fish, unwaxed

Today was warm and still, a good day for preparing a bucket of indigo dye and plunging in those squares of waxed fish. Well, since I last wrote about them, I stitched the squares in a kind of clumsy version of mokume, then pulled the stitching tight so that lines of the cotton squares would be protected from the dye. This is called thread-resist. Here’s what the squares looked like before they entered the bucket of dye.

The dye process is a bit lengthy — the squares sat in the bucket for half an hour while I stirred them frequently; then they were removed, some soda ash was added to the dye as a fixative; then the squared returned to their indigo bath and sat for another hour, with me stirring them every ten minutes or so.

Then they got rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed. I sat on the grass and removed the threads, hoping for lots of contrast: white wavy lines across the deep blue squares, the mostly white fish marbled with blue. And I have to say I was a little disappointed that the watery lines didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I know why this is. My batik fish took up quite a lot of the surface space so I couldn’t pull the threads as tightly as I think they needed to be. But a project like this is so much about the process, the immersing of one’s self into the various steps required. So here are the squares drying on an old red sheet on the grass:

I love the blue — and that’s a good thing because my hands are stained for…well, the time being anyway. I did wear rubber gloves for the dye process but for the last part of the rinsing and squeezing out of the water, it was easier to use my bare hands. It didn’t take long for the squares to dry so I set up the ironing board on the deck by the front door (where the robin’s empty nest still waits among the roses) and gathered up as much paper — newsprint, without the print, the kind of paper books are often packed in; we save it all for High Ground Press shipping — as I could find and then began to iron the wax out of the cotton. I know that one can also boil or steam out the wax but I’m not entirely certain of how securely the dye is fixed so I thought it best to use the old iron my mother dropped on the basement floor and then passed along to me for batik projects — the steam function no longer works and the base is a bit wobbly but it heats! I’m not entirely satisfied with the finished squares because there’s a halo of wax which no amount of ironing will remove, even with absorbent paper towel. But then I remember that I do this because I can’t draw, I can’t paint, so the whole process has been really interesting and I can’t wait to piece together a quilt with these fish in their indigo water.

Wax fish

This morning I’m finishing the first stage of a project I hope will result in a quilt. I’ve stencilled salmon images onto squares of white cotton (cut from fragments of cotton sheets I brought home from my mother’s apartment after her death; she’d saved everything and I was reluctant to toss the bag of sheets away, knowing that white cotton can always be used for something…), in varying configurations, and then have carefully brushed the fish with melted wax. A kind of batik, but it’s simply one step in printing a design on these squares. The next step will be to stitch the background with strong thread to create a mokume or woodgrain resist pattern. Then the squares will be immersed in indigo dye. I’ll crack the waxed fish images a bit so that the indigo bleeds into the white cotton. After the dye is set and dry, I’ll iron the squares to remove the wax and then use some fabric paint to detail the fish a little — red is particularly nice against the white and indigo. And if all this works out according to plan, then I’ll have 15 blocks to use for a quilt. I have to confess I’m not an artist. I have almost no graphic ability. But sometimes I have such an urge to make something, to make a visual thing with texture and colour, and so I keep trying to find ways to do this. Fabric seems to be the most forgiving. And this method of resist-dyeing is also kind of forgiving. I’ve made a quilt using this ancient Japanese shibori technique in the past and added batik to the mix with results that I still love (the quilt is on a daybed in my study…) so I’m hoping to expand on what I did in the past and add a few new twists. Stay tuned. I’ll add images of each stage of the process.