure how she got it past the strict Australian customs! The bacteria must be carefully tended and kept alive throughout the dyeing process and beyond so the dye can be used over and over again. The temperature and pH must be checked and adjusted daily and only a certain amount of fabric can be dyed on any one day so as not to 'exhaust' the bacteria. That was why only half of us could use the indigo dye. This aspect of the process was fascinating to me and reminded me of growing bacteria and parasites during my scientist days! Biology and dyeing fabrics, what could be better!?


One by one we dipped our linen into the warm indigo tub, massaging the liquid into the cloth. We had to keep the linen below the surface and try not to introduce bubbles of air. After a few minutes, we brought the fabric out and waved it in the air to oxidise the dye, which quickly changed from greenish to blue. That's Trudi below right.



Some people got right into the experience and used their bare hands. I used gloves to preserve my natural skin colour!


Trudi had some Australian native indigo, Indigofera Australis, growing in her garden, amongst other natural dye plants. Apparently the crushed leaves of this species were used by aborigines to stun fish and eels in water.

Native Australian indigo
Eucalyptus coreopsis (below) is another sought-after plant to create reddish dye.



We left our linen to dry and later gave it another dip in the indigo to deepen the colour.


After a full morning of dyeing we were ready for lunch. The Japanese bento boxes had been prepared by Kitta's friend and were delicious.


After lunch we watched another video about the beautiful clothes Kitta creates from her naturally dyed fabrics. It was a whirl of delicious colour and more gentle guitar music. Sue had a nana-nap and I was struggling to stay awake myself!


Fortified by lunch and sleep, we again ventured into the garden for the madder root dyeing. The madder plant produces the deepest red of any natural dye. It can also be used medicinally for blood flow and menstrual problems. Our strained madder root was boiling away nicely.


Those with the soybean-treated linen took turns stirring their fabric in the madder dye for ten minutes. Bubble, bubble toil and trouble...


Oops, I think Carolyn just splashed hot madder over Sue's shoes!



The linen was then removed from the madder pot and placed in an alum mordant solution for 20 minutes to set the dye. It could then be dyed again and rinsed in water.



I was able to do some madder dyeing myself using some Cambodian silk purchased from Trudi.

My madder turned out vibrant orange and my indigo a deep, gentle blue.


We had a magical day learning ancient and fascinating techniques. This experience has certainly whetted my appetite for natural dyeing and I can't wait to experiment more. It's very special to harvest parts of plants and produce beautiful colours.

Here are some pictures from around Trudi's studio:

A mosaic wall featuring little ceramic ducks and chickens.


The outdoor area.


Beautiful knitted cushions.


An impressive array of solar plant dyes.


And some of Trudi's lovely work.




21 comments:

  1. It's amazing the creativity you can find in your own backyard - if you just know where to look!

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely. I've discovered so much of it this year doing this challenge.

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  2. great post, that day sounds so interesting.

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    1. It will stay in my memory forever.

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  3. Thank you for telling us of your wonderful day! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. I'm so pleased you were interested.

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  4. Lovely post on a lovely day! I can't wait to see what you make with your fabric, I'm too scared to cut into mine ��

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    1. Likewise! I have an idea for the silk, but not the linen. The pressure!

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  5. Wow, what a great workshop. It looks like you ladies had a wonderful day. Had to have a chuckle about Sue having a nanna nap! It must have been a relaxing day too.

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    1. We did thank you Andrea. She's a funny one that Sue!

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  6. It all sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing it here.

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    1. Thank you for reading. I'm so pleased you were interested.

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  7. What an absolutely amazing day. I love the beautiful colours of your fabric. Natural dyeing is a fascinating subject and a little bit magical as you never quite know what you will get. Your silk is so lovely. Xx

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    1. Thank you. Magical is definitely the word to describe this.

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  8. it was a fun day wasn't it? I'm so excited to do more natural dyeing, and to make something with my linen. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you make with your lovely indigo linen too!

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    1. It's going to take much thought and agonising to make a decision!

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  9. I wish I was there too. I've love to spend with you and Carolyn.

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  10. Sounds like a wonderful workshop! The indigo and madder colors are just beautiful- lovely photos! Can't wait to see what you make from you're dyed fabric!

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