Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Buggy Beginning

I intended to sign up to teach a brand new class at our Fall Academy, which entailed a bunch of scrambling around trying to figure out how to get the research together and how to compile a new handout from three write ups. 

Oh, and also making a brand new boqtaq from scratch. Yeah. That.

Due to financial difficulties, I decided not to go to Academy after all, and try to teach it for our local schola in the late winter instead.

This was one of those projects that starts relatively normal and then snowballs until you realize that you're raising your own silkworms.
madder plants: these are super sticky

I am thankfully stopping myself before it gets that far, but here's the run down.
First, I decided I ought to make a red silk boqtaq, preferably of bark, because that would take care of one of my major goals, and make a good visual for the class. To be fair, I thought I would get this done by Pennsic, so that I could put it in the Arts and Sciences display. That didn't happen.

I did have some habotai silk left over from a chemise, and so I decided to dye it red, rather than trying to buy red silk.

I had some red acid dye already made up in a bottle from when we tie-dyed over the summer, and dyeing it that way would have only involved throwing the fabric in the sink and squirting the dye over the top, but then I thought, I have a box of natural dye materials from a friend--maybe it has something I could use. I also grow madder, so that was a possibility.

madder reds
I didn't really want the orangey-red of madder, though. I really wanted a good royalty red, since the boqtaq is a hat for royalty of a culture that was heavily involved in the Silk Road, so it makes perfect sense that they would have used expensive royalty-only dye-stuffs.

As it happened, there was an unidentified packet of powder in this box, which I decided might well be cochineal.
I did some research, because my only experience with cochineal was watching someone else use it.
Alum appears to be the most common mordant for cochineal, and luckily I had a few bags worth.

A quick note on cochineal: it is made from little cactus bugs which are captured and dried and crushed. I had a bag of mostly whole bugs, and a second bag of powder (luckily, because the grinding is a pain). It is so expensive because it takes around 90,000 bugs to make 2 pounds of dye. 

 I weighed my fabric (about .5 grams), weighed my cochineal powder, and decided the whole bag would do it. It wasn't a very large bag.
First I washed the silk with synthrapol soap to get any oils or dirt out of it. Then I soaked it in an alum solution for an hour. I was worried because the message on the Alum bag and the info I had gotten from the web didn't really add up, and one said soak as long as possible, while the other said not to soak it too long or the fabric would disintegrate. I let it dry out, and then soaked it again right before I dyed it the next day.

Meanwhile, I boiled the cochineal powder in water, and then let it sit overnight. In the morning, I poured it through several coffee filters to get the powder back out, which was recommended because otherwise the dust will stay in the fabric. That was a bit of an adventure because it took forever to go through the coffee filters, but then I would get impatient and pour too much in, and some would go over the top of the was unwieldy.

Finally the dye was ready, so I boiled it, and soaked the silk in it for an hour.
I suspect the silk was ready from the beginning, but just in case. I didn't want pink fabric, and if I could avoid it, I wasn't going to overdye it with madder, either.

Once the silk was done, I wrung it out and rinsed it in the sink until the water ran slightly less than clear. The leftover dye, being a dye used in foodstuff and therefore safe, was poured into our sump.

And here is the result!

It's actually a shade or two darker than it looks, but I was trying to get the natural light on it.The shadows are pretty close to what it actually looks like.
I'm very happy with it.

Next step, birch bark.

Cloisonné, my darling

Wow. It's been a long time since I wrote on this thing.
Part of it is just being too tired to think most days, and part of it is that I keep thinking "I have to take some pictures", and then the light isn't there when I remember to, and I forget to when it is there.

At Pennsic there was a great class I was eyeing about Cloisonné enamel. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what classes were "if I feel like it and have time", and what classes were "I have to take this, so if childcare gets fobbed off on someone else, deal with it".  
Cloisonné topped the list. I have been drooling over Cloisonné for a VERY long time. Back in college,
I took a metal and jewelry series of classes which were fantastic, but the teacher didn't do enamel or casting herself, so it wasn't something she felt competent to teach.

Before that, I had done some research on different types of ceramic tile work, and the one that really got exciting for me was tube-lining looked just like Cloisonné , only with clay and glaze.

 Also, I love Cloisonné fishies.

Anyway, there was this amazing class, and I said "I have to take this. Whatever else happens this War, I have to take this."

The teacher was wonderful: really knowledgeable, funny, very flexible, and surprisingly able to keep her calm despite having a class that was half again as large as she had stipulated was the limit (and she provided materials to everyone).

She explained the history, the use in period, and then had everyone draw something that would fit on a little 1 1/2" diameter circle with a shank to bend into a loop for hanging.
She gave us little thin pieces of wire and pliers to make the design areas, and then fired them into place on the disk.
Next we all got to fight over the beautiful colors of glass dust, and fire it again. After a second coat of enamel, the end of class was nigh, and we had to take what we got. I was very happy with what I had the chance to make. It was a curly Mongolian cloud over a fall oak leaf, to represent my significant other and myself. The background was navy blue with a depth I really loved.

Since the person I gifted it to has since misplaced it, I will just have to take the class again next year (darn). I was surprised to see how many people were re-taking the class from last year or from a previous class that War, but afterwards I could understand.

Now I just have to invest in a small kiln!