This has been a week full of diverse and wonderful experiences as well as LOTS of driving (four round-trips to the Chicago area in eight days ;). Round-trip one included Sunday evening dinner with my friend NanC; three truly fun and fast-paced days teaching a private workshop for 12 members of the North Suburban Needlearts Guild (I'll post more about those amazing, creative, adventuresome gals soon!); and Wednesday evening dinner and Scrabble with my mom before coming home late Wednesday night.
Round trips two and four were early Friday morning and later this afternoon to get my son to and from O'Hare airport. He was in town to perform (beautifully :) in an organ recital on the University of Wisconsin campus.
Round trip three was just for Lisa-the-lifelong-student-of-fiber-art. I had the treat of spending a half-day on Saturday at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, IL (http://www.fineline.org/) taking an indigo-dyeing workshop with the wonderful Dagmar Klos (I also wrote about Dagmar in May after taking a three-day natural dyes workshop with her in Kentucky at Tanglewood Farm--http://www.kysheepdreams.com/). It was an extra treat to have my Beading with Friends buddy Al in the indigo workshop.
There's something magical about natural dyes, and indigo is perhaps the most magical to me of them all. A working indigo dye vat looks murky dark yellowy-green; when fibers are in the vat they look kind of acid yellow; and as they emerge from the vat they quickly begin to turn a turquoisey-green and then some shade of blue literally right before your eyes!
We laughed yesterday wondering how the first intrepid dyers discovered that you could coax blue out of this plant that does not seem to want to dye fibers at all. Speculations apparently often include a composting pile of indigo plants as well as someone in a drunken stupor who then relieved himself (or herself) on the compost. Seems you need broken-down indigo plants in a de-oxygenated state and something like urea to make the whole thing even have a chance of working. Thank goodness some people thousands of years ago weren't worried about propriety! :)
Indigo dyeing, as many already know, is a smelly, messy, amazing process. We had the benefit at Fine Line of a large indigo vat already in place that Dagmar set up and manages. It has a higher concentration of pigment than the other two vats we used and produced the quickest deep blues. The smaller vats were more standard concentrations of natural indigo and synthetic indigo. All three create successively deeper shades of blue through a repeated dipping process (about one minute for animal fibers and five minutes for plant fibers) interspersed with oxidizing periods of 20 minutes to one hour or more.
It was a perfect early autumn day in northern Illinois, and we had the clothes lines behind our dye lab filling quickly with gorgeous shades of blue on cotton, linen, wool, silk, and natural blends in yarn, fabric, fleece, and even a few t-shirts. The steady, balmy breeze and sunny sky helped our fibers dry quickly and also made for a lovely experience of stepping outside to hang our fibers on the line.
Our literal immersion in blue pigment, fabric, and sky, as well as the sunshine and gorgeous breeze reminded me of the opening stanza of my favorite e.e. cummings poem:
I thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
I snapped a few pictures of the results the six of us produced in just three hours. My samples are drying on my clothesline in my laundry room now, and after being rinsed in vinegar to neutralize the ph on the fibers, I'm eager to get started stitching on the fabrics and with the silk yarns!