Monday, May 2, 2016

Dyeing with Dandelion

My hand dyed yellow while I picked dandelions.
Past weekend, I wanted to try my hand in dyeing with dandelion. So I went to local city park to gather some dandelions. I read dandelion yield dye better when fresh, so I jumped right into making dye bath as soon as I came back home.  I weighed the dye stuff first(mostly flowers, some stems).  The weight of dye stuff will give you rough idea of how much fabric you can dye with it.  Every batch of natural dye will come out differently and it's very difficult to predict the degree of saturation.  But I would say ratio of 2 to 1(two being the weight of the dye stuff, and one being the weight of the fabric) would be good enough for the color I would like to achieve. 

Happy dandelions at nearby city park.  Good thing they haven't been mowed down yet.

Into a pot they go.

You want to use large enough pot and enough water so your fabric can move freely while it is in the dye bath.  Water and the dandelion goes into the pot and then the mixture get boiled for about an hour.  While the pot boiled, I prepared the fabric I want to dye.  The silk (crepe de chine, heavier weight) was washed thoroughly and kept soaking in the water.  When the dye stuff had done boiling for an hour, you filter the dye stuff to yield the dye liquid.  You can keep the filtered dye stuff aside for later use(I will come back to this later).  

Dye stuff was filtered and set aside.

Into the dye liquid, silk goes in.

Wet silk went into the dye liquid and pot simmered for an hour on the stovetop.  Roaring boil, I was told, would reduce the natural luster of silk fabric, so I avoided boiling the silk and kept the temperature to simmer.  After an hour of simmering, I let the silk cool in the dye bath for a few hours.  In a separate pot, I prepare a mordant bath.  

Natural dye often fades quickly and in most cases colors are not light fast.  And mordant acts as a color fixer making color more permanent.  "Alum" is mordant I use with most of my botanical dyeing.  It is non-toxic unlike number of other mordants used for natural dyeing.  Cream of tar tar(available in grocery store) can be used as an assisting agent to the mordant.  In the pot, I mix in two spoonful of alum and a spoonful of cream of tar tar in the water.  I put the silk into the mixture and simmer for an hour.  Mordanting can be done before or after the dye bath process, but it could also be done in-between, as it was done in this case.  

Once the mixture have simmered for an hour, I transfer the silk back into the dye bath.  The filtered dye stuff was put into a polyester mesh pocket then dropped into the dye bath pot along with the silk.  I let that simmer for an hour again.  So I used the dye bath twice, before and after the mordanting.  After the second round of dye bath simmering, I left the silk in the dye bath to cool overnight.  This step may not make too much difference to the results in this case, but longer time in dye bath often yield deeper color with other tannin rich dye bath(such as bark or leaf base dyes).  Toward the end of the dye bath simmering, I threw in some iron rust liquid.  Rust acts as modifier, and it pushes the color into more reddish or somber looking tone.

Top one was left in dye bath 10 hours longer.  Color difference is very slight.

At the end, I got a light olive green.  Without the iron modifier, I would have gotten greenish yellow.  Leaving the silk in the dye bath overnight didn't make too much difference in this case.  There is very subtle difference, one being slightly more dark.  

Color looks very mellow and natural, two best characteristic of natural dye.  It does take time and patience to do this, but it's such a joy to own a piece of garment which I helped to color from the scratch.  Dandelion is such a humble plant, so ubiquitous but useful in so many ways.  And I really like and appreciate the color,  I will surely put the cloth into a good use.

Things You need for this project:

silk - I used crepe de chine, heavier weight.  
dandelion - I used mostly flowers, but other parts of plants can also be used.
alum - for mordanting, can be purchased in art supply or craft stores
cream of tar tar - for mordant assistant agent, sold in grocery store, spice section.
rust liquid - color modifying agent.  optional, make your own with a rusty nail in a jar of water.
two large pots
colanders - to strain dye stuff.
polyester or nylon mesh pouch - color fast pouch to contain dye stuff.
metal ladle - for stirring

I used "Wild Color" by Jenny Dean as guide book.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Line and Volume

Weather was unseasonably warm and streets were relatively uncrowded.  I spent precious few days in Seoul Korea after a week long silkworm fest in Japan.  Lines and volumes  are two things I noticed on this trip to Seoul.

I was walking in "Hehwa-dong" area and came upon these cats sleeping behind the windows.  This area is well known for small playhouses and these theater cats were sleeping the day away behind the dusty glass windows.  Cats always manage to look elegant and lazy at once.

elaborate Dancheong on eaves of Gyeongbok Palace building.
Colors aside, curvature of Korean traditional buildings show balanced beauty.  In comparison with Chinese and Japanese buildings, lines of Korean architecture are neither exaggerated nor austere.    They seem to echo the landscape around them, gentle, restrained yet warm.

Sunsets behind Gyeongbok Palace.

Haitae, a mythical creature guards the entrance of the palace grounds.
Poong-soo-ji-ri, or Fengshui was heavily used to find a suitable palace ground.  You can feel the flow of energy from the panoramic view of mountains cradling the palace.

Wish lanterns celebrating Buddha's birthday

Just outside the palace grounds is a well known temple which name escapes me.  Buddha's birthday had already passed, but colorful wish lanterns were still decorating the temple grounds.  White lanterns are memorial wish lanterns for deceased and the colored ones are for living.  Lanterns will be taken down about a month after the celebration day.

On a slightly different note, the ultra modern convention complex designed by Zaha Hadid provides impressive night view.  It's big, curvy and looks quite impractical.  I didn't have time to go inside, but would like to see it from inside next time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Silk Makers

It was back in 2006 I watched a NHK TV program showing a man living in the mountains in Japan, raising silk worms and reeling silk from their cocoons.  He would spin silk threads then dye the skein with a brew of plum trees branches gathered from the mountain behind his house.  After days of toiling at century old loom, TV documentary explained, piece of silk was hand woven.  Viola!  A pretty co-host of the documentary appeared in a peachy pink silk kimono showing off the final product of the whole process.

Fast forward to 2013, I found myself meeting the man in the documentary.  Bryan Whitehead is a Canadian expat  who's been living and working as textile artist, silk, indigo and tea farmer in Japan for last 25 years.  It was a bit surreal to be at Bryan's old silk farm house I saw on that TV program.

By this time, I had been working exclusively with silk for 3 years.  I wanted to see where silk comes from, and how it was produced.  All silk, wether coming from industrialized mills or from smaller scale farm like Bryan's starts with silk worm and cocoons.  I knew from reading books and watching Youtube videos about silk production in macro or in micro scale.  During my stay at Bryan's silk farm house back in 2013, I got to reel silk threads from cocoons, work with indigo vat and tried my hand in weaving with old Japanese loom.

Early this month, I spent a week back at the farmhouse watching the silkworms slowly turning into cocoons.   Silk worms are tender to touch and slow to move.  But they're eating machines, devouring massive amounts of mulberry leaves in order to grow fast. It takes only about 45 days for an egg to develop into a fully grown moth.

I arrived at the farmhouse when worms were almost fully grown- they are at their last week of binge eating before they start to encase themselves in cocoons.  I helped Bryan to collect bagful of mulberry leaves from his mulberry field.  We fed silkworms three times a day.  At their full size, they are about  size of my pinky finger.  Suddenly they stop eating, and each worm instinctually looks for a place to settle and make a cocoon. "Mabushi" is a kind of grid structure designed as cocoon apartments.  Silkworms find his own niche in mabushi and spend a day making cocoon.  Thin, delicate yet strong silk thread combined with waxy glue comes out of worm's mouth and the worm slowly encase itself in layers of this thread - which eventually becomes a cocoon.

It's an impressive sight.  And it's hard to believe every single square inches of my silk clothes comes from (mouth of) these creatures.

It took sometime for me to get there, but I think it was important for me to see the origin of the material I work with day-in and day-out.  As if by osmosis, I think I will be more respectful of the material just by having being present during the process of silk-making by the original silk makers.  

Silkworms on bed of mulberry leaves.

Getting Mabushi ready for this year's cocoons

Mabushi, or apartment complex for silkworms

Apartment hunting.

Looking for a perfect spot.

Cocoon making in process.

Boiled cocoons, getting ready for reeling.

Reeling thread from cocoons
Making a skein from hand pulled silk thread.

This baby is ready for some color.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Indigo Workshop 2015

We are please to host Intensive Indigo Weekend Workshop at BKLYN Curated for the second year.  We offer a comprehensive instruction in traditional Japanese dyeing method called “Katazome”, where you can translate your own drawing into textile pattern using natural indigo.  We give you tips on where you can get the right supplies and how to avoid common mistakes when dyeing with indigo.  This course is for both experienced or beginners, but please bear in mind this is a intensive and focused course, offered once a year. We limit what goes into the indigo vat, and will only dye those fabrics prepped for indigo bath, thus ensuring a properly balanced indigo vat. We present an effective way to dye with indigo by adhering to the proper process. All the attendees and I had a blast during last year’s workshop and I look forward having another wonderful workshop this year.  We hope to see you at BKLYN Curated this July.
Dani Song.

Workshop in Gist:     
Two day-long(Saturday and Sunday) workshop learning how to start
an indigo dye bath,  learning to do Shibori, and Katazome.

Shibori:  Japanese tie-dye method, where you bind, sew or tie to achieve different patterns
Katazome:  traditional Japanese method indigo dyeing using rice resist paste to create graphic patterns.  

Workshop in Detail:  Introduction to Katazome and Shibori dyeing with Indigo

*You will learn how to start a indigo vat(with natural indigo crystals) and
learn how you can maintain a vat, without strong foul odor associate with fermenting indigo.
*Learn basic methods of dyeing with natural indigo, and learn how to select right fabrics to dye.
*Learn basic method of shibori - Japanese tie dye method, where you bind, sew, or tie
and then dip dye to get different patterns.
*Learn method of "Katazome" - Japanese method of applying rice resist paste using stencil
and to dip dye with indigo.  You will learn to make the resist paste and cut your own design making "katagami", stencil paper.
*Depending your preference, you can choose to make your own stencil based on your own design,
or you can use one of my stock stencils during workshop.
*You will recieve Information about where you can purchase specialized supplies for indigo and Katazome.
*Class starts at 10am and ends around 3pm each day..

Where:   BKLYN Curated, 88 Franklin Street Brooklyn
When:    July 18 & 19th.  10am to 3pm each day.
Fee:        $300 (including $40 material fee) per person for two-day long course.

*What if the weather doesn’t cooperate?:  indigo dyes better when sky is clear and the humidity low.  If it rains, we will be postpone the workshop to the following week.  If you notify us that you can’t make it due to the date change, we refund your tuition payment.

Signing Up:
Please send me a message to  We will send you a Paypal invoice for the course fee.  If the workshop is cancelled due for any reasons, you will be notified of cancellation and the payment will be fully refunded.  In case of no-show, 85% of the payment will be refunded.

About the instructor:
Dani C. Song is artist/designer and the founder of Xsilk, a Brooklyn based indie label.  She studied Japanese natural dye methods with Bryan Whitehead, a indigo farmer and textile designer in Fujino, Japan.  She cut her teeth in Katazome at  traditional indigo workshop headed by Hiroshi Noguchi, 6th generation master of Katazome in Tokyo.  She holds a MFA in Combined Media at Hunter College, NY.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Indigo Workshop #2

Second session of indigo workshop took place past weekend with invited teacher, Bryan Whitehead.  Bryan was also my teacher when I traveled to study at his indigo farm in Fujino, Japan.  With 25 years of silk worm & indigo farming under his belt, Bryan is an excellent teacher.  We were lucky to have him for the first time in New York this year.  All the attendees for this workshop made beautiful pieces during the workshop.  Gil, Ann, Blakely, Judy and Hisami, thank you for sharing your weekend with us!  Our special thanks to Kevin at BKLYN Curated for hosting the workshop at his backyard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Indigo Katazome Workshop at BKLYN Curated

Makoto and I lead a workshop at the backyard of BKLYN Curated in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Weather was perfect and it was so much fun!  Thank you Emily, Erica, Jesse, Yeon and Reed for attending!  Thank you Kevin @BKLYN Curated for providing perfect setting for the workshop.