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Textiles Close Up: Bloomington Blues

By Jasmine Kornel, an MFA candidate in Textile Art at Kent State University. She gained a deep interest in sustainable design practices while earning her undergraduate degree in Fashion Design and is studying traditional craft practices, natural dyes, and the use of up-cycled and non-traditional materials to create wearable pieces, art, and installations. She researches weaving, including Jacquard, and manipulation of materials for conceptual and visual impact.

Recounting the Workshop

I arrived at the picturesque home of Rowland and Chinami Ricketts on a cloudy Thursday morning in Bloomington, Indiana where they convened the two-day Bloomington Blues workshop on the 13th of July. The group consisted of fourteen participants who had travelled from around the country to attend.

Rowland Ricketts in his indigo field explaining the growth cycle of the plant

After we introduced ourselves we walked over to a small field on their property where Rowland presented us with his indigo plants. The majority of the first day we spent dyeing with indigo in Rowland’s studio.

  Rowland Ricketts in his studio stirring the fermentation vats

He shared his own natural fermentation vats while also introducing us to a technique using fresh leaves to dye, that provided beautiful results on silk. Chinami Ricketts also invited us into her studio where she spins her own yarn and weaves yukata cloth dyed with indigo using an ikat method called kasuri.

Chinami Ricketts in her studio presenting her weaving

Rowland wanted us to come away from this workshop with a greater depth of knowledge about the stages of plant growth, processing, and dyeing.

He designed the program to include every aspect of these processes. Drawing on his experience living in Japan as an apprentice, as well as years of practice and extensive research on the subject, Rowland was an open book. The process that he learned in Japan is the one that he practices today, a natural fermentation method called sukumo. The dried indigo leaf is composted in a shed for one hundred days and flipped every week; this begins the process of fermentation, which allows the dye to be extracted later in a vat of water.

The sun finally came out on day two and we started our morning with a visit to the textile studio at the University of Indiana where we had the great privilege of meeting emeritus painting faculty Bill Itter. He brought in a diverse array of gorgeous textiles from around the world to share with us including some exquisite work from his late wife, fiber artist Diane Itter.

TSA members harvesting indigo at Hart Farm

Next, we drove west nearly an hour outside of Bloomington to Hart Farm, where Rowland outsources the growth of more indigo in a much larger field. The hard labor began as our group harvested two massive rows of indigo. After bundling up the harvest we headed back to the Ricketts’ home to lay the fresh indigo out to dry and winnow the previous harvest. The winnowing process involved stomping barefoot in the green house until the stems could be removed and the leaves were powder, ready to be composted.

Removing stems from the dried indigo, post winnowing

It was a comprehensive two day whirlwind workshop. All were eager to learn, lend a hand, and share their own knowledge, which positively enhanced the experience. It was an amazing and inspirational adventure. I have always been enamored with the indigo process and after being able to go through this workshop I have a much greater respect for the color and am eager to begin growing my own. I am especially grateful to the Teitelbaum Family Foundation for generously providing this grant through the Textile Society of America and to Rowland and Chinami Ricketts who so kindly welcomed all of us into their home, allowing us take part in their dedicated process.

Untitled coat by the author