Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adire eleko and batik with Gasali Adeyemo, Part II: The vat

My account of the Adire eleko and batik workshop with Gasali Adeyemo would be incomplete without a discussion of the dye vat.  In addition to his ability to render designs with enormous elegance and strength of line, Gasali is a master of the indigo vat.  Indigo in the Yoruba region of Nigeria (to the southwest) comes from the elu plant (Lonchocarpus cyanescens, according to my Google search), which dyers grind with a mortar and pestle, mix with wood ash, and then form into balls by hand before letting the indigo balls dry.

Indigo balls
Dried elu leaves
Gasali prepared a small vat for the class ahead of time--I think it was maybe five gallons or so--and told us that it required about 60-70 of these indigo balls for just the one dye bath.  He uses an organic fruit vat, so it had to be set up well in advance in order to allow sufficient time to reduce the indigo.  Alas, I don't have a photo of the actual vat, but the dye solution was gorgeous and strong, with a powerful, bubbly bronze sheen on the top of the dark blue surface and a beautiful dark amber color below.  (This level of reduction isn't possible with the thiox vat that I used this summer, because when the solution is reduced to that amber state, the thiox reacts too quickly and will strip off (re-reduce) the indigo from the fabric and prevent the build-up to dark shades.)  Although we only did one dip for each of our fabrics, they still came out a rich medium blue, and with great dye penetration to boot.  Even better, I experienced little dye loss when washing and rinsing the fabrics, and the run-off was virtually clear in the final acidic rinse.

Now I know what to look for in a truly great vat, and I am more eager than ever to try a zinc lime vat next summer!

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