I have been writing a good deal of poetry lately, so I wanted to take a slight break and share with you a bit of what I have been doing with my students. This semester I am teaching Medical Botany, a course that I have written for the 12th grade level. The course covers the medicinal properties of western plants (including the dreaded biochemistry), as well as ethnobotany. One of the things that we do during the course is to learn about plants that are used to dye cloth. Here is a link to a site that explains the aspects of using the dye vat method, which is an older technique. It is also more environmentally friendly since we do not use Spectralite (thiourea dioxide). We set up a dye vat in order to dye organic cotton with Wild Indigo and Madder root.
We start with organic wild cotton from Guatemala that I obtain from Goods of Conscience. The cloth is also hand woven. You can click the link to find out more about my friend, Andrew O’Connor who is the designer and manager the non-profit organization that helps women weavers in Guatemala and in Parishes in New York.
The dye vat has to ferment for over a week so that the microbes that develop can break down the Indigo root and release the pigment. It begins to smell like a marsh at low tide when it is close to being ready, needless to say it spends time in the fume hood!
Students cut the cloth into strips to be dyed.
The cloth is soaked in water and then steeped in the dye bath….many hands make short work…and quick work because of the smell.
The cloth is then dried and it ready to be stitched. Some students decided to tie-dye their pieces.
Learning to hand stitch is becoming a lost art, so I helped to thread needles and tie knots.
For a first time hand sewing, many students did wonderful work.
The strips were sewn into bags which we then filled with rose petals, lavender, and rice. The bags can be heated to be used as a warm compress.
It all turned out well. My students gained a deeper appreciation for the way textiles were originally made, and for the work of human hands. They learned about beauty and about the healing properties of plants. I also read poetry while they worked.
In the end…it was me who got to do the smelly job of disposing the dye.
All in a day’s work. Be well everyone.