In the Dye Studio: Acknowledging the Present in My Practice

Posted by Kristine Vejar on October 12, 2013 8 Comments


I just returned from Vancouver, where I spent 4 days taking class with Brian Whitehead, an artist and natural dyer. Brian has lived in Japan for 25 years and raises silk worms, indigo, and madder. I wanted to meet Brian because he grows, composts, and ferments indigo. As we have our new fermentation vat, I've desired learning as much as possible - and wanted to hear Brian's experience. We hope to grow and compost indigo in Oakland next year though could never do it on the level as Rebecca has, so are looking for a slightly smaller production. I came to learn that Brian does a slightly smaller production and feel encouraged that with some organization, and help from the community, we may succeed.



All of this said, I went into class with one goal, and left with my mind swimming with new ideas and insight. I took this class from Brian at Maiwa. Ever since returning from India the 1st time in 1999, I've always dreamed of visiting and it did not disappoint. Dyeing, and the art of it, takes center stage at Maiwa. Being there reminded me of my studies in India - to be fully immersed in dyeing from a cultural point of view - instead of from a hobbyist (as knitting is often thought of) point of view. In India and Japan, dyeing and the knowledge of it, holds an honorable cultural importance and significance, similar to what painters hold in our culture. Except there's an added bonus in cultures where dyeing registers as a high art, and where dyers are recognized as artists, the pieces they make are wearable - functional. The creation and layering of techniques upon a single cloth and the making of that cloth - be it woven and / or knit, dyed, and sewn - in Japanese fashion plays as big of a role as the concept, design, and cut of the garment.



When teaching, and explaining bound resist in India and Japan, I describe India as excelling in tradition and staying extremely true to it. An example, in India, each state has at least one style of woven and / or dye style that signifies that state, similar to our country and football teams / football jerseys. In Gujarat, where I lived, bandhani, and style of tied, bound resist, in which little bits of fabric are tied with thread, the fabric is dyed, the pieces of thread removed, leaving little polka dots on the fabric. The majority of bound resist in India is bandhani. In Japan, they also have bound resist, the over-aching name is shibori. However, there are hundreds maybe thousands of styles of shibori. In Japan, there is an acknowledgement of tradition, the fabric is examined, the dye is examined, and then the question asked - how many ways can I do this in the best way possible?



Being at Maiwa reminded me of why I wanted to be a natural dyer. That there is a magic and beauty to natural dyeing. The use of plants - an organism that had a life all onto itself before I had contact with it. The fact that some dyes appear easily in the nature that surrounds us - for me that would be walnuts or eucalyptus - and some dyes cultivated which includes the art of the farmer who pulls these plants forth. The perfection of nature - where all colors come together harmoniously are echoed in natural dyes and the hues they offer. When was the last time you looked at a hillside covered in trees, plants, and flowers and said "well those colors don't go well together" - or "I'm not a pink person". In nature all colors are valid and beautiful.



I created the challenge for myself to be a production natural dyer. I wanted to prove to myself that given the varied circumstances of natural dyes - the change and shift within the plants from one batch to the next - that I could control the outcome and create reproducible colorways. I have viewed my work as a practice and as a craft, spending as many hours possible exercising the same techniques within a controlled environment. I also thought that this type of dyeing would be necessary in order to run my business.



Creating Horizon really gave me a taste of living in the moment - of knowing with happiness and sadness that this yarn may never be again - because it is so close to the source. Every year Sally, the grower of Horizon, has hundreds of hurdles to contend with - and has to make decisions for her business which make her happy and secure financially. What we are working with is truly a fruit of her labor. And when working with Horizon, I feel that sense, this moment in time. It is a exact emulation of life - of presence in this moment.



I have new ideas. I am not sure that production dyeing is the way I would like to interact with the process or with this medium. I would like to give space and time to using natural dyes and allowing them to express themselves, to learn from their aliveness, and to take what I have learned and to keep expanding. I am not sure if my new ideas will work - and to some respect how they will work. All the yarn may not be the same, just as day to day life, people, and weather isn't the same - which makes life interesting, admirable, and creative.




I envision creating a line of yarn and fabric, with materials that may not be able to replicated, and dyeing it with materials that may not be easy to find, or using processes that I feel like utilizing that day, that are a reflection of where my concentration lies, and to place the finished yarn out there, for you - and learn whether or not you like it and want to use it and for you then to go on and to fulfill our collaboration - because that is how I see you, as my collaborator - and your work as art.


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In the Dye Studio: Keeping Our Hands Dirty

Posted by Kristine Vejar on October 03, 2013 0 Comments

One reason I am so excited for the book is that it gives me the urgency to conduct experiments I've been wanting to do for years - in a methodical manner. This week, we've been focused upon the process of scouring, mordanting, and natural dyeing cotton fabric. There are many different ways of doing each of these steps. We would like to ascertain the pros and cons of each way.

In our experiment, we have 4 approaches of scouring:

1. none
2. soda ash (washing soda)
3. snythrapol
4. regular Trader Joe's detergent

Then, we moved to the mordant pots where we have 9 approaches:

1. none
2. aluminum sulfate
3. aluminum acetate
4. walnut
5. myrobalan
6. walnut and aluminum sulfate
7. myrobalan and aluminum sulfate
8. walnut and aluminum acetate
9. myrobalan and aluminum acetate

Finally, we have moved to the dyepots where we put a sampling of each of the above into two pots: logwood and madder.

An important part of natural dyeing is understanding how much you need of each ingredient for it to be effective in terms of lightfastness and opacity. Natural dyes can be expensive and hard to find, so knowing how much you need can be valuable in terms of time and money. And it gives a benchmark as to where to begin the process, and from where we can start experimenting.

Today, we will wash the samples, hang to dry, and see what is immediately revealed in terms of dye take-up and saturation. Then, each of the samples will tested for light-fastness. Once we understand more about the scouring and mordanting process, we will hone in on one or two methods, and work through a number of different dyes, to eventually build a catalog of naturally dyed cotton samples.


Tomorrow we leave for Vancouver to attend the Maiwa Symposium where we will study the indigo fermentation process. It is perfect timing. As of yesterday, we just completed our first dip in our fermentation vat.

The piece on the left I dipped the entire piece into the vat, and pulled it out in 5 minute increments. The piece on the right, I dipped for about 45 minutes. I am hoping to make an apron out of it to take with me to Vancouver - which means today, it is heading to the washing station. Really, I'd prefer to dip it more. Though, this reminded me of something I've been wanting to do. Dip a piece of cloth in the indigo vat every week for a year. Knowing my track record of dreaming big. I'll head towards this experiment on a week by week basis and see how far I get. The other piece I would like to make - is like the piece on the left - to dip a piece of fabric into the vat once a week - at 5 minute intervals. The vat is producing this amazing green color at the moment. I would like to see if and how that changes. I think the 5 minute / 1x a week exercise could be a great documentation of the vat. The pieces pictured above still have to be washed - it will be interesting to learn how the color changes once washed.

I am so insanely grateful to Rebecca Burgess and Fibershed, and the many volunteers, who helped to cultivate and grow this indigo, and who have allowed and enabled us to have this amazing living being.

And I hold so much gratitude for everyone who works at Verb, is a customer at Verb, for the lovers of textiles, and for those that appreciate the connections textiles create, person to person, and person to land. 

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In the Dye Studio: Fermentation and the Indigo Vat

Posted by Kristine Vejar on September 23, 2013 2 Comments

I adore this time of year in the Bay Area. While July and August (referred to as Fogust) can be overcast and chilly, September brings warmth. The light begins to shift from a silvery grey tone to a golden tone. The fruit and vegetables are ripe - and we squeeze in one last dinner of heirloom tomatoes and burrata. I find myself trying to spend as much time outside possible relishing in the warmth and light knowing soon that the days will be shorter. Though I also know that soon enough, we'll get a cold snap, and bam, we'll be in sweater wearing weather. So, it's more important than ever that I dye yarn, and stock the shop with all woolly variations.

Last time I checked in, we were making a mixture of water and hardwood ash, which we call lye.
The reason we were making lye - beyond the fact that are drawn to picking up every object, turning it over in our hands, and wondering how it is made, and then possibly trying to do it ourselves - is that we have a installed a fermentation indigo vat on the back patio and we needed to make 60 gallons of pH basic water as the base for the fermentation vat.

I took a photo of the indigo vat every morning - notating the change in texture and color.

I really can't begin to express my love for this vat. The indigo, polygonum tinctoria, was grown in Laguanitas, which is located in Marin County, about 30 miles from here. It was dried and then composted on a special floor Adrienne and I helped to build January of 2012, also located in Marin. After composting for 120 days, the indigo is ready to be placed into a pH basic vat of water. We stir it every morning and night. And sure enough, this warm weather helping tremendously, the bacteria from the composting are alive and ripe. The smell is - interesting - some may say rank - a mixture of cheese, latrine, and manure. I love it. What can I say. The much sought after copper film has appeared on the surface - as have tiny little blue bubbles. The development of these two characteristics gives us the indication that we are right on track. It will still be another 5 days or so before we begin to dip. I have been sitting over a natural indigo vat reduced with chemicals for years now, and have dreamed of having a natural indigo vat, reduced naturally through fermentation.

We are hosting an community indigo dip on Sunday, October 20, if you would like to come please do, and know that your contribution to the event helps us partake in these practices and allows the practice to stay in effect.

We are extremely grateful to Rebecca Burgess for cultivating the indigo plants, for being the driving force behind trying to create a local indigo blue, and for teaching us how to use this vat. We are also grateful to Rowland Ricketts for his extensive work and research of Japanese indigo and the methods of growing it, composting it, and dyeing with it. By participating in this project, and by using a fermentation vat, we take one step towards supporting growers in this area - and participating in a process which is alive. I can't wait to learn more about this vat and the process of caring for it.

In early October, Adrienne and I are heading to Vancouver to attend classes at the Maiwa. Known for their astute knowledge of all things related to dyeing and textiles, every year Maiwa holds a symposium in the Fall. Teachers come from all over the world. We are both taking an indigo fermentation vat class. And then I am taking an overdyeing with fermented indigo class while I assume Adrienne will look in every nook and cranny, field and brook, for mushrooms. Neither of us have been to Canada or the Pacific Northwest - so we are thrilled! If you have any recommendations as to things to do, see, eat, etc. please let us know.


Sally Fox's organic merino wool is at Green Mountain Spinnery. They are nearly through the entire process of washing, carding, and spinning, and will soon ship this new batch of Horizon to us. I am excited to hold it in my hands as I want to see how this past year's wool growth differs from our last batch of Horizon. We are aiming for a late-October re-release of Horizon. We will have new patterns - and other exciting surprises.

Adrienne and I have been working on revamping the shop and studio. Adrienne has built more shelving into the store for yarn. We have designed and are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a natural dyeing kiosk. This way, the dyes will be displayed neatly. We have custom designed new packaging which will give more information as to how to use the dyes. In the dyeing studio, we are organizing and cleaning and have added better lighting. We are thinking of adding a skylight. We'll see.

And the book - oh the book! I was getting into a bad habit of waking at 4:30am and writing. There's something about the darkness and quiet. Though when it comes to working during the I still am working on my schedule as to when I will write. In the meantime, I have been squeezing in a few hours here and there. I'm really enjoying working on it. I'm so happy we will have this resource to draw upon even in our own studio. There is a lot of information! It feels good to get it out of my head, to consolidate my notes. That said, I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.

Other than that, I've been playing with quebracho red and cochineal in the dyeing studio this week.

Until next week!












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In the Dye Studio: Making Lye

Posted by Kristine Vejar on September 16, 2013 1 Comment

There are many exciting things happening in the dye studio at the moment.

We made 60 gallons of lye this week! This will be used to create our first fermented indigo vat. More details coming very soon!

Going through photos for this blog post, I remembered - I finished a sweater this week! Francis, by Olga. It is made out of Shibui Heichi - a 100% silk yarn that we carry here in the shop. I love it! One more piece to add to my handmade wardrobe. 3 cheers for Seam Allowance! And 3 cheers for Olga's great sense of style!

Also, I participated in an interview on the Fringe Association blog this week. Karen, the founder of Fringe Association, always asks the big questions - like what tools I use and what my work space looks like - the important things in life! There's only a couple more days left to sign-up for the Pro-Verbial Yarn, Fiber, and Shawl club. This is a great way to get your hands on exclusive naturally dyed colorways - paired with fabulous shawl designs.

Hope you are having a great week! Kristine

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In the Dye Studio! Natural Dye Kiosk

Posted by AVFKW Staff on September 09, 2013 1 Comment


We have been very busy at the store designing new displays and products. One of my main jobs at AVFKW is to assist in the mordanting part of the dyeing process and to build displays for the store. This past year we have been working on a kiosk for the natural dyes we sell here at the shop. Kristine and I both teach natural dyeing classes at the store and both of these classes require some materials that are difficult to find. We have always sold natural dyes in bulk. However, making them readily accessible as grab and go items for students has always been a challenge.  

Maybe the most difficult task is understanding how much one needs to dye their specific project. One way to deal with this is to come up with an amount for a moderate saturation. This way the user can modify their amount to either get a lighter color by using less or making a color darker by using more. Another task to tackle was to have those colors available as samples to see and touch.  

I created samples with the help of Sarah and Kristine. They gave me a set amount of dye to use for the sample dyeing.  I mordanted as usual my 100% wool yarn for each color sample.

I then used the jar method to dye the samples all at once, with the exception of the indigo. Kristine dyed the indigo skein.

Here are some pictures to illustrate my process.

At this time we have come to a solution for all of these concerns. The next step is to refine the packaging of the dyes and make a beautiful display for all of you, so you can see the dyes easily.

I hope you will follow us on the journey to making natural dyeing a fun and creative pursuit, that is accessible to many - and maybe even try a bit of natural dyeing of your own!


Adrienne Rodriguez

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