The Magic of Indigo
This ancient blue color, still used today to give denim jeans their distinctive hue, is wonderfully magical. The color is a pigment called indican found in several leafy plants that grow in warm climates around the world. These plants belong to the family Indigofera. Many plants have indican, but only a few have enough to make it worthwhile to harvest them for the blue. There is a plant that grows in more temperate climates that contains indican. This is the famous Woad of Celtic warrior fame.
What makes this pigment so magical, is that it is actually not soluble in water! In order to get the pigment dissolved into water, the oxygen must be taken from it. In this oxygen reduced form, the dissolved dye looks a bit like limeade- a yellow green transparent liquid. Fabric is dipped into this liquid for a period of time and slowly pulled out into the air where it oxidizes. When the oxygen returns to the pigment, it turns blue! Magic!!!! When the dye is in the bath, it attaches itself to the fiber and when it oxidizes, it becomes a permanent dye. Any color that washes off the fabric is excess dye that didn’t attach, but after a thorough washing and rinsing, this excess dye is gone.
As you can imagine, over the thousands of years that this dye has been used to create blue, there have been many different ways to get the pigment out of the leaves and then to remove the oxygen from this pigment so it could be dissolved in water for dyeing. In some cases, there is much ritual involved and it is very time consuming. I have taken many classes in the preparation of indigo over the last 30 years. But the involved preparations seemed too complicated and confusing to me- until this summer. I took a class from German dye artist, Pia Best-Reininghaus and she introduced me to a wonderfully simple method. This was in August, and I knew I had to have my October show be all about indigo! The blue felt collars and silk scarves you see here have all been done in the last month and a half!!! I LOVE INDIGO! And you can understand why I titled my part of the show “Pat’s Got the Blues” (In a good way, of course!)
Handmade Felt “Watercolor Series”
I have been making felt for over 30 years and I have been a watercolorist for about the same amount of time. But, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been combining the two. That is, I’m taking concepts from my painting, and applying those concepts to my feltmaking. The result is the watercolor series. Felts that are conceptually similar to watercolors, but which are totally made of dyed fiber. There is no actual painting involved, unless you consider the placement of each individual colored fiber as “painting” with the fiber. With these works, I create rich backgrounds and use these backgrounds to help define the foregrounds. By themselves, the foregrounds would be flat, but by making the backgrounds visually exciting, the foregrounds are enriched.