Maiwa in Bengal: The Masterclass Day 5

by - Saturday, February 05, 2011

A strip of printing tests.
February 1, 2011 Day 5

This is the second-last day of the class. It seems that Bengali time passes much more quickly than regular time.

Yesterday, in addition to the woven shibori, Michel Garcia continued to teach natural dyes. Printing tests were done with ferrous - alum combinations, lac and cochineal to show a variety of shades. The blockprinter's dream? Deep rich colours with a clean white background - no easy thing as any printer can tell you.

To make the printing tests we use small square blocks.
It seems there are two basic approaches to getting colour. The first is to start with a mordant, tannin and dyestuff (depending on the fibre you are working with) and see what comes out of the vat. If you get a colour you like, then you are pleased to use it in your work. The second approach is to begin with an idea of the final shade you are after and then get closer and closer to it by trying different mordants and tannins,  by altering the pH of the dyebath, through controlling the temperature of the dyebath, and finally combining dyes (over dyeing).

It is this second approach that we will implement today as the class works to get different reds from lac. Cochineal prices have gone up considerably and many dyers are looking to switch from one bug to another. Michel has a common caution which is "to take care." Sometimes we must take care with the gentleness of the heating, sometimes it is with the length of time in the dyebath. Sometimes we must take care to avoid creating a situation where the dye simply precipitates out as a solid. Technically this is known as a lake (lac in french - how appropriate). A precipitate will not bind with the fibre it will simply settle to the bottom of the pot. He illustrates the conditions under which a lac precipitate is formed which allowed us to get the picture below.

Lac precipitate. Not good for dyeing, for dyeing we want a solution.

Yesterday Gale Anderson-Palm began teaching itajime (japanese clamp resist). In a nutshell this technique consists of folding the cloth and then tightly clamping a block on each side of the folds. The blocks are generally cut into circles, squares, or triangles and they give a very recognizable geometric patterning to the cloth.

Gale Anderson-Palm gives an introduction to itajimi

Gale works with one of the dyers from Aranya in Southern India.
As Gale says, "Itajime dyed patters seem to emit light, as the subtle halo around the pattern meets the brighter resisted ground colour." As the artisans are all experienced with other techniques it is not long before these pieces begin to incorporate multiple processes.

One of the Bengali batik artists holds up a strip of clamped cloth - ready for the dyebath.

Just unfolded. There is nothing like the excitement of unfurling a newly dyed work.

With so much going on during the day, our suppers have gotten a little later each night. Tonight, as we round the corner to the dinner table we are in for a surprise. Ismailbai has shown everyone how to tie a turban. We are met by a lot of laughter and some very impressive headgear.

Wrap up for the evening.

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