Thursday, July 4, 2013

ISEND Dye conference in Malaysia, continued

Greetings again, Fiber Friends!

Me wearing ikat-dyed jacket made in the area
Beautiful flowers all over Kuching
To continue sharing our experiences in Malaysia:  the International Symposium and Exhibition on Natural Dyes(ISEND) held in Kuching, Sarawac, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo, included five days of power-point presentations and poster presentations in the morning on various aspects of research and use of many unique natural dyes, many dye workshops in the afternoon, and cultural field trips or fashion show in the evenings.  Ongoing demonstrations on backstrap weaving, ikat tying, and reed and grass weaving for baskets, hats, ornaments, bookmarks, purses and more, as well as dozens of vendors selling natural-dyed textiles and more, were available all five days.

Bex in Kuching, standing in front of the
 legislative building across the river
 Following these five days of the conference, we spent four days travelling to, staying in, and returning from an indigenous Iban weaving village, deep in the Borneo jungle, during their cotton mordanting ceremony.  I'll share our experiences there in my NEXT post.

Follow are pictures of dyeplants shown during the workshops, and some poster presentations.

One of our field trips was to a local cultural museum with exhibits and demonstrations of the indigenous Iban and Sumba ikat dyers and weavers.  Following our tour of the museum, we were entertained by local musicians and dancers during our outdoor buffet of local cuisine.

Another field trip took us to an historic reenacted indigenous village, where we were again entertained by many musicians and elegant especially male dancers, while we ate at large round tables with large lazy susans in the center with a wide range of local foods from which to choose. The dancers involved the audience, and even got me up to dance the bamboo dance with them.

Bex walking across the bridge to "the village".

While still in Kuching, Bex and I, and a friend from Germany exploring the market bazaar with us, discovered a reasonably priced and excellent hair solon.  We all decided we needed a hair cut.  We also visited a local weaving studio co-owned by our host Jacquie at the Batik Boutique Hotel where we were staying.  The weavers at the studio were keeping an historic embroidery weaving technique alive using super fine silk.  The embroidery pattern is shown on the underside of the cloth is being woven.  Another picture is of the weavers rethreading a reed in yellow silk for another project.  The Studio does custom orders for important clients.  Bex and I were able to obtain some early embroidery-woven pillow covers.  (I am suddenly not able to control where the following pictures are lined up.  One other picture is of Edric Ong, the coordinator of the event.)


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Greetings Fiber Friends!

I know it's been awhile since I blogged, and then only with help, but I resolve to do better.  There's so much I would like to share with you.

First, take a trip with me to Malaysia for the International Exposition and Symposium on Natural Dyes (ISEND) and World Eco Fibers and Textiles (WEFT) in Kuching, and then to a weavers long house village deep in the jungles of Borneo for their mordanting ceremony.

My daughter Bex and I left Missouri last September, first to St. Louis, then to Newark, NJ, over Russia to Hong Kong, then to Kuching, Sarawak on the Island of Borneo. 

(Okay, have patience with me, I'm still learning this program and I'm by myself.  The pictures aren't landing where I want them, then they are jumping around and not staying where I put them, or are disappearing all together!)
Flight to Borneo
 We stayed at a wonderful, unique, "designer" hotel -- the Batik Boutique.  The co-owner Jacquie, and her manager, Jo-Lynn treated us like family and truly made our stay spectacular.  We highly recommend it if you are ever in Sarawak, Malaysia!  For example, they gave us a cell phone to use while we were there, they put on a feature movie in their courtyard for the guests to watch, they offer free full breakfasts with a stay and have full dinners available in their dining area.  They welcome guests with rice wine and cheese, and leave chocolates when they clean your room.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Alafia River Rendezvous 2012

Just got back from my favorite rendezvous (fur trader reenactment of 1640—1840 time period).  Over 1200 participants live in a white canvas village with all the amenities necessary to sustain whole families for over a week.  There is a general store, clothiers, fabric merchants, gun and knife smiths, black smiths, copper and tin smiths, leather and fur traders, candle and bead suppliers, apothecaries, house ware merchants with the finest period china, treenware carvers, ti pi pole and tent suppliers, school house with certified school marm, dance hall, tavern, period food vendors, period musicians and instrument makers, and much much more.  (See 

There are competitions of all kinds: black-powder, tomahawk, archery, woods walk, dessert cooking, and more.  Seminars on many period subjects from brain tanning to embroidery, dutch oven cooking to finger weaving.  Games of many types from the Scottish Highland Games, children’s games, pick up boccie ball in the Commons.  And they hold court a few times to reprimand “offenders” of various crimes (very funny).  Period music is performed every night in many camps. There’s a pow wow on the commons and drumming almost every night in the Native American camp.  There’s a horse camp.  Opening and closing ceremonies are performed Native American style.

These 12-day events allow plenty of time to set up my suttler’s trade marquis/seminar space and to teach Continuous Strand Weaving for triangle shawls, rectangle voyagers sashes, square blankets, and more; inkle weaving and tablet weaving for belts, straps, ribbons, and more; spinning on spindles and wheel; and to give a seminar on the historic use of natural dyes.  In the spirit of the time line clothes, camp site, and sale goods should be related to the period, and certainly no plastic, zippers, or flashlights are allowed.  Only candles and campfires light up the night.  I sleep on a buffalo hide and sheep skins under a wool blanket at the back of my marquis, keep warm on cold nights with my three-dog wood stove, and heat up water for tea, oatmeal, soup, and washing on my wood-fired brazier.  I do business at night by the light of candelabra and lanterns, and enjoy the stars in the wood-folding lounge “star-gazing chairs” my son made.

 Goods for sale include spinning and weaving tools, natural dyes, books, fibers, yarns, finished woven textiles, and of course our new book on the Continuous Strand Weaving.

 Nature-dyes yarns are featured and used by shawl and sash weavers.
Rose and William treated me to a campfire dinner one night: 
lamb sausage, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Photos by Rose E. Martin

Thursday, May 26, 2011

visit to Bleu de Lectoure, Lectoure, France, April 2011

Rose and I rewarded ourselves for finally completing "The Book" Continuous Strand Weaving Method... by attending the International Symposium and Exhibition on Natural Dyes (ISEND) in La Rochelle, France this past April.  We spent a whole day in Paris and another two days travelling to La Rochelle via Lectoure with a great visit with Denise Lambert of Bleu de Lectoure, from where we order Woad pigment for blue dyes.

The woad plant blooms for only 15 days during its second year growth.  We were there at the perfect time to see the blossoms.  Denise moved her store of woad dyed items from down town Lectoure back to her woad "factory" after Henri passed away this past year.  Did you know that woad seeds contain anti-oxidants and omega-3?  Lotions, creams, and other healthy products are being developed from them.  Look forward to seeing some of these items at Hillcreek Fiber Studio in the future.  Paints, pastel sticks, plastics, horn bracelets, and more are all colored with woad. 

Denise develops her woad vats from a fermentation process.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Madder Root Red on Cotton and Wool

The historic "Turkey Red" recipe is definitely the best natural, rich, lasting red dye for cotton. Turkey Red's main ingredient is Madder Root. It is, however, quite the challenge even for experienced dyers, as it has so many steps.

G�sta Sandberg in his book, "The Red Dyes, Cochineal, Madder, and Murex Purple, a World Tour of Textile Techniques", summarizes the process into 10 major operations, each one broken into many steps of precision. Paraphrased, the Turkey Red recipe steps include: thorough scouring of the cotton, soaking in a "dung bath" of sheep dung and olive oil three times, wringing out and drying between each dung dip, mordanting in a "white bath" of potash in a wooden vessel three times, drying in between each mordant bath, rinsing in river water, then "gallering" (treating with tannin and sumac), then mordanting with alum and potash for 12 hours, thoroughly drying for several days, then "maddering" (dyeing with madder and chalk in copper kettle) until the color is "beautiful and lively", then set in a tin bath, then washed in a soap solution containing olive, peanut, and palm core oil whipped into a lather, then rinsed and dried in the shade. Whew!

Jim Liles, in his book "Art and Craft of the Natural Dyer", explains the steps well, and has reduced the historic time for producing it (approximately 3 months) to "just" 3 weeks, and he uses some modern day substitutes for some of the ingredients (no dung). But there are still many steps.

As an alternative, you can get a fairly good Madder Root Red on cotton, wool or other protein or cellulose fibers. You may dye your natural fibers in any form: fabric, yarns, loose fibers, basket reed, et cetera. Thoroughly wash your wool, or scour your cotton or other material. (We carry a cotton "scour" liquid from Michelle Wipplinger). Then mordant the cotton or other cellulose fibers with Alum Acetate or use the Potasium alum plus Soda ash recipe following. For wool, mordant with Potasium alum without the Soda ash. (For this recipe, do not add cream of tartar with the alum, as is commonly done for wool.)

Meanwhile, the madder root contains both red and yellow dyes, and the yellow is more readily soluble in water, so it comes off first. The Alizarin chemical in madder which yields the red is not readily soluble, so it takes a little longer to retrieve.

I recommend putting the ground roots in a muslin bag and letting them soak overnight. Then bring the bath to simmer (don't boil madder, or reds will turn brown), and steep for an hour. Pour off this liquid. It will be orange. Cover the bag of madder root again with cold water and simmer again for one hour. Pour off liquid. You can save these initial pourings for orange colors. By the third or fourth bath you'll be pulling more reds.
I leave the bag of ground roots in the bath with the fibers, but you do need to stir more frequently if you do this, or you may have splotches on the fabric. (On locks of wool, this is okay, as it will all be carded together anyway.) Bring the bath up to simmer with the fibers in and hold it around 160 degrees F for an hour and a half. Then gradually increase the temp up to 190 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let the fibers cool in the bath or over night.

Remove the fibers from the dye bath. I like to let the dyed fibers air out or dry first. This seems to set the colors better. Then madder root-dyed fibers love an alkaline washing to brighten and deepen the reds. Use an alkaline soap or a little lye in the wash water. Then rinse well and dry.
Have fun!

Mordanting Processes for Cotton and Other Cellulose Fibers

Mordanting cotton or linen with potasium alum requires a 4 to 1 ratio of fiber to alum, plus a 4 to 1 ratio of alum to soda ash. In other words, for one pound of cellulose fiber, thoroughly scoured, use 4 ounces alum & 1 ounce soda ash. Simmer fiber in the mordant bath, with both ingredients, for one hour, stirring occasionally. Let cool in the bath over night. Thoroughly rinse in the morning, then dry and store until ready to dye, or dye immediately.

For the Alum/Tannin/Alum mordanting process (some dyes work better with this three-step process for cotton -- it chemically opens up more bonding sites for the dye to attach to): Do the above alum recipe the first day. The second day simmer one ounce of tannic acid (dissolved first in hot water) with cotton for one hour, stirring frequently, as the tannin can streak, then let cool over night. Third day thoroughly rinse out fibers, then repeat fist day's recipe with a fresh bath of alum and soda ash. Fourth day thoroughly rinse, then you are ready to dye.

This sounds like a long process, but it really doesn't take much time each day, and it does hold onto the color much better for dyes on cotton.

Non-Fading Pokeberry Recipe

Recently there was a thread on one of the fiber lists on using pokeberries as a dye, and on whether or not pokeberry colors fade. My response was basically that it depends on how acetic the dye bath was. Following that, I received personal requests for more clarification and actual recipes. Feeling this may be of general interest, we've added the recipe here.

There are so many surprizes with pokeberry. I've been experimenting with it for 18 years. I even prepared an interesting University research project as part of my masters program, taking berries from three different soils, and using three different water sources, and premordanting in various mineral salts, to try to determine various effects on the color. (Why would copper turn the color to buff yellow? Why do the mineral salts seem to "cause" the color to fade?) Still many unanswered questions.

Pokeberry colors range from bright fushia to magenta to raspberry, and will last for several years by following the below recipe. Three factors seem to greatly effect the color and color retention: the concentration of dyestuff to fiber, and the degree of acidity of the mordant and dye baths, and the length of time fibers remain in each step of the process.

I don't take accurate measurements when dyeing with native plants, but I'll estimate for you. The proportion of dyestuff to fiber is critical. I find the higher the ratio of pokeberries to fibers, the more color-fast. I never weigh pokeberries, so don't know what a bucket of pokeberries weighs, but would estimate one-to-two gallons of berries (off the stems and crushed) to 8 ounces of fiber would be good. Try 4 oz. of 56% acetic acid to enough water to comfortably float the fibers (about 1.5 to 2 gallons). Thoroughly wash and rinse the fibers, while damp enter fibers into acid water, bring to a high simmer (180-190 degrees F) for two hours and leave over night to cool in bath. Meanwhile add acid water to the crushed pokeberries, steep for 30 minutes (don't get temp too high or you may loose the brilliant red), then let cool overnight. Next day strain the seeds from the dyebath. Remove the fibers from acid ath. Combine the dyebath and the left over acid bath and put the fibers back in. Then cook at a medium high temp (160-180 degree F) for two hours. Leave fibers in bath for several hours or over night. Remove fibers, squeeze and lay out on screens in shade for couple hours to oxydize. Then thoroughly rinse off excess dye (do not use soap or anything alkaline) and dry.

Over-dyeing skeins and raw silk fabric in indigo, once the pokeberry is set, will give purples (surprise, as indigo is alkaline!) Once I dyed a skeing of wool first in pokeberries, then in indigo, for one of the most beautiful purples I'd ever seen. Then, being very tired, and very much a pokeberry-dyeing novice, left the skein in a bowl of warm water and Dawn dishwashing liquid overnight! The next morning the skein had turned sage green!! Another time I dyed locks of wool first in pokeberries (with weaker vinegar) then in indigo, and after rinsing, had the most unusual colors on each lock. The alkaline of the indigo seemed to effect only part of the pokeberry dye. There was red, blue, green and purple, all on the same locks of wool! I'm sure the way the cut end and tip ends of locks takes dyes differently, had a lot to do with the variations! While doing two-day historic dye demonstrations, I always noted that the pokeberry colors, even WITH postmordant mineral salts, hich were left in the dye baths overnight were always darker and more color-fast than colors allowed in the bath for only the usual hour or so.

However, the best color, and color retention, was discovered toward the end of a dye workshop with author and dye master Jim Lyles at the Campbell Folk School in 1995. A fellow student, Jeri Forkner, and I couldn't resist picking buckets of pokeberries after dark on the evening before the last day of class. We set up the dye baths late at night, and, having run out of vinegar, dumped in some 56% acetic acid and left the dye bath, and fibers in the mordant bath, overnight. The bright magenta colors on the wool skeins and raw silk fabric samples were impressive, even to Dr. Lyles. And to this day, years later, there's no sign of fading, whereas a similar skein, mordanted in vinegar only, is showing signs of yellowing.

Pokeberry is my favorite dye plant. My favorite color. A graceful shrub. And we EAT the tender poke leaves/stalk when it first comes up in the spring. Tastes JUST like asparagus!! It took a couple years to convince my husband not to remove every pokeberry volunteer sprouting up in our back yard. But now, we encourage every one-- even in our vegetable garden. They always surround our compost pile (where the seeds are dumped following workshops.) It is such an honored plant, we use it as part of our company logo. Hope you learn to enjoy it as much as I.