Module 7 & 8: In Which I Planned for End Use

The last two weeks of the Print and Paint with Natural Dyes covered more methods that played with mordants and didn’t involve steaming the pieces. The last one was my favourite.

Module 7 was all about painting with mordant pastes with varying ratios of alum and iron. I was in full test everything mode, and tried eight dye baths instead of four, putting them in jars in a water bath rather than cooking them individually over 10+ hours.

I tore the samples even smaller with the intention of overdying one of each with indigo.

Unfortunately, when I tried making an indigo vat it was a complete failure. I had a memory from the Kay Faulkner workshop I organised of buying urea for our woven shibori dyeing, but I couldn’t find a recipe. Not even on her website, which should have been warning enough. I googled and found a blogger with a recipe using urea and soda ash… that did not work. Later I realised the urea was probably for using with the commercial protein fibre dyes in Kay’s workshop. After doing more research, I tried adding mashed banana juice and more soda ash to the vat, with no success. At that point I had too much else to do and put the bucket outside. I’ve bought some chemicals to try the recipes on the Maiwa site, but I suspect I’ll have to start from scratch.

After making the sampler, I returned to an earlier idea of cutting notches in foam brushes. Since they came in set and I had to buy several packs to get three small ones, I had a lot of these large ones and was able to make one for each of the six alum/iron pastes. I painted the white linen with wavy lines, inspired by a shirt I’d glimpsed on tv, and then dyed it with logwood.

For the natural linen, I painted tropical leaves freehand with Japanese sumi brushes then dyed it with pomegranite. This one I intend to dye with indigo when I get a vat up and running.

For Module 8, we mixed up mordant discharge paste. We cut our cotton and linen pieces in half and dyed them, and two bandanas, in two batches: one dyed grey with iron, the other mordanted with alum. The discharge paste then either bleached out the grey or removed the alum mordant so when those pieces were immersion dyed later the paste areas took up little to no colour, depending on the dye.

I’d bought some refillable pens which you can use to make your own textas, and tried it with the discharge solution before the thickener went in. It worked, but the solution with beet powder in it kept clogging up the pen. I also realised on the second day that I’d made the first solution half strength. It still worked but the result was paler. I also tried screen printing but the result was too blobby.

On the iron-coloured natural linen I printed leaf stamps that I’d made by tracing leaves from my front yard, and wrote the common names of trees.

On the alum-mordanted natural linen I used a stencil from a bundle I bought at Bunnings then immersion dyed in lac.

For the iron-coloured cotton I made a teeny skull stamp. I meant to draw neat diagonal lines but things went wonky and I just went with that, and used the stamp here and there in the gaps. I love this and wish I’d worked on a bigger piece of cloth.

For the alum-mordanted cotton I tried an Indian wood block and did a simple diagonal grid of flowers. Then I poured a whole lot of exhaust baths into the pot to make an orangey peach colour. Unfortunately, the half-strength discharge paste and the lighter dye colour meant that the pattern was rather hard to see, but I did a wheat bran bath later and that helped to lighten the design a little.

The iron-coloured bandana was entirely done with the refillable pen. I traced around the cat face stamp I’d used for Module 6 and then added details. This one is definitely a keeper.

The alum-mordanted bandana became a gift for a friend who likes pink and skulls. For this one I had the rare satisfaction of planning something and it coming out as I intended.

I have a few ideas I’d like to try now the course is done. Because I’ve made small colour charts, I wound up putting aside a half metre of lightweight cotton to use if I really stuffed up a piece. Since I didn’t, I’ve torn that into two pieces to play with. For the smaller, I’ve explored dyeing with white mulberry. The rest – a square – I’d like to use up some of the leftover pastes. I also ordered two metres of silk.

As I made more and more pieces it became clear I was going to have a long list of sewing projects to do. Since we don’t use napkins I’m treating them as small squares of fabric to be transformed into something, usually something that requires more fabric. The linen nearly all begs to be made into garments, but to do that I’ll definitely need more fabric – perhaps even painted in the same way. Thankfully, the silk pieces just need to be hemmed to become wide scarves.

Overall, it has been a lot of fun and I’m glad I chose the workshop. I learned heaps and it kept me distracted rather than freezing up and stressing during a very scary few months. But I didn’t get much else done, creatively, in that time and I really, really miss art. Yet it kind of benefitted me artistic practise in that it had me working in the laundry in a different way to how I did during the ink making workshop. I have a better feel for the space and how to make it work as a mini art studio.

Which will be my next task. And then… art resumes, perhaps even daily art.