On our most recent research trip to Ronjiang we were able to see more of the textile co-op's facilities. They have restored much of the workshop after the historic flooding this summer - though it gives one pause to see how vulnerable these cultural formations are in the face of extreme climate events. All the effort and investment in building up resources, equipment, and space can so easily be negated in rising waters and for communities already facing the extinction of their traditions these climatic disasters can have a large impact.
Nonetheless the co-op facilities have been mostly restored in their function and we were able to see the dye rooms on this trip. In the photos you can see the rows ofindigo baths - many buried in the earth for greater temperature control. Each bath can be manipulated for a slightly different effect or shade of blue - having multiple vats also gives the dye (a living entity) time to “rest” and recuperate between dye sessions.
We were also able to learn more about the making of rain cloth or Lùbù 露布. This handwoven cloth is naturally bleached white using a combination of soaking in ash and repeated exposure to the dew that gathers in the fields early in the morning. This results in a deeply soft cloth that is traditionally used for baby linens but that we could imagine being used for a number of other things (bedding, cloths, etc..).
For Beijing Design Week we featured the co-op’s innovative 24 Seasons of Indigo project. Using the Chinese lunisolar or agricultural calendar as a guide, the co-op developed new research into indigo dying processes. The Chinese lunisolar calendar is attuned to agricultural patterns and breaks time into 24 seasonal division points that mark time and environmental shifts such as, The Waking of Insects, Pure Brightness, The End of Heat, or White Dew. In Guizhou Indigo is most prized for the deep purple-blues that can be achieved at optimal dying-times of the year. Yet this project pushes back on that ideal - using the lunisolar calendar as a framework to break open the traditional dying process. Cloth that has been dyed in Indigo at 24 points of the year introduces a wide spectrum of green-blues, grey-blues, and purple-blues that have the ability to emerge in different seasonal and climatic conditions. This experimentation with the Indigo dying process creates an index of atmosphere and a visual measure of the passage of time.
In addition to showing this project the co-op helped us to create our own indigo dye bath here in Beijing that was begun from their “mother” dye coaxed into life in Guizhou. We hosted workshops to let people in Beijing experiment with the dye and to learn more about indigo.