Walking into Narnia- Lessons from a Master Dyer.

Betsy Hands
Betsy labels our samples prior to beginning, while Studio Cat looks on.
Back in March Betsy, my delightful and brilliant college friend, came to visit. We gave ourselves a dye class using the first Natural Dye Workshop video, Colors of Provence, taught by  Michel Garcia, as our guide.  The purpose was to really get back into the swing of things in my studio, and to test the many natural dye extracts that I purchased over ten years ago when I had a business dyeing silk. One goal was to test just how stable the dyes are after such a long time tucked away in the cabinets in the studio.

Over four days we watched the video and replicated his demonstrations to the best of our ability. It was really fun, and we both learned a lot. We made our first Organic Vat using henna, and successfully tried out all my extracts.  We made a few stellar mistakes, which of course just added to the learning.  For instance we did not adequately clean our mordant printed materials before putting them into the dye pot, and the mordant paste dissolved in the dye bath, allowing the unprinted areas of the cloth to dye as well. We ran out of time to finish everything, so I continued solo in the week after she left, trying out clay paste resist with indigo.

And then the moment I have been waiting for since last fall arrived! The first week of May I traveled to Maiwa School of Textiles in Vancouver BC to participate in the Nature of Colour class with Michel Garcia himself.  Getting into the class felt somewhat like a minor miracle. I have been waiting over twenty years for a dye chemistry class, and this was it.

In the five day class Michel taught us about the classes of dyes, and how to extract color from them in many ways outside of the party line presented in natural dye books. We talked about alum accumulating plants, and the magic of tannins. He demonstrated polychromatic dyeing using various mordants and resists combined with indigo and an additional dye bath. We extracted indigo from dried Indigofera tinctoria leaves, and made vats with our homemade extract. I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

It was a marvelous learning experience, which I am going to be integrating into my studio work for a long long time to come.   Even now more than a week later my head is still in somewhat of a spin.  Going to that class was a bit like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. If you have not seen the Natural Dye Workshop DVD series I highly recommend them, and of course if you can make it to a class to learn from Michel Garcia in person, I have no doubt it will be excellent.

Maiwa samples
Some of the 60 samples in my class notes from class.

maiwa dry rack
Hanging cloth to dry in the marvelous Maiwa East Teaching studio.

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