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Visit IKTT in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Workshop, Natural dyeing

Workshop IKTT women, children, men (and dogs) live and work here

IKTT is a cooperative and teaching institution founded by Kikuo Morimoto to revive the culture of Khmer silk weaving which was once one of the finest in the world.

Due to the destruction of looms, killing of all people with skill and education by the Khmer Rouge, this art was nearly extinct when Morimoto first visited Cambodia in the 1980's to enhance his kimono painting skills. He searched the country for the few remaining women who still had the weaving and dyeing knowledge and started IKTT, Phnom Penh. Here, these women well in their 60's, would teach dyeing, spinning and weaving and the institution quickly expanded. Today over 500 people are employed and some of them live, learn and work in a compound an hours ride out of Siem Reap in the Forest Village.

IKKT has a constant stream of orders and outlets in their workshops in Phnom Penh. Many museums are amongst the clientele.

You will find more information under www. ( sorry this address doesn't want to embed)

Find an impression of the workshop's daily life below. The hammering is the men extending the roof

I went for a workshop to find out more about the local dyes used, seeing them grow in their natural habitat and how they are being used.

Fortunate to be instructed by the daughters of the first women teaching at IKTT, one of those very few persons still holding the knowledge of the Cambodian silk weaving industry.

You can see her here stirring the pot.

Prohut dye being cooked

(note long-suffering Mr DyeHaus in the background and of course I never go anywhere with out my DyeHaus canvas bag )

The dye we used was the bark of the Prohut tree, which is commonly used in Cambodia for its vibrant yellow dye it really is the closest to gold. The dye bath contained about 1 kg of barkchips, 7 l of water and alum as a co-mordant.

I was shown the different samples I could choose from for the piece I was going to dye.

I have posted a little clip on Instagram how to achieve the wave,or zig-zag bottom right.

I decided on a lined design and we set about tying it all off for the first dye bath. A flat nylon packaging string is locally used for the purpose. Watch the hands-on the little video clip below, how each turn is tightened, I found it particularly interesting how it is tied off. It fascinates me how the techniques of knotting vary from culture to culture. It can make a lot of difference to the outcome of your piece whether it is really tight and the speed with

which you proceed.

After 10 min in the boiling dye our piece is ready to come out for further treatment.

The sample is now being rinsed in alum!

It is now being re-tied. The first ties will remain to resist further and to ultimately produce a white stripe. Note how tight she pulls each turn and the clever knot at the end!

In order to achieve the darker colours green and brown, the dye is being 'modified' by an iron bath in the clay vat below.

This is the iron-vat containing iron scraps, lime pieces and palmsugar. The organic ingredients get replenished daily! I have seen feisty brews like that in India but none of them bubbled and blubbed like this one. It was truly alive and in a sense it is!

The dyer can enlarge the palette of colours enormously by modifying with alkalis, acids and ferrous after or during the dye bath, so from one or two dyes you can achieve around 10 different hues.

A small quantity is of the iron solution is transferred into a vessel where the tied fabric is rubbed and squeezed vigorously. After this, it will be oxidised by waving in the air. This is an important part of the process. You can see in the sequence how the shade is getting incrementally darker. Our shade was green after about 5 immersions and oxidising/airing over 10 minutes. For a brown colour these steps should be repeated until desired shade is achieved, around 10 times in total.

Dipping into the iron solution followed by airing to oxidise.

After immersion into the iron bath, tied fabric is waved in the air to accelerate oxidation.

Note the broad tied bands - The previously resisted white bands have been tied over as well as the resisted yellow bands to prevent penetration of the iron solution.

This clip sits between image 1. and 2. above in the procedure

All the ties are being carefully cut to reveal the striped handkerchief. You can see the folding accordion pleats clearly. Although made of silk, they remained in the fabric after I washed it at home.


What a lovely memento to take home.

Please join me for part 2 about local dyes and Ikat. If you join the mailing list you will be alerted.

B xx

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