When we last talked Indigo I was wondering why my native indigo fermentation vat had carked it.
Since then I have been testing out a few theories and approaches in the hope that I could get a local vat recipe that was more reliable. This kind of vat is worth the effort, as it is devoid of harsh chemicals and can be disposed of safely.
I was very lucky to have the help of two very useful people in this mission, Trudi Pollard, of local natural dyeing studio Pollard Designs, and Tracey from One Thing at a Time, whose chemistry brain has been invaluable.
We tried the honey lime recipe on all the indigo varieties we could get our hands on:
- French indigo powder
- Japanese Powdered
- Japanese slurry ryukyu
- Dried local Japanese indigo leaves
- Dried native indigo or indigofera australis
- Organic powder from Kraft Kolour
Fermentation vats are no difficult to set up but do take a little patience to get right for your local area and products. So far, the 1-2-3 ratio has not worked for me, but I have used that as a starting point for considering potential quantities.
Local Water Quality
Here in Perth our mains water can vary greatly in composition season to season, so to avoid this we used rainwater. That said, even the rainwater used varied from a pH of 5 to a pH of 8 from different tanks. The lesson here is to test your water pH first and foremost.
If you are looking to source lime for an indigo vat, you need to find calcium hydroxide or Ca(OH)2. Most lime products on the market are for building and may contain a combination of calcium carbonate and surfactants, neither of which you want in your vat. Go straight to a chemical supplier and ask for the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) , and ask specifically about surfactants.
The lime I would recommend for Perth is from Lime Industries, 43 Hector St, Osborne Park. The lime putty or the envirolime will work in an indigo vat, and are wholly WA made.
Be aware that the form of your lime will lead to it reacting different in your vat. We sourced a liquid form of lime called lime putty, and it needed a lot less lime for the same result in comparison to powder. Pellets again will be a different story.
Indigo can be fermented fresh, dried, powdered or from a slurry. Typical recipes are for powdered indigo so do not be afraid to increase the amounts for other types of indigo accordingly. Other forms of indigo may also need 4-10 days to ferment so allow your vat time to mature.
I chose honey as a base for my vat, which, whilst more expensive, was more predictable in behaviour. That said, even honey can vary in pH widely depending on the location of the hive, the pollen and the time of the year. Given this, fermented fruit may not be as bad as I thought!
Balancing the Vat
The ultimate aim is to balance the vat using your honey and lime to get to a pH of between 9-11. Depending on your starting pH and what you are adding in, your quantities can vary widely. So my number one piece of advice is to take it slow, and test at each stage. I think stopping when the pH reaches 9 and waiting half an hour is a good approach too.
Fold in the Egg Whites
Tracey suggests that you use a method similar to folding batter into egg whites when adding the lime. Take a little out of the vat, dilute the lime mixture, slowly add it back in.
Start out Small
Making a small trial vat wont hurt anyone, and if you get it right, you can add it to a large vat later. Because, after all, indigo is liquid gold.
If you have never used indigo, I hope the pretty pictures entice you a little!
Has anyone else got any top tips for making a fermentation vat? Did you have similar problems pop up or widely different?
Next up, we have Mari, Jess, Helen and Tasha from the USA. Thanks to the hard work of individuals like Rebecca Burgess and Natalie Chanin, the local fiber movement is gaining serious momentum in the US. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this map of Fibershed affiliates!
The participants made great lists of local fabric suppliers, which, whilst niche, do exist:
Not all areas of the US have locally processed cotton fabric in their area, but wool and alpaca were relatively easy to come by. There is also a flourishing natural dye industry.
Some of the must read posts from the US participants:
I proudly present the talented three that completed garments in 2015. Click the images to follow their stories in more detail. I am very excited at the number of US participants signed up for 2016, and look forward to that number growing even more due to the hard work done by the pioneers in this area.
Following Mari’s progress this year was an honour. I think that making from the earth is in her bones. Mari was one of two participants that managed to both spin her fiber and then knit it within the year. Quite the feat! Her outfit is made from local alpaca and organic cotton, and I recommend dedicating some time to thumbing through her blog, or possibly peruse her boutique locally sourced naturally dyed yarns.
Jess produced a whooping 5 handknit garments as part of the project this year. She focused on making garments that her wardrobe needed rather than an outfit and plans to continue into 2016. I really wish I could raid her closet and snuggle into all these gorgeous knits!
Her summary report is a great resource for those looking for US made yarns. Jess said, “one summary post for all these projects hardly does justice to how much I love these pieces, how much I learned making them, and how knitting with local materials has deepened my connection to my local landscape and community.”
Tasha spoke to my heart when she passionately explained why she was joining the project mid year 2015. Tasha printed with natural dyes to make her skirt truly original. I look forward to seeing where she takes the project in 2016.
“So there you go, my finished project! Since I joined the #1year1outfit challenge late, I knew I wouldn’t make a whole outfit by the end of the year, but I really wanted to see how I could integrate making more conscious choices about the new fabrics I buy with what I already do. And in that sense I succeeded! I’m wearing my skirt below with things I previously made from secondhand garments (this shirt and this camisole if you’re curious), a scarf woven by my grandma, and mended socks.”
Helen is from the North Carolina Fibershed, and amazing spun all of the fiber for this wonderful dress!
“This was my first time making a garment entirely out of my hand-spun yarns, and it took a lot of determination and patience. I was motivated to work on it even though it was very labor intensive (over 800 yards of yarn plus hand-knitting!) because I was able to visit the fiber farms and meet the farmers that take care of them.”
Stay tuned for the European contingent..
(If you missed the Australia and NZ post see it here.)
I never considered the that textiles are seasonal before this year. It turns out that understanding local botanical changes and weather is critical to natural fiber production and natural dyes.
I got caught out last year not thinking about seasonality, so in the hope that this helps me plan this year, here is my observations of the seasonal timing when making and sourcing natural textiles here in Australia. I have used the tradition Noongar seasons as a starting point for understanding the weather and botanical trends.
Brak – December and January -The First Summer
Prime time for mordanting and solar dyeing; Green Hibiscus flowering; No open fires; white eucalyptus blooms
Bunuru – Feb and March – The Second Summer
Prime time for mordanting and solar dyeing; No open fires; red eucalyptus blooms
wattle blooms; passion fruit ripe
Makuru – June July – The First Rains
Best time for open flame dyeing; wattle blooms, pomegranate ripe
Shearing season starts; Sour sob in flower; Indigofera Australis in flower; Bottlebrush in flower
Shearing season; bottlebrush in flower; no open flames; good time for indigo vats
My native indigo, bottle brush and cinerea dyed local wool #1year1outfit were all dyed at different times of year.
I’m curious about the seasonality of textiles in other places. Do similar themes occur?
At the start of this year I set myself a ridiculous challenge. I had no idea whether it was achievable, and that was part of the attraction. I promised you that I would make an outfit that was made from local fibre, local labour and local colour, even if that meant wearing a crochet bikini! Following the Fibreshed philosophy was a massive ask given the remoteness of the city I live in.
Well, here I am fully clothed in local wool, alpaca, silk and clay, feeling pretty darn chuffed. I learnt to felt, knit, weave, crochet, natural dye, wood fire and handstitch in the making of this outfit. My one skill that I had any experience in (machine sewing) turned out to be completely and utterly useless.
Throughout the year I actively recorded the colours and seasons around me in my visual diary (cough, instagram), and I fell head over heels in love with this city again. The brightness of the sun, sky and sand, and the sleek black of the swan were my inspiration for the colour palette. The nuts and flowers of eucalypts created the pattern in my vest and the pom poms in my shoes. The herringbone weave chosen as it looks like patterns in the sand under the waves. Somehow it seems silly to write this all down, but I really do feel like this outfit is both perfectly me and this land that I grew up on.
I wanted to learn about the sustainability of textiles and I thought that working from the ground up would be the best way to do it. I can tell you now, that it was that and so much more. I am privileged to have meet so many wonderful people (and animals) this year, people who care passionately about the environment and textiles and who shared their knowledge with me.
Some of these crazy people even decided to give this challenge a go themselves, and together in Perth we have built a little community. A little community of local textile discoverers who have made this project feel less overwhelming and who pushed me to make something that at the start of this year I would never have dreamed of. For those in Perth, we hope to hold a gathering in the new year to celebrate this wonderful Fibreshed in which we live.
Watch this space for more posts on local garments made by participants far and wide, and for details on doing it all again next year if you are thinking of joining in!
Felt top: merino roving and olive oil soap, details here
Zac’s tank: Alpaca fleece, details here
Herringbone Skirt: handspun wool, sour grass, local clay, merino roving, alpaca mill off cuts, hand reeled silk thread, details here
Necklace: local clay, handspun wool dyed with sour grass and eucalypts
Pom Pom garland: alpaca mill off cuts, handspun wool dyed with sour grass and eucalypt, details here
Neck warmer: merino roving dyed with native indigo, details here
Boots: not made by me, but 10 years old and resoled, re zipped time and again, making them a sustainability stand out in my wardrobe
Here it is! My handwoven, naturally dyed 100% local skirt.
And while it waits for me to model it, it decided to check out the sites in Toodjay….
The dam…. You get the idea. She’s well at home, she came from this soil after all!
Pattern: loosely based on pattern N from Garments of a Dignified lady
Tidbits: Hopefully you have read all about how I wove this fabric, which was an adventure into new and scary lands, so you will understand how difficult it was to take the plunge and cut it up!
After a wash in local olive oil soap, the weave seemed stable enough and I placed my pattern pieces on to the fabric to get the most use out of the selvedges. I put all the on grain edges on a selvedge and determined the width of the Aline by the width of the fabric. To be doubly sure I made up a trial with my amended pieces before going ahead and cuuuuuttting!
Without moving the pieces around, I stay stitched (all handstitching) the raw edges before doing anything else. I then handsewed each seam with silk and bound the edges with felt. As you can imagine, all this took a few hours!
Luckily, I had booked in to a sewing retreat for the weekend (kindly organised by Natalie) where everyone else’s desk looked like this:
And mine looked like this:
I sat and I hand stitched the heck out of this little beauty for a good part of the weekend. All the facings were in felt so under stitching was useful to keep them in check!
Most things went smoothly, but the buttons were a wee bit stressful! I tried several approaches on scraps and eventually (after 4 hours) was brave enough to make the cut on the real thing. The trick was finding the right thickness of thread, and lots of beeswax stolen from a retreat buddy! I used the book Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer religiously over the weekend for the buttonholes and handstitching guides.
Lessons: This self imposed challenge is intense! But I am very grateful for all that I have learnt.
Next time I will be back with modelled shots of the whole shebang!
Last week I received the most wonderful present in the post from Poppy’s Patch Nursery, a parcel full of blue in its native natural form.
Meet indigofera australis, a native plant that produces a blue dye that is strongest when flowering. I left my hand in this photo so you get a sense of how small the leaves are if you are looking to identify it!
I have gone on and on about how I wanted to get some blue into my local outfit but I wasn’t really convinced it would happen so this parcel was such a happy treat. Armed with Myf’s tutorial and my freshly acquired book, The Modern Natural Dyer I set about combining the techniques to make a 100% natural and local approach.
I started by soaking the leaves (around 300g) in warm water. At this stage I added my silk tissue for some direct dyeing and the result was a greyish blue.
After 4 days the top jar had changed colour and a thick slick of shiny blue was layered on top. This is a good sign that the dye is strong and ready to use.
I then assembled all the bits and pieces I needed, scales, a pH meter, a thermometer and the all important Honey and lime. Local honey was easy enough to source, this one was from a lady in my weaving group and comes from the Stirling Ranges. The lime on the other hand, was surprisingly hard to track given that we live in a giant lime sandpit. Eventually I gave up on all the large retail sources and went small, ending up at a home brewers shop in Osborne Park. (Dec 2015 Update – I did some tests with Trudi and we found Ca(OH)2 was the better form of lime. A friendly soil scientist then found a local source at Lime Industries, ask for lime putty or envirolime. These do not have surfactants added. I now have plenty if anyone is in need!)
Firstly I strained the liquid into a large pot, then added a little more water to the jar to rinsed the leaves again with a small amount of water to rinse any remainder off the leaves and then added this to the pot. I did this until the water was fairly clear. Up until this point I have followed Myf’s approach.
I then used the basis of the Michel Garcia 1-2-3 approach as described in the Modern Natural Dyer. The 1-2-3 stands for 1 part dye, 2 parts base and 3 parts reducing agent. In my case I used lime as the base and honey as the agent.
The trickiest part was that I was unsure exactly how much indigo was in my lot of freshly fermented leaves. I measured the pH and found it was sat at around 5 so thought I would use that as an indicator. Whilst heating the pot gently to 49 degrees I added the honey and lime in increments, and eventually stopped at 60g of honey and 90g of lime when the pH was at 8 and the water was quite yellow in colour. In hindsight I think I could have added less lime but kept adding extra as the Ph was so low. I essentially switched around the base and agent! I then kept the pot at this temperature for half an hour before gently adding the presoaked and scoured yarn.
Once you add the lime and honey you need to not add oxygen to the mixture so moving gently and massaging under the water is essential. Here is the greeny blue of the yarn (and my hands!) on extraction.
And here is the blue after a little airing, pretty isn’t it!
I dipped 300g of wool 3 times each before the dye was exhausted. I kept the pot overnight and tried to see if I could recover it the next day without luck. I need to read up on whether there is more I could do at this stage.
As you can see the colour is quite different to the ryukyu indigo but still absolutely swoon worthy! Now you are all caught up on my progress, I am off to get serious with my loom and knitting needles….
Meet Kitta and Sawa
They are the custodians of the last ryukyu indigo farm in Okinawa, Japan using traditional fermentation techniques. From harvesting the indigo crop to hand sewing the finished garments, Kitta and Sawa show care at every stage of the whole process. They have also reintroduced madder which is no longer farmed in Japan and are advocates for the revitalisation of natural dyeing as an industry.
We were lucky enough to have them visit Perth and hold a special workshop for us on dyeing with their ryukyu indigo and madder. The workshop was hosted at Trudi Pollard’s Studio, a local designer of eco couture. Check out Trudi’s collection of solar dye pots!
And just one example of her beautiful work:
We dyed Japanese linen which had been prepared by soaking in soya liquid for the madder (a little like the dairy method I have been using) and wet for the indigo. We also added some fair trade Cambodian silk to the madder which did not need mordanting. Madder roots have been used for dyeing red colours for centuries. The dried root looks like this: The madder was prepared for dyeing by heating for a couple of hours before adding vinegar, straining, And then heating further before adjusting the pH to 10 (we used soda ash) We then added our fabric to the pot for 20 mins stirring all the while and mordanting it with alum in between dips.
The fabrics all went the most deep tangerine colour. .
The indigo vat had been brewing for a week or so at the studio being carefully tended to (even wrapped in an electric blanket!). Kitta and Sawa use local sake and malt as the base, and wood ash and lime to control the pH. The vat had a wonderful glow and shimmer when opened, and a distinctive smell that I can only describe as somewhere between rotting fruit and alcohol.
We massaged the linen under the water (those gloves didn’t last long and I later went for the blue hand look!)
//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsAnd then aired them, where the greenish colour in the vat turned to a true blue.
After a few dips, the indigo was clearly getting weaker so we reverse the order for fabrics going in the vat for a second dip.
Sawa adjusted the pH of the vat and then we left it to rest for another day. Apparently, with care, the vat will last around 3 months.
The day was rounded out by a beautiful Japanese lunch and some videos of the farm accompanied by Sawa’s guitar playing which turned out to be just what everyone needed to have a wee siesta!
When I got home I also wanted to test out some overdyeing to see if I could get different shades with dyes I can get locally.
Madder on silk, overdyed with pomegranate and then sour grass.
Ryukyu indigo overdyed with pomegranate and sourgrass
Indigo overdyed with eucalyptus trying to get a purple was not as successful but perhaps bottlebrush flowers or red ironbark would be a better option.
Kitta and Sawa’s story and the care they put into sharing their knowledge throughout the day just left my heart glowing. These beautiful colours came home with me and I am currently plotting how best to honour their provenance.