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Assam

Kathy Williams

Posted on September 09 2018

Assam is so green and reflects so much of nature

How fortunate we are to have been invited to Assam to share our knowledge of Natural Dye. Such a beautiful part of India, Assam is situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, bordering Bhutan and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh. An area world renowned for its tea and Eri silk - Peace silk. And as we have learnt, beautiful, gentle people very in touch with their breathtaking natural environment. There is very much a focus here now to return to traditional skills and sustainable creative practise. 

Together we are exploring applications of natural dyes accessible from the local area and how to develop skills to create high quality results to enhance their fibres and end products. The hand spinning and weaving skills throughout Assam are quite interesting. Each region produces results and qualities unique to their community, having learnt and mastered these skills and techniques for generations. Having said that there are villages that have endured such hardship a lot of traditional skills were lost and are now in development stages of re-establishing this knowledge and skill base. It is wonderful to see such work supported by the government  They are providing and facilitating both the finances, infrastructure and support for such development at the grass root level which is where it is vitally important.

We are in Guwaharti where they have a well established unit working on Water Hyacinth products and a program creating lemon grass oil among other projects. Also on their acreage they are experimenting with establishing Assam Indigo, a strain unique to this area of India called Baphicacanthus cusia (nees) brem.  I am very much looking forward to next week as we will make a natural Indigo vat using Assam Indigo. 

So far in our classes we have worked on mordanting cotton and silk, both cloth and yarn. Also we have prepared lightfast charts so they will learn how to test their dyes before proceeding with development. We have stressed how important it is to know the lightfast qualities of the colours they are producing. Unfortunately the western market is very hesitant regarding natural dye as "it fades". I always find this comment disappointing as maybe natural dye does fade over time but so does chemical dye. The obvious major difference being Natural dye does no harm to the environment compared to the damage and destruction chemical dyes have already created on land and sea. In the past naturally dyed clothing did fade quickly but with the resurgence and knowledge available now to the textile industry and the knowledge of the environmental impact regarding fibre colouring natural dyers are refining their techniques and presenting amazing results. Yes over time fading will occur but the fading process of natural dye is actually a beautiful journey of colour. Many shades are exposed and if cloth has been mordanted correctly in the beginning clothing can be redyed a new colour. 

Our next post will be full of colour! 

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