Maiwa in Bengal: The Masterclass Day 2

by - Monday, January 31, 2011

January 29, 2011

Our first morning. Everyone is up early. In the cold predawn light we are getting organized.

Our workday begins with water. We have samples from all over India and some from Ethiopia. We test it for pH and then the presence of ferrous compounds and calcium. Any traces of iron are especially problematic as they will combine with tannins to make a black dye. Even without tannin, the presence of iron can sadden or dull other colours.

To test for minerals we use a tiny kit referred to as a "mini-lab"

We go over some elemental chemical principles. These may be old news to chemists; and the master dyers here understand these principles; but the scientific explanations of the chemical reactions add another layer of understanding to the dye process. How we can expect certain mordants to behave based on the mineral content of our water and steps we can take to alter the content of the water to render it more suitable for our purpose.

We are also interested in plants that can be used as mordants. In particular bio-accumulators of aluminum (alum). Why, for example, are the large leaves of the tea bush never used to make tea? The answer is that they are bio-accumulators of aluminum and hence are poisonous, while the tiny leaves do not have time to accumulate a dangerous amount. So the small leaves are good for tea and the large leaves are good for dyers.

In the afternoon we progress to indigo. A dye which is often the heart and soul of dyers. It brings its own set of problems and these are explored as the group as a whole makes a set of vats. We learn some new ways of thinking about the vat and how to work with different fibres.

In the afternoon each group makes a display of their textiles for everyone to see. There is much thumbing of cloth and questions, there are also a considerable number of oohs and ahhhs.

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