Whew! Finally finished with all my Maiwa Symposium events for this year. We are indeed lucky to have this resource so close to home. I never fail to take part in some aspect of it. Lectures are every year while workshops are only every other year. Too much work for one small local company and a handful of volunteers to manage! I’m betting Charllotte Kwon and her crew will sleep for a month after the last guest leaves in another week or so. They’ve been going full-bore since early September.
Last night’s lecture was packed and Dr. Elizabeth Barber did not disappoint. I broke down and bought her book “Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years” whereupon she told us that it needs revising. “The First 30,000 Years” would be more appropriate now that more research has come to light. The development and dispersion of spindles, looms and fibres used by prehistoric people, mostly women, is a fascinating topic. Nice to know that Dr. Barber’s research has encouraged others to look at old evidence with new eyes and multiple disciplines. Even though the information is somewhat dated now, I’m still looking forward to rereading the book.
Now for the woad stuff. I decided to divide this into 3 parts because it’s too long and detailed for one post. Hope it helps someone to contemplate making their own woad vat!
Maiwa Symposium - Woad Workshop Notes
Dates: October 22-23, 2009
Where: Maiwa East, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Instructors: Henri and Denise Lambert from Bleu de Lectoure, France.
Day 1: Thursday we settled into our seats for an enthusiastic introductory lecture by Denise, with Henri filling in where necessary. Lots of translating back and forth between French and English! They were dressed completely in woad every time I saw them. They are very committed to the revival of “pastel” in France and Henri, who was an artist, became a self-taught Woad Master through research and trial and error.
Watching from the sidelines was the botanist Michel Garcia, also from France. I had previously heard his lecture on the inclusive dye garden that he had started. Also in the class we had Michele Wipplinger from Seattle’s Earthues – a celebrity student! Plus a whole bunch of other excited women, including me, itching to get into the blue. Our class assistant, Dani, was lucky because Denise did a lot of the assisting during class time instead, leaving Dani to participate in the dyeing along with the rest of us.
I was happy that in this class we were to each make our own dye vat. This simplifies the dipping and timing considerably and we could work at our own pace. So we started filling a little jar with 100ml of very hot water, adding 4 tsps of soda ash, dissolving it thoroughly, and then 3 tbsps woad powder and stirring this to dissolve the powder as well as possible. The usual recipe is only 3 tsps of soda ash but Henri was shocked to find out our water here is below 6 pH (theirs is a neutral 7) and so had to compensate with more soda ash than his recipe states. Optimum pH for the big vat should end up around 9. We left that to sit 20 minutes while we filled a large plastic jar (maybe 3 litres?) with hand-hot water (45-50 C.) leaving a space at the top for the woad paste to stir in. Also in that jar, the mother vat, we added a little soda ash (for the pH) and 1 tsp thiourea dioxide, stirred it in and left it to rest until the woad was rested. Finally we gently stirred in the dissolved woad powder, which by this time had turned greenish. The dregs in the cup were washed out by a little more water and stirred in too.
Then it was time to let the mother vat rest (2 hours to overnight is usual), so we all had lunch. There was an event downstairs at Maiwa East with Bappa and his Bai Lou fabrics, plus musicians and many of my guild friends, so after eating most of the class went downstairs. I nearly bought one of Bappa’s scarves in stiff but nearly transparent double-woven silk with “coins” of blue and red-brown opaque silk tucked in the pockets. But I didn’t. I visited with people instead and shared some hugs.
After we went back upstairs, we filled our big bucket vats with hot water – though mine was cooler than it should have been and several people had to wait to heat more water after we depleted the hot water tank. Master (or should that be Maitre?) Henri added our soda ash (1/2 tsp) and thiox (1 tsp) this time for us. He was feeling the need to control things a bit more. After all, there were 18 of us! Too many cooks and all that… We waited awhile more. He demonstrated the next step with one of the vats. Pouring about 1/2 of the mother vat in, careful to leave the “dépôt” (sludge) behind, we waited about 10 minutes and then Henri dipped a sample piece of cotton in and left it 5 minutes before pulling it out. We all watched the Alchemy of Blue happen before our eyes. The lesson was to use only part of the mother vat first and then test to see how deep the colour was and how fast the blue appeared, not too fast and not too slow.
We then dove in ourselves with our own vats. A lot of the time with a woad vat is spent waiting! Patience is definitely a virtue here. It is a different colour than I am used to, more murky and kind of greeny-brown. That makes me think I’ve been using too much thiox in my own vats. Will ponder that.
I did my test piece of cotton fabric which I thought was very slow to turn from turquoise to blue compared to the others. It did finally but I was envious of Maria’s vat next to me that was very deep and blue, more than anyone else’s. I gave my test piece a couple more dips and airings and then dove in with a larger napkin and later a skein of wool. Denise cautioned that we should dip the cellulose fibres and silk first before dyeing wool and other protein fibres. Apparently the grease that probably still remains in the wool will affect the evenness of the dye on cellulosic fibres. Wool absorbs the colour more deeply though so it doesn’t bother itself. Good to know. I took that advice to heart and dyed a small skein of wool last and then a larger skein which, after a dip or two, I left in the dye vat overnight. Denise suggested we do that to absorb whatever colour is left in the vat and deepen the shade. I didn’t know that wool could take the alkalinity for that length of time but it seems fine.
I was sorry that we dumped out the sludge at the bottom of the mother vat in order to begin a new one for Day 2. I’m sure there was a lot of colour left in it because we only dyed what we were provided which wasn’t that much. I weighed it later and it was under 200 g total. I vowed to bring more for the second vat! But we needed the jar and I didn’t have anything to save it in. So down the drain went nearly $10 worth of woad. Sniff.
We started again with the mother vat as before but this time we used the 3 tbsps of woad and, in addition, 1 tbsp of Pitchi Reddy’s indigo. We stirred it into the jars and were cleaning up to leave when Michel Garcia, who was still lurking about, advised the addition of a second tsp of thiox in each of our mother vats. I gather they thought that one tsp wasn’t enough for that amount of woad/indigo. So it was duly added and stirred and we headed off exhausted but happy.
Part 2 next time!