When I first discovered Indigo dyeing I never imagined I’d be chasing it around the world. But since I find it so fascinating and I’m determined to keep learning I just can’t help myself! I just came back from India where I learnt about mud as a resist for indigo dye, an absolutely amazing experience I am truly grateful for.
I had a few attempts at using Dabu (mud) in the past and you can read about it here. But doing it at it’s very own source in Rajasthan and learning from the best (Di Livey, Natalie Gibson and Raj Kanwar) was something very special. I was also able to see real block carvers at work and then try out many different blocks and experiment applying mud in various ways and dye for the first time in an Indian fermentation vat.
The process is still very traditional, that’s what I love about it. The mud is mixed and sieved using a couple of strong legs and bare feet, then applied by hand onto the fabric using woodblocks, before dip dyeing it with indigo.
There are different recipes for making dabu, this one in particular used dry lake clay, gum arabica, wheat powder (that has been stored for 1-2 years for the insects to eat the wheat and leave their poo behind), lime and water. Quantities vary according to the season, the fabric and the design. But basically the gum acts as a binder and the lime holds the mud together and prevents it from cracking too much.
The woodblocks are usually made of teak, ebony or “flame tree”. These harder woods are mostly used for finer blocks, usually for applying pigments and generally not for mud. For less precise work like working with mud, blocks in softer woods like the one shown above may be used. They are all carved by hand by local craftsmen who work with incredible speed and precision.
Sawdust is applied over the mud to protect it and give it a bit of strength and then the fabric is laid flat to dry before dyeing.
The fabric is then dip dyed in indigo and again laid down flat to oxidize and dry.
After the fabric is washed and the mud removed, the results have a beautiful and sort of relaxed finish I really like. Dabu can also be used many times for one piece of fabric to create different shades of blue. Dyeing in between applications creates this effect.
It is interesting to learn how different cultures have created their own recipes for resist dyeing with what they have to hand. The drylands of Rajasthan provide the perfect clay for this type of resist and the warm weather is just perfect for drying fabric very quickly.
Having experimented with Japanese rice paste, South-East Asian batik and Indian Dabu has given me a better understanding of three different resist mediums and their results. Each of them has a beauty of its own that can be seen via these three different blog posts.
I’m now back in the UK hoping to incorporate all that I’ve learnt into my work. I feel very grateful and happy for having had such an enriching experience and for having met lovely people along the way.