Artists who use indigo: Rowland and Chinami Ricketts

Recently I visited Rowland and Chinami Ricketts in their studio in Bloomington, Indiana , where Rowland is an assistant professor on the textiles faculty in the School of Fine Arts.

“Rowland and Chinami Ricketts use natural materials and traditional processes to create contemporary textiles. Chinami hand-weaves narrow width yardage for kimono and obi. Rowland hand-dyes textiles that span art and design. Together we grow all the indigo that colors our cloth, investing ourselves and our time in our textiles because we believe this way of working to be an essential part of the material’s integrity and authenticity.”http://www.rickettsindigo.com/

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are both very personable and kind, generous with the knowledge they have gained through their years of training and apprenticeship with masters in Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey maintain two stainless steel vats, about 4 feet deep, one freshly made, and the other already used.  They start by dyeing the cloth in the older vat to begin building up the color.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChinami is a weaver, creating cloth from hand dyed yarns in the traditional way, in widths suitable for making kimonos. She and Rowland have designed a line of table runners ,wall hangings, and room dividers that recently were awarded by The Martha Stuart American Made craft competition:http://www.marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominee/93030/crafts/ricketts-indigo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPreparing the lye water for a new vat. They get ash from the hardwood burned by a local wood-fired pizza restaurant to use for making it.

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Sample swaths. Rowland emphasized the importance of testing the variables, recording details, and being consistent in the process.

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The vat is alive.

Coloring batik, naturally

I’ve looked at many batik colored with natural dyes, and often the results are somewhat dull and flat. When I saw this one by my colleague, Mas Solikhin Ahmad of Pekalongan on the north coast of Java, I jumped for joy at the liveliness of the color, all derived from natural sources, including indigo. The colors are unusually defined and distinct, not muddied at all, which is quite a feat.  What also makes this batik outstanding is the composition. Although I am  getting a bit bored with the butterfly fixation many batikers have right now, the color and overall design of this one makes it truly outstanding. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Handwriting stamped batik scarf

Instead of applying the wax by hand with the canting, the wax resist is applied with a stamp made of copper, called a cap (tchap). The dye is indigo.

Love scarf, indigo on silk

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Making a “Love” cap

I tried my hand at using the canting to write with wax  but it is a long and difficult process. My friend Asif suggested that I ask his friend who is a skilled tukang cap to make a “Love”stamp. I was skeptical that it could be done. Having never seen how a stamp, called a cap (pronounced tchap), is made,  I was amazed at the skill and craftsmanship that goes into it. Here are some photos of the process.

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The women of Kebon Indah

What a joy to visit these lovely artisans in Kebon, Klaten, Central Java. Their work is beautiful and their spirit spirit is inspiring. They are a collective (kelompok) of 169 women from a group of small villages who have joined together, pooling their resources to make batik using only natural ingredients gathered locally to color their creations.

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Batik Indigo, deeper and darker in Pekalongan

My friend and colleague, Solikhin , has been working very hard over the past three years since I saw him last. Still focused on indigo, never finding an easy solution by way of chemical dye, Solikhin has come a long way toward opening up the richness and versatility of indigo.

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This is an example of the colors he derives by overdyeing with other natural vegetable dyes on a cloth that is first dyed with indigo.

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Solikhin creates his own designs and does his own coloring. He does however rely on some very skilled artisans to apply the wax to the cloth.

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This cloth is colored with indigo and overdyed with jelawe the fruit of a certain tree.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis batik is colored purely with indigo.

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Celup, celup, celup

The darkest indigo batik I have ever seen is from the workshop of Hanafi natural dyer in Pekalongan Central Java. This is a clip from his workshop.

A batik of the deepest blue may need more than 100 celup (dips) and take many weeks to produce.

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The natural colors of wild silk

The natural color of the silk threads from the cocoons of wild silkworms vary in color as the result of  what they eat. Domestic silkworms, Bombix mori, prefer the  leaves of the white mulberry http://www.designboom.com/history/silk1.html, but they will eat other types of mulberry leaves such as those from the red mulberry or black mulberry tree.   Domestic silkworms will also eat the leaves of  the osage orange http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osage_orange. Silkworms found in the wild however have adapted to eating particular kinds of leaves, and they produce a silk thread that is much different from the silkworms that are cultivated domestically.

Two examples of wild silkworms cocoons that are found in Java, Indonesia are from  the Cricula tritenastrata (left) and the  Atacus atlas Linn(right).  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Cricula can be found in the wild eating the leaves of the kedondong tree, and those of the avocado tree. It also eats the leaves of the mango tree the cashew nut tree, and almond tree. It produces a beautiful golden thread that is very strong and has a unique thick to thin texture that gives the cloth woven from it an incredibly luxurious hand. The color of the filament varies from cream to rich golden hues, the darkest  outside to the lightest inside the cocoon. The naturally variegated color is very durable and when woven produces a subtle variation in color that any master weaver would envy. (below)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The other type of wild silk  is from the amazingly beauitiful  Atacus  atlas Linn  silkmoth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r9Laslf4hcIt      . produces a cocoon that has a thread similar to the Cricula tritenestrata but in varying shades of cream to dark brown. It eats the leaves of the sirsak, keben, gempol, mahogony, rambutan, kedondong, avocado, and guava.

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I recently visited Pak Endro Kuswardjo in Yogyakarta who started working with wild silk over ten years ago. He has developed a unique relationship with wild silk producers in West Java to provide his workshop, Tugu Mas Yogya,  with the very finest wild silk from which his master weavers can make scarves and shawls. The silk is rare and costly, so he produces a very limited number. I was fortunate  to visit on a day that he had just brought in a new supply, so there will be some wonderful examples of his silk scarves and shawls woven from wild silk available in the special exhibition “Sutera” during The Language of Cloth annual winter pop-up shop in december in San Francisco. http://www.thelanguageofcloth.com/pop-up-shop-dec-2013

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