Foundry Art Centre Studio Artist Lisa Hinrichs and Executive Director Melissa Whitwam both are accomplished fiber artists and amid the commonalities of their fiber work is a love of indigo. Lisa made a vat of indigo this week and invited the FAC Studio Artists & FAC staff to learn more about indigo and even dye a piece themselves. Lisa's indigo work is on display in Studio 20 on the second level of the Foundry Art Centre alongside her felt and fiber pieces. Working with indigo is nothing like the t-shirts we tie-dyed in elementary school; dyeing fabric in indigo takes extreme forethought, careful mixtures, attentive cultivation of the vat, upper body strength, patience, and a respect for the history and potential of the medium.
Melissa began by explaining the fascinating history of indigo. Indigo and fabrics dyed in indigo were used as currency for several centuries among many nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was valuable not only because it took time and skill to produce garments and fabrics dyed in indigo - an indicator of wealth - but also because of its connection to spirituality. Many cultures and religions revere indigo for its connection to God, gods, and the universe. Kali is an indigo-colored Hindu goddess and the Virgin Mary is often depicted with an indigo garment. Approaching indigo with a reverent mindset and respecting its history and cultural significance will enhance your own interactions with the color as you create.
The patterns in indigo-dyed fabrics are also significant, indicating the status of the individual, their temperament, and their stories. By binding the material before it is dyed, the fabric only takes the dye in certain areas. This method of dyeing is called Shibori in Japan and its possibilities are limitless. There are many different patterns, including the traditional shibori patterns depicted below:
Mokume Shibori (wood grain): Stitch evenly-spaced parallel lines with irregular stitches. When gathered, the fabric bunches like an accordion. After dyeing and removing stitches, the cloth appears to have a wood grain.
Fabric can also be tied with string, rubber bands, and clamped with objects. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and experimenting with fabrics and indigo is truly the best way to create the piece you are envisioning.
Lisa prepared the vat and space prior to the lesson so we could go straight to dyeing. Melissa prepped the cotton fabric by first immersing it in water, allowing liquid to fill the porous material rather than air. The appearance of indigo on fabric and the health of the vat relies heavily on indigo's reaction with oxygen. The fewer air bubbles and pockets you introduce to the vat, the more steadfast the indigo will be. Melissa squeezed out the cotton fabric, eliminating excess water while keeping the fabric tightly packed to discourage any air from entering the fabric again. She slowly dipped her hands, still clasping the fabric, down into the indigo and about a half-minute later, she slowly removed her hands and fabric from the bucket of dye. To the surprise of all of us who knew nothing about indigo, the fabric was dyed dark green!
Within a minute though, as the dyed fabric reacted with the air, the green changed to blue. Magic. Even a hastily scrunched up ball of fabric created a fascinating design. Add stitching and binding and you'd have yourself a work of art.
Are you interested in learning more about indigo and shibori? Let us know! We are always interested in knowing what our community wants to learn and we use your feedback to schedule classes and workshops. If you want to learn more about indigo right away, our Executive Director suggests these books to get you started. Click on the cover to learn more about each book.
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.
Parts of this article are taken from the writings of Melissa Whitwam.