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PostPosted: Sat Dec 25, 2010 9:58 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:33 am
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Location: Beijing
Seasons greetings to all (and hello from Bali)

I ran a course in natural dye training in Lhasa last week, and i think forum members might be interested to see some photos so here are a few. The course was run for two groups of participants; some pangden (apron) weavers from the Panam area and some Wangden rug (small monastic sitting rug) weavers from the Wangden valley nearby. Both groups were already familiar with natural dyeing with Tibetan materials, so this workshop was mainly to help them improve the color and stability of their dyeing using mordants. Tibetan dyers don't have the aluminium-containing Symplocos leaves that most other Asian dyers use (including Bhutanese dyers), and generally use local earths and lichens that are becoming hard to find, so we are teaching the use of alum, particularly for reds (Himalayan madder) and yellows (choertsa root, a plant similar to rhubarb). The yarns used are all local wool. We had a lot of fun and got some great colors, the best of which are in the photos below. Protein based fibers (wool and silk) are a joy to dye because they naturally attract vegetable dyes and we can get good colors with less effort than with plant based fibers, which the dye has to be "hammered" into.

I am grateful to the Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund for their support for this training, and to the Dropenling Handicrafts Center in Lhasa for their assistance on the ground.


Attachments:
File comment: Preparing and indigo fermentation vat, straining the water that will be used for the fermentation. The masks are not specially for the dyeing, many Tibetans wear these in winter because of the dry and dusty weather.
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-15.jpg
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-15.jpg [ 95.29 KiB | Viewed 4067 times ]
File comment: Two of the Panam pangden weavers (who are all women) untangling madder dyed yarn (Lhakdron at left and Sonam at right)
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-35.jpg
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-35.jpg [ 120.79 KiB | Viewed 4067 times ]
File comment: The Wangden rug weavers (all men, these rugs are traditionally only woven by men), with the dyed yarns
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-36.jpg
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-36.jpg [ 114.4 KiB | Viewed 4067 times ]
File comment: Yarns dyed by the trainees: from left: yellow (choertsa), red (Himalayan madder), plum colors (indigo overdyed with madder), blues (indigo) and greens (indigo overdyed with choertsa)
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-32.jpg
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-32.jpg [ 117.26 KiB | Viewed 4067 times ]
File comment: Himalayan madder, with and without alum mordant at two concentrations.
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-04.jpg
TanvaDyeTrainDec10-04.jpg [ 120.06 KiB | Viewed 4067 times ]

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 26, 2010 11:09 am 
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Hi Chris - Seasons Greeting to you!

Thank you very much indeed for sharing these (very informatively annotated) photos. Excellent! They certainly give a very positive impression of the spirit of the workshop and lovely glowing colours. The photos of the participants really draw one into the shots. The yarns dyed with madder certainly hit the spot with me as I am very susceptible to that particular dye colour.

Does the addition of the alum mordant make the dye more colour fast? I can see that it gives a deeper/richer shade but wondered if the longevity of the colour is enhanced.

I am so encouraged when I see the support being given to weavers/dyers in regaining or developing their dyeing skills. Of course it takes so much more time and effort than the use of chemical dyes but for me the colour palette is so munch more attractive. I am going to post on the forum about some interesting supplementary warp weaving in Vietnam. The weaving technique is very interesting but I find it hard to engage with the - to me - harsh colour palette. However, the bright colours obviously attract the weavers and seem to have been used since the late 1960s to the 2000s.

So many of us who very much admire the traditional weaving skills of many cultures want to see them continue and provide income for the weavers and their communities. However, the products from their looms have to attract purchasers outside their communities in order to find markets. Against this is the additional 'challenge' of whether these markets are prepared to pay a price which properly recompenses the weavers and dyers for their time both in the making and in the learning of these skills.

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 Post subject: natural dyes
PostPosted: Mon Dec 27, 2010 7:50 am 
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Dear Chris,

I was fascinated by your post. I know of your science background, but I did not know that you gave natural dye workshops. Perhaps other forum members know this already, but if you feel inclined to do so, would you be willing to briefly give a bit of background about how you found yourself in the position of teaching about mordants to people in Tibet? I am not just nosey (although I am definitely that), but enquire as well from the position of someone who has been asked to assist with textile revival in Indonesia.

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http://bataktextiles.blogspot.com/


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 9:52 am 
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Location: Beijing
thanks for your comments and questions, Pamela and Sandra

to answer Pamela's question first, the alum makes the color brighter and more stable. Some dyes (indigo, walnut) don't need it, but it makes a big difference with the madder and rhubarb.

I don't consider myself an expert in natural dyeing, rather got into the Tibetan dyeing accidentally. I have a chemistry background but it's not necessary to be a chemist to be a good dyer, though it does help with the trouble-shooting sometimes.

I was working with the Dropenling Handicrafts Center in Lhasa in 2005 and we were trying to improve the quality of a number of handmade wool textiles, many of which were being made with poor quality synthetic dyes. The idea was (and still is) to make items good enough for the high-end tourist and export market for collectors. The NGO partner we were working with wanted to bring in an Indian dye specialist to teach artisans how to do natural dyeing once more, but I suggested finding out what were the traditional Tibetan methods and materials before transplanting imported methods. The investigation was not funded, but I was able to do it by tagging along with the Dropenling's regular visits to artisans in the summer of 2005 and 2006, with Amy Frey who was the product developer and artisan liason at that time. We interviewed older weavers in villages in south central Tibet, who remembered natural dye methods that had been little used since the 1950s. Out of that came a manual of local dyeing methods (in Tibetan) and a training course format. We found many of the materials we had expected, and also several plants, earths and adjuncts that had not been recorded before outside of Tibet.

The manual is a good reference to have available in Lhasa, but the weavers we are working with mostly don't have a high level of literacy so most of the training we do is show-and-repeat, sometimes troubleshooting weaver's problems. Amy presented a summary of the findings at a conference in India on natural dyeing a few years back, which I was not able to go to due to time and money pressures.

For the indigo fermentation method the trainers are usually older Tibetan weavers since they are more familiar with that than I am.

Actually, re-starting natural dyeing involves a lot more than just re-discovering method and teaching them. The issues about whether a given textile is made in a given way are as much economic as technical (as is clear from Sandra's accounts of Batak weaving, though she might not have couched it in those terms exactly). We are also tackling issues with dye and wool supply by bringing in madder and indigo in big enough quantities that the artisans can buy them more cheaply than the very high prices on the local markets in Lhasa and Shigatse. We are doing the same with wool since the quality is critical and artisans tend to lean towards cheaper wools unless we insist on the best.

It would be nice to do everything exactly as it was pre 1950, but that is not realistic, particularly when it comes to color consistency and light-fastness, so that is why we are pushing the use of alum. It's non-traditional, but the alternative is weak reds ... and then artisans tend to throw in some cheap red chemical dye and the whole point is lost. We are also struggling with the indigo fermentation process to some extent since this is hit-and-miss and the indigo is quite pricey (another problem I have to solve!). But we have seen improvement in the last few years and the efforts seem worthwhile. I wash and trim some of the finished textiles (especially the rugs) at my workshop in Lhasa since we have access to a better water supply than most of the artisans in the villages, which also gives me a chance to check on what they are doing and on yarn and dye quality.

Differentiating the results for the would-be customers is also a critical role ... explaining why a handmade textile made with natural dyes is relatively expensive, but why it is worth the extra money. But that's a whole other topic...

By the way, though I am very keen to promote the use of natural dyes for traditional textiles, when it comes to non-traditional textiles (eg a large contemporary rug) i am an advocate of good quality synthetic dyes. Many people find this position hard to understand, but in fact it would make no sense to me to try to dye every colored textile in our lives with natural dyes, the quantities needed would be huge and the expense terrifying. But some special objects with a link to a tradition, where the maker and the eventual owner all appreciate what is involved and its uniqueness ... that's something special and different.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:45 pm 
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Dear Chris,

Thank you for this amazingly rich, detailed and satisfying post. It is so full of nuggets that I scarcely know where to begin my response. Thank you so much for sharing your activities so deeply. And clearly, there is so much more; you have just skimmed over the surface.

Starting with the end of your post first, I, like you, am an aficionado of natural dyes, but I also agree with you that synthetic dyes of the right quality are not to be negated. Many people have the idea that natural dyes = good dyes, meaning environmentally friendly and not harmful to their users. This equation is not always correct and particularly many mordants are very harmful. Conversely, not all synthetic dyes are harmful, either. When I was still working at the university, we decided on the term Healthy Dyes to label what we were striving for: natural or synthetic, as long as they were not harmful. That throws the door wide open for experiments of all kinds and keeps the focus on well-being as well as colour.

I really like the emphasis in your post on working with the indigenous methods (to the extent possible) rather than parachuting in new methods. Last November, I travelled with members of YPBB to the Batak area http://www.ypbb.org/
They explicitly adopted the same approach claiming that the diversity of dyeing practices in the world is something to be treasured and promoted.

This is also an explicit goal of MAIWA's Charllotte Kwon in Vancouver. http://www.maiwa.com/index.html She travels around the world assisting indigenous weavers with their dyepots, but she very consciously uses her presence as a catalyst to encourage the indigenous methods. Like you, she is there as a trouble-shooter, to make suggestions, to deepen insights. Indigenous culture must be respected and encouraged.

I am very excited by the idea of indigenous weavers from different parts of the world getting together to demonstrate to each other how they make their dyes. Encouraging indigenous culture doesn't mean encouraging stasis. Indigenous weavers and dyers love to learn, grow and deepen and broaden their knowledge just as every other professional. I look forward to the day when we find a good, thoughtful and very rich textile patron who would like to encourage such gatherings of weavers and dyers. I personally would like to start by bringing the Batak, Dayak, Torajan and Timorese together as they appear to have ancient cultural bonds. These people have vast capacities. They can grow their own experts.

I also think it is time for UNESCO to support the notion of Centres of Indigenous Craft Knowledge around the world. The future is a different place than the past; indigenous arts are world heritage that have to be supported by the whole world. I believe that is the only way that most of them will be able to thrive -- not survive (because that is not enough) but really thrive! We have had a couple of hundred years of erosive cultural change. Let's head for a couple of hundred years of re-construction that once again yields products of the highest quality.

Thank you, Chris, for your dedication to this. All the power to you! I do hope that someday soon I will be able to visit your store and see your laudable activities in person.

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Sandra Niessen

www.bataktextiles.com
http://bataktextiles.blogspot.com/


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