Sunday, April 9, 2017

Traditional Indigo Silk Dyeing (Naju, SK)

How to make the indigo dyestuff:

  • Sow the indigo plants in early April and transplant the seedlings to a field in mid-June. The harvest is done in October.
  • [While the plants are growing, prepare the oyster shells. The lye is best prepared in the late fall when the straw from rice or dried indigo stems are burned.]
  • In the fall cut down the indigo stalks and put them in a large pot overflowing with water to sit and begin the fermentation process. 12 hours later when the indigo plants have fermented, stir the plants, pushing them down into the water. 
  • By the next day the leaves (not the stems) of the indigo plant will have fermented. Check the color of the water. If it is not deemed colorful enough (as judged by the master), then the plants can ferment an additional day or two. Temperature plays a big factor in the readiness of the fermenting indigo plants. One way to judge if the plant has fermented enough for extracting the rich color is by the stems becoming soft and looking like they have been boiled. When they reach that stage, stir once again, rotating the top and bottom plants, and then wait 3-4 more hours. 
  • Remove the plants from the indigo water, and combine other pots of indigo water to make large full pots. 
  • Gradually mix in a bowl of oyster shell powder (made from carefully burned oyster shells) into the indigo water, then stir the mixture with a long wooden stick for 30 minutes or until white bubbles come to the surface. After stirring, the water color will change from yellow to blue and the bubbles appearing will be as large as jujubes. When the water becomes the color of an eggplant, it is ready for use. At this time the bubbles will diminish and virtually disappear. (If the water only becomes a light eggplant color and still has a few bubbles, then this is called a bland state. It will color cloth but is not particularly ideal for obtaining the most arresting colors.) The dyestuff water is done when the bubbles disappear and the water reflects a person's face.
  • The dyestuff water then is allowed to settle. The clear floating water is then bailed out of the pot, leaving only the denser dyeing sediment. 
  • The sediment is then transferred to a small pot or bucket and allowed to sit for three days or so. During that period the indigo dyestuff enters a tofu-like state, whereupon it is transferred to a big suiri pot. The pot is allowed to sit until the indigo dyestuff becomes jello-like, whereupon the water is again drained off. Then the pot is stored in a cooling area for 3-4 months. (The cooling stage is only for cooling, not freezing. If the dyestuff becomes frozen, then it becomes porous and has inferior dyeing power.)

How to make lime powder:

  • A large 1.5 meters in diameter and 70 cm deep hole is dug into red clay. It is then lined with pine needle kindling and packed with oak or pine firewood. The firewood is stacked from 1 meter to 1.5 meters thick with wood, then the pyre is spread with straw mats, upon which are emptied 3 larges bags of cleaned oyster shells. The shells are then covered with more straw mats, a measure for preventing sparks and retaining the smoke within the pyre while also retaining high heat for long hours. The pyre is like a kiln, and in a bottom vent the fire is lit and allowed to burn for 20 minutes, whereupon the vent is blocked and sealed with earth, preventing air from flaming the fire. The banked fire then burns the wood to a charcoal, smoking the covered oyster shells and eventually charring them. To prevent the flames from burning the straw mats, cups of water are continually thrown on the smoking pyre. Smoke pours out but flames do not. The process takes around 5 hours and the burning-baking oyster shells can be heard crackling.
  • Early in the morning 24 hours after the bake, when the shells have cooled, the pyre is dismantled and the burned oyster shells are carefully separated from the other waste. The shells are then ground into a lime powder (not clear how), and 20 days later the powder is sifted in a sieve. Out of 140 kg of oyster shells, only 4-5 kg of lime powder can be obtained. 

How to make lye:

  • Lye is an important element in the dyeing process. To make it, dried indigo stalks are burned. To obtain merely 40 kb of lye, about 2 tons of indigo plants or rice straw must be burned. The burning process takes about an hour and should be done in a clear field or space in order to collect as much of the lye grounds as possible. The lye is raked or swept up and put into water, whereupon it is strained twice through a hemp cloth. The Master Craftsman checks the lye to ensure it has reached the correct pH of 11; this process is done through expertise, not with modern machinery. 
  • To make the dyestuff, the jello-like indigo paste and the lye are added together at a 10:1 ratio. The two are mixed in a large pot and kept in a warm place to stimulate further fermentation. The well-fermented mixture becomes black. Within 2-4 weeks, the indigo dyestuff changes to yellow, but when a blueness shows within the yellow base, the dyestuff is ready to be used. 
  • To dye material, the material is completely submerged in the dyestuff, not allowing the material to float into the light or be exposed to air. Immediately after submerging for a minute or two, remove the material from the dyestuff and allow to dry while exposing the material, including folds, to as much light and air as possible. Repeat the submerge and expose to air and sunlight method several times for best dyeing results. The color depends on the submerge and sun-exposure process -- from green to blue to navy. 
Organized participation in the silk-dyeing event:

Before we even could begin, we had to receive "education" on the dyeing process, and this entailed going to a large conference hall and being informed of 3 very strict rules:
  1. No talking during the lecture or 20+ minute instructional movie.
  2. If you have a question, clap your hands but do not shout or use your voice in any way.
  3. No leaving for the bathroom because emphatically you cannot return to the work center.
  • We weren't told to not carry our phones, but I was reprimanded for having my iPad ... but I also have a blog and want to retain memories for myself and to share ... so I risked censure, but often asked one of the Master Craftsmen's young kids (they're raising their 6 children to be future Master Craftsmen!) to take pictures of specific steps in the process. 
About 40 of us were participating. Sonja Glaeser, the organizer of Hippies Korea, based in Suwon, organized this phenomenal event. We had a very memorable weekend tour of Buan and Naju, in Jeollanamdo, but this experience was the ultimate and an absolute must-share!

To protect our clothing, we wore rainwear with large plastic aprons
and then gloves to protect our hands from the potent lye.
All of us were divided into teams of 5. We later learned that these teams were made so we could share buckets of indigo dyestuff and then each team was assigned a clothes line for hanging our hand-dyed indigo silks. Very organized system!
Then we accordion folded length-wise our silk scarf, doubled it over, grasped both ends of the folded cloth to make a tight unit. Even-ness is of importance.
Then the folded middle part we tucked into a large plastic bag, wrapped three rubberbands around it, then tied the plastic excess out of the way. The rubberbands tightly around the cloth are to prevent the middle part of the cloth from getting stained while dipping the rest of the cloth.
Each team gathered around their bucket of indigo dyestuff and waiting for the command to gently plunge their cloth up to the rubberband marker into the cloth. Teamwork means we put our clothes in at the same time and likewise removed them at the same time.
The cloths were held submerged in the indigo dyestuff for about 2 minutes each time. During that time we were to gently fan out the loose material to ensure that the cloth would dye evenly. 
After dipping our cloths and removing our cloths to give them air and sunlight exposure and back to dipping (done about 5 times), we removed the rubberbands and plastic bags and unfurled our cloths. The indigo as yet appears very dark but as it interacts with the sunlight, it'll lighten to a brilliant blue. The undyed area looks rather grubby, so next we dye the center. 
Sonja Gleaser of Hippies Korea showing off her talent in dyeing. Awesome setting a
nd in the best season with cherry blossoms just emerging!
To dye the as-yet undyed area, we dipped only the undyed area into a solution (have no idea what it was), squeezed out the excess and then took the cloth to the Master Craftsman.
One of the daughters held each cloth at the ready while the Master Craftsman expertly fed the cloth smoothly into one of the indigo dyestuff buckets. He confidently swished the cloth around, squeezed out the excess and then was whisking the next cloth into the dye almost as quickly as he passed the dipped cloth to its owner. 

This is the first wash-pan in the rinse cycle. Each of the washpans reveal less and less indigo wash-out, which is good.
Once the cloth was dipped, we were cycled through a 15-washpan factory line of rinsing out the indigo dyestuff and alkali from the lye process. The alkali is important to wash out, and this 15-washpan cycle gets most ... but not all. It does stop the dyeing process so that the colors, when exposed to the sun, can obtain their indigo richness.

The colors are already becoming vibrant. The direct sun is definitely having a positive effect on the color outcome. 
Rinse, rinse, rinse.
Team A's silk scarves right after they were hung. It is VERY important that the scarves dry before they are moved. Not sure of the consequences but the wife Master Craftsman kept stressing this. We ate a beautiful traditional buffet-style lunch while we waiting for our scarves to dry ... so we could head back to Seoul with peace of mind.
Hanging the last of the scarves to dry!
Most of us gathered to proudly say, "We created these beautiful pieces!"
One of my team members!
Team B. Sadly, we were the only team that danced with our fashionable scarves!
Beautiful items for sale in the indigo-dye shop. I love that jeogori

Care instructions for our beautiful indigo-dyed silk scarves:

Indigo is a permanent dye but direct sunlight does have an effect on it and the color will diminish in direct sunlight. Air also has an effect, so when not in use, fold or roll the scarf and place in a sealed plastic bag, and the silk scarf with its natural colors can last centuries.

Also, because lye was used in the process, even though the scarves were washed in 15 water baths, alkali still remains. To ensure that the scarf can last for uncountable years, the alkali must be removed, so in the following 7 days, every day rinse the scarf in cool water up to 40°C. If the water still shows yellow after 7 days, rinse it out for a couple more days. In follow-up care, only wash with mild detergents, but a water wash without scrubbing is best.

Caution, however, for its use. The natural color blue has a cooling effect on the body and, especially in contact with the skin, particularly at the back of the neck, the indigo can pull body heat and reduce a person's temperature by as much as 2-3°C. [Hence, Lawrence of Arabia always a wearing blue indigo scarf in the desert, and the Blue-men of Mali wearing blue robes while living in and crossing the desert on their camels.] This caution is in particular reference to children and older people, age groups that have a hard time managing body heat.

Traditional Indigo Dyeing Company: Myungha Hatgol

Yoondaam K-blue is Korea's top traditional indigo dyeing brand owned by Myungha Hatgol Co., Ltd., a company committed to carrying out old traditions into modern times and into the future. The 5th-generation family business is a social enterprise established by late Byung-un Yoon (Important Intangible Cultural Asset #115, dye master) and gives back two-thirds of the profit it makes by manufacturing and selling indigo dyeing products and by providing services to society. The plants used for natural dyeing are cultivated by villagers by Myungha Indigo Village, and Myungha Hatgol purchases them all. This is the way of following Byung-un Yoon's wish to make 100 villagers live off of indigo dyeing. Initially, 37 households were supported by the dyeing processes, but currently with numbers of family members moving to the city, only 22 households are available and are supported by the indigo dyeing business.

Tel: 061-336-5557
Fax: 061-336-5811
13-7 Myeongha-gil, Munpyeong-myeon, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do
절라남도 나주시 문평면 명하길 13-7 
The husband and wife Master Craftsmen of traditional indigo-dyeing.
The indigo of Korea Yoondaam, the dyeing brand created by the later Byung-un (important Intangible Cultural Asset #115, dye master). Byung-un's son and apprentice is now the Master Craftsman, and is the 5th generation representative of the traditional art. He and his wife, also Master Craftsman and leader of the Myung-ha community, are raising their 6 children to be future Master Craftsmen.

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