First foray into organic lake pigments

There has been a lot of work done this past month in preparation for the annual Chiang Mai NAP fair in December. Truth be told, we aren’t fully sure that we will be able to make it on time, but we do our best anyway. Precious moments at the indigo vat offer much-needed respite from the stresses of sorting out logistics necessary for getting the textiles out into the world.
Experiments in under-dyeing indigo with various natural dyes have continued. We used to get a nice steady supply of onion skins from Omu for golden-brown shades, but now that we live in Chiang Mai it has become more difficult to come by large quantities of the stuff. To stretch their use as far as we can we’ve decided to start extracting any leftover pigment from exhausted dye-baths. The process is known as making “lakes” and involves adding Potassium Alum to the dye-bath which binds to any remaining pigment molecules. When Soda Ash is added to this mixture the solution turns alkaline which changes the Alum to an insoluble state. It then slowly sinks to the bottom of the container together with the pigment. After being left overnight the top portion of liquid is siphoned off, fresh water is added to the accumulated pigment and the mixture is left to settle again. By repeating this process several times we end up with a very pure concentrated pigment free from any impurities. The pigment is ready for collection when the top portion of liquid is completely clear (this usually takes 3-4 days), at which stage it is siphoned off for the last time. The accumulated pigment is then filtered through coffee filters, dried and stored.

making lake pigmentlake pigment

As you can see it really doesn’t yield much material. Normally we wouldn’t think twice about watering our garden with the exhausted dye-bath since the botanical materials we use are non-toxic. But there is a very good reason for going through all the trouble to save pigment in this form. It has potential for some interesting applications. When ground and mixed with a binder it can be used for painting on paper or as a wall plaster. For textile artists specifically there exist exciting possibilities to apply this pigment through stencils directly onto fabric to create finely detailed designs. This is something we would love to explore further, possibly early next year.

A Nui-Shibori/stitch-resist pattern that we have been working on has been adapted for some gorgeously light hand-spun handwoven cotton from Northern Thailand. The resulting fabric is a comfortably large (200cm long by 70cm wide) scarf that works well in our tropical Thai climate when loosely draped or can be worn snugly around the neck when in more temperate zones of the world. It was a monster of a job and I couldn’t figure out why until I did a calculation out of pure interest: 200 stitching threads make 30 turns each. There are a total of 6000 stitches that compress this fabric into the shape necessary for one scarf’s length of this pattern. When the threads were being pulled the fabric suddenly started collapsing into a spiral structure that looked like something found on the roof of a Gaudi apartment complex. We made a risky decision at this point to try under-dyeing the bundle in Myrobalan before giving it to the indigo to obtain some very gentle yellow-green undertones. I think it turned out pretty well and we are happy with the result. Hopefully we can make a few more in time for December’s event.

shibori stitching

shibori stitching pattern

indigo shibori   shibori indigo

The indigo seeds we saw sprouting in July are already waist-high and pretty much take care of themselves now. Their resilience is incredible. What used to look like a patch of dry clay rock-hard desert nightmare wasteland is suddenly teeming with all sorts of life. Other plants have started growing under the protective shade of the indigo and colourful critters have taken up residence in the micro-sanctuary. It’s the crappiest soil on the plot by far and right now has the greatest diversity of life. We should have sown the seeds everywhere. The making and broadcasting of Masanobu Fukuoka-style clay indigo-seed-balls will have to wait until early next year.

indigo plants

indigofera tinctoria

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