April 2017: Laos Part 3

April 30, 2017

This month wraps up some final information on my January trip to Laos: natural dyeing and mat mi (weft ikat)

In Laha Nam Village near Savannaket we participated in a natural dyeing workshop. Here are some details from the workshop where we dyed with indigo and koa.

1

Indigo is grown along the river with the best harvesting time is June/July. We were told about the process of harvesting, obtaining the indigo paste and how to make the indigo dyebath.

The process to obtain indigo paste: Pick leaves and stems- not the whole plant as it will reshoot. Soak 24 hrs in enough water to just cover leaves. Filter. Add lime powder (from hardware). Stir vigorously creating a froth for at least 1 hour. After aeration, allow sediment to settle, drain water and collect paste.

The following ingredients are required to make an indigo dyebath: indigo paste, rice whisky, ash water and “sour leaf” (similar to tamarin). “Sour leaf” makes the blue brighter.

There were a number of pots containing the indigo bath. Some were already there while others arrived in a wheelbarrow.

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It is always interesting to see how different dyers handle the process of using indigo. Usually great care is taken not to incorporate air into the bath. However, here the indigo bath was stirred vigorously incorporating the flower.

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We were provided with a hand spun, hand woven cotton scarf. I cut mine into 3 so that I would have a sample of each dye bath. We put the scarf into the indigo bath working it through vigorously; lifting it up and putting it back in the bath. Again this is very different.

Lucy works the indigo through her scarf.

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We removed our scarves. Normally they would be wrapped in plastic for 24 hrs. We were shown how to “snap” the fabric to allow it to oxidize. It wasn’t just removed and allowed to drip dry. This hardworking of the fabric gives a very even result. They were then rinsed four times. A few of the scarves from the indigo bath.

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Our next dye bath was to achieve two shades of brown. It’s a two-step process with the darker brown requiring an extra stage.

My thanks goes to Libby Hepburn for supplying the above images.

The best wood is from an old “Koa” tree. The young trees don’t give a dark enough colour. Take only a small section from a tree so that it isn’t ringbarked. Chop into pieces/chips. A darker shade requires a hot dye bath while soft shades can be obtained by a cold one.

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The wood chips were wrapped in a cloth and boiled in water. The bark bundles were then removed.

A small quantity of alum was added and stirred to dissolve before adding the fabric. It was surprising what a short time it was left in the dyebath.

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It was then rinsed multiple times.

To make a darker colour, a large handful of lime to a bucket of water was added and stirred. The fabric was added and the dissolved lime worked into fabric till a dark enough colour was obtained and then rinsed. Scarves hanging on the line show the different colours that were achieved.

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Here’s my “scarf”. These hand towels are going to be very useful and because they will be regularly used, I’ll be able to check on colourfastness.

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There were several villages waving mat mi in the Pakse/Savannaket regions. The following covers the process.

The yarn is wound around a frame so that it will be the correct width when it woven. Because a temple is used in weaving this can be an exact measurement. It also means that as the frame is a standard size, so too will be the weaving width.

We saw this motorised frame winder. I did not see anyone doing this by hand so whether everyone has access to this technology is unknown. The number of sections wound equates to the number of pattern rows in the weft ikat pattern. A pattern that is made up of ten pattern rows (often mirror repeated) will require 10 sections on this frame. The winding was very precise so that a full rotation was made before moving onto the next section.

The bundles are then tied. This skill is amazing as there is usually no reference to pattern.

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The “skeins” are removed from the frame.

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And dyed. The ties are then removed. Sometimes multiple dye baths are used.

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The “skeins” are put onto a swift wound onto bobbins. The bobbins are threaded onto a string to keep them in order.

The weft being used in weaving. More on this was written in the previous post.

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