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 Post subject: Miao dyeing processes
PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2007 3:53 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jun 29, 2003 1:42 pm
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Location: Canterbury, UK
Last week the forum was experiencing some problems and delays in emails generated from the forum. Unfortunately the ISP which hosts the forum and the MySQL software that enables to database to operate was under attack from spammers. This made it very delayed and long-winded for aspiring new members to join. One of those struggling to join contacted me asking for help. I tried to help but only made things worse by entering an email address incorrectly. Although things are now working OK I think that our prospective member has now given up!

I asked her if there was a particular reason for her wanting to join the forum. It seems that this relates to some research that she is undertaking:

I am a fiber art student in Los Angeles. I am doing a little research on a particular indigo dyeing technique used by the Miao people of China. The dyeing process involves burying fabric, such as linen or silk, in the ground with the indigo to produce a very dark and lacquered fabric. The details that I have on this process are hazy, I heard that they bury the fabric with some sort of fruit, or maybe pig's blood. I've seen the finished fabrics and they are unblemished, which makes me think that they don't bury the fabric for very long.

I thought that you might have some knowledge of this practice. I appreciate any insights that you can offer.

My response to this question would be that I am unaware of the process of burying in the indigo dyeing process which Deborah (the fibre student) describes. Dyeing would usually be hemp, ramie or cotton. It would be unlikely to be silk as indigo dye does not react well with silk. To get a very dark indigo dye the fabric would be dipped in the dyebath up to 12+ times and then taken out to oxygenate which is what turns the indigo dye to blue from green.

To get a very shiny surface it is often beaten. It is also sometimes coated with egg white and then polished/beaten. I believe it may be coated with a mixture of pig's or ox's blood to get the maroonish/dark blue appearance and, again beaten. There are those who say that blood is not used but that there are reddish pigments in the indigo which give that glow to the build-up of indigo on a fabric. Indigo dyes by building up layers of dye on the fabric rather than changing the chemical nature of the fibres - which is why it rubs off.

A very good reference for further reading (and which has just been re-published) would be 'Indigo' by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Also see info on an exhibition on indigo which also refers to this book - see ... .php?t=941 As part of Jenny's research for her book she visited south west China and there are several photos of Miao, Dong and Bouyei and their indigo textiles.

on-line tribal textiles resource

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