Sunday, January 31, 2010

The 211th good thing about Lagos: getting to experience fabric dyeing methods

I've written before about the talented batik artist, painter and gallery owner, Nike. She has this fabulous new gallery in Lagos that is a big 4-story building full of wonderful art. She's started holding some fabric dyeing workshops to introduce participants to the art of Nigerian fabric decoration. I was able to participate in one last weekend. Nike is a very beautiful woman, and she always greets me with a smile and a hug. She's always dressed in these interesting outfits.

The workshop started with a demonstration of tie-dyeing, which was not a new experience for me, but it's always fun to try.
They gave us a couple of handkerchiefs to practice folding techniques and dyeing. I'm always surprised with tie-dyeing how you can never really plan the finished product. There's a lot of serendipity involved with how the dye spreads between the folds. These are my handkerchiefs.

After the handkerchiefs, we progressed to dyeing T-shirts. The one I did is a similar pattern to this one displayed by my friend, Amber. I love her purple hand!

We then saw a demonstration of the resist dyeing method using cassava paste, a technique called "adire eleko." The paste is made from cassava flour, which is then painted onto the cloth with a stick and/or chicken feather. It is traditionally just done by women, but Nike has trained men to also use this method, and they demonstrated it for us. After the paste dries, the cloth is dipped in the dye for a very short time. Any longer than 15-10 seconds and the paste will soften and the definition of the decoration will be lost. The fabric is laid in the sun to dry until the paste hardens, after which it will be dipped again and the process is repeated several times until the saturation of color reaches what is desired. We weren't able to experiment with this technique, as it's a time-consuming process. When I visited Osogbo, I also saw an artist using this technique.

Nike showed some examples of finished textiles -- adire as well as batik cloth and showed us how to discern which dyeing method had been used.
For the tie dye, we used German commercial dyes, but for the adire cloth and batik, they let us try indigo dyeing with natural indigo. They roll up the plant into balls and dry it before they put it in the water in the pot, along with filtered potash to get the right chemical ph. They leave it to ferment for some time before it's ready for the fabric.

Here's some adire cloth just after it's been pulled out of the dye pot. The cassava paste patterning is quite softened here.

We next got to experiment with batik. They melted candle wax and we used a sharpened wedge of foam to decorate our fabrics with the wax. The wax has to be at the right temperature -- too hot and it will spread, too cool and it will harden before it soaks into the fabric. I bought 4 yards of cotton cloth and had to work quickly to pattern it all with the wax, so I had to settle for a big patterning and not worry about imperfections.

Here's our fabrics laying out to dry -- they didn't worry about sand and dirt getting on the fabric while it dried in between soakings. It would just go into the pot, sand and all, when it was time for the next dipping.

This is part of the batik I decorated.

Of course, after the fabric is finished with the dye process and dries (I picked it up from the gallery a couple of days later), the wax has to be removed. This is a messy process! Amber came over to my flat to work with me, as I had an old pot I didn't mind using for the effort. We boiled water and dipped the fabric into the boiling water, then skimmed the melted wax off the top of the water, then transferred the fabric to a bowl of cold water which hardened the remaining wax. We rubbed the fabric to remove more wax. Because my fabric was so big, I had to do this several times before I was satisfied that enough wax had been removed that it would be safe in my washer. I had blue wax drips over a good share of my kitchen, as well as the pot, bowls and utensils. I was glad I had the chance to try batik, but the morning after I created this mess in the kitchen, I'm not sure my maid was glad about it!

No comments: