Saturday, October 30, 2010

Colours from Nature - natural dyeing, part I

In March 2000, i began my studies with Yoo Hee-soon, an embroidery professor for Dong-guk Dae, a buddhist university in Seoul, South Korea. i can't say enough about her as she is one of the loveliest people i've ever met. she is always patient, & is willing to teach me anything i want to learn. she has taken me on a few expeditions to a temple on a mountain in An Seong (a town outside of the city) to teach me the art of dyeing with natural colours.

Many times that year, teacher had taken me along with a few other students to An Seong, a little village about an hour & a half outside of Seoul, to naturally colour silk & ramie. these photos were taken on one of those sojourns.

The mountain road

Usually, we take a bus to the bottom of the mountain & walk up to the temple, about 20 minutes. the climb is not too difficult, but it is envigorating.

The Buddhist temple

The stairs to the right are not as easy as they may seem. a full day running up & down is noticed tomorrow. they lead to the Buddha statue & a shrine behind him.

The pots you see in the front are
'kimchi' pots. Koreans marinate cabbage, or other vegetable, in these pots with red chilies, hot pepper paste et al for several days & these become side dishes to a main course of stew or rice dish.

from behind the Buddha

Taken in spring, the azaleas in full bloom, my teacher strolls past in her traditional Korean dress, the 'hanbok'.

A monk's haven

The monks reside in the house to the left. inside there are a few bedrooms & a kitchen. There is a building behind the house that is reminiscent of the cottage outhouse & little further up another structure that houses the shower rooms. In the foreground the earth lies naked awaiting the birth of seeds & planting of vegetables, which will prove to grow thick & lush.

A little destruction for creation's sake

We've collected branches of some nearby bushes (stephandra?) & the flower heads of marigolds for the 2 colours being prepared for the day's work. the branches were broken smaller to fit into the large cauldron. we must have collected 6 bags of flower heads for the pot.

the requisite washing

This is back-breaking labour, as you are either bent over, or in the squatting position, to clean & then fold the material from the cold mountian water. the silk & ramie are loosely folded into a fan as to put the material into the dye bath evenly, reducing the chance of blotching.

A monk making our fire

Marigold flowers stewing & simmering

So far, i've dyed various greens, reds & yellows. we've collected marigolds, stephanandra, mugwort & japanese butterbur using leaves, twigs & flower petals.

Is it ready

Periodically, we checked to see if the water was saturated with colour. we probably waited about an hour for the water to boil & for the right amount of pigment to be released from the plants.

It's ready

The coloured water is then strained through a chessecloth for obvious reasons. the tricky part is not inhaling the smoke.

Here~ there has been a time lapse

Teacher is taking out the second batch of natural goodness, the stephanandra, or red colour.

Powders for the elixers

Each of these creates a different hue, or depth, of the colour. there's iron (for dark hues), copper & alum (for lighter hues), & brown rice vinegar for colour fasting.

Submerging the cloth

The clean fan folded cloth is released evenly & quickly into the bath to ensure an even distribution of colour, & is kept constantly submerged.

The soaking process

The is the first dye bath for the silk & ramie. Higher temperatures, alotted time, & the # of baths determine the hue intensity. the bathwater should be constantly kept between 60-80 degrees. the pot is sitting on a little portable gas burner.

Many hands make light work

Seen here is different stages of soaking.

depth of colour ~ soak dye bath, & soak in mordant
1st cycle ~ 20mins, & 10-15mins
2nd cycle ~ 30-40mins, & 10mins
3rd cycle ~ repeat the 2nd cycle.

Cotton gloves worn beneath heavy rubber gloves, protect the hands from the heat while the cloth is kept submerged.

Still at it

The gang

from left to right... my friend, Leslie, & other embroidery students; teacher with the hat & white apron; stewing, is her apprentice; & tucked in the back, is the head monk of the temple, &, of course, i'm behind the camera.

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