Lanyinhua is a type of blue and white folk textile found in China. It uses a stencil and lime resist to create an indigo dyed blue and white textile. For a scholarly discussion and some great pictures check the link under blog roll for an article “Chinese Blue and White Itajime (Jiaxie): Folk Tradition of Carved Board Clamp Resist Dyeing in Zenjiang Province” by Tomoko Torimaru and Ana Lisa Hedstrom. It includes some great pictures of both the carved board clamp resist and Lanyinhua.
Below is some information from a book that my friend sent me from Shanghai: Blue Color Print Fabric, Chinese Folk and Culture Book Series. The book was in Chinese, so a family member translated this section for me. She had to guess at some of the terminology but between us, I think we got most of it correct. I have been using this article to explore making my own stencils and the resist.
The Process of Lanyinhua Technique [Chinese Blue & White Itajime]
The history of folk traditional fermentation of blue dye with plants has a 2,000-year history, passed down by numerous folk artists’ hard work, yet still retains the original process up to now. In the 20th century, there are other combined dye materials that are involved and influences modern day processes. Many regular dye and blue dye factories have changed a portion of dye making to indigo powder, but the original technique of “Kangang,” making the dye and the dye process are maintained. After surveying the artists from Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan, and Shandong provinces, and with their many years of experience with indigo dye in Nantong, we will explore the traditional method of hand made indigo.
1. Color Mixing
Using one scoop from the indigo dye container (normally 1 gm, in either powder or paste form) and mix 50 gm of water with it in one container; then mix a lime chalk piece and mix it with water in another container until it is totally dissolved(temperature of this mixture will increase). When the lime mixture drops to room temperature, add it to the dye mixture. The ratio should be about 2 parts lime to 3 parts dye (depending on the density of the lime mixture). Then add rice wine(the older the rice wine the better). The ratio should be 3 parts rice wine to 2 parts dye/lime mixture. The combination also depends on the weather and room temperature.
After mixing the indigo dye, the master uses a wooden pole to stir the mixture until it is evenly blended. The mixture will start to make bubbles that float to the top and will turn to a light blue-green color. This is called “Dian Hua” and it means it is ready for dyeing.
2. Kangang (Watch the pot/vat)
In the past only the master determines the color of the dye, so he passes the skill only to the sons of the dye factory owner, not to the daughters or outsiders.Every morning the master checks the dye mixture in the pot to see when it has matured and ready for use. He uses a bowl to scoop out the original (base) water from the pot, then uses his second finger to get some hair oil by slightly rub his head. He then places his finger by the side of the bowl near the top of the dye mixture and watches to see if the color changes. If the water inside the bowl disperses quickly around the finger, then it means the mixture is not correct and has too much green in the base water. More lime and rice wine needed to be added. At the dye factory, the dye vat was called “old or tight” if the colored water has more lime. It is not easy to color the fabric because the green color mixture settles toward the bottom and the fabric is unable to absorb the color. The dye vat was called “soft or loose” if the colored water has more alcohol. The dyed cloth has floating color and has not settled or not absorbed well, the color will fade out easily. These are the terms used by the masters. The rule of thumb is that the fabric is not allowed to put into the dye vat before the dye mixing process is finished.
Learning from experience, it is known that putting the fabric into the dye vat when the mixture is not mature will result in a darker color, but will fade out more easily because the dye was not absorb completely. That relates to the reputation of a dye factory. Therefore, the quality of a factory’s products depends on the importance quality control of the dye process.
3. Xiagang (Placing into the vat)
It is best to keep the dye water above 10C (50F). In early October of the lunar calendar, the people heat the vats by burning either the wheat outer skin, cotton flower shell, or wood chips. Using these material is a good method to keep the pot warm with a low fire. They start the fire in the stove and heat up the dye vat during the day, turning down fire and covering up the stove at night until spring, then they extinguish the fire when the weather get warmer.
The fabric with resist dye coating needs to be soak in water for an hour before placing into the dye vat. In case of white with blue flowered fabric, extra time is needed for soaking in water. Let the fabric soak for a while, then take it out for the oxidation process. This process needs to be repeated 6 to 8 times until the desired dye color is accomplished.
The Process of Making Lanyinhua (a type of blue and white folk textile)
1. Selection of base fabric (similar to muslin in the US)
Farm families commonly choose the best quality of cotton fabric – such as surfaceof the fabric needed to be very flat, tightly woven, and white in color to make the Linyinhua. Regular white cotton fabric are used to make solid blue fabric or other daily use fabric.
2. Removing the starch
Cut the selected fabric into 12.5m lengths and soak in alkaline water. Now daystung oil and other catalysts maybe added to the water. Heat the water mixtureabove 50C (122F) and soak for a day. Then take the fabric out and put it into clean water and soak for 2-3 days. Wait for the fermentation of the starch on the fabric, then rinse the fabric several times with water to remove the starch completely. Dry the fabric in sun and after it is dry, the fabric is now ready to use.
3. Mat Paper
Mat paper for engraving a pattern are made of 3 to 5 layers of “gui yang pi zhi” or paper from a mulberry tree or Korean paper and one layer of regular white paper. Use flour to make a paste to put on the stencil paper and leave it on the wall surface or board surface to dry. They are ready to use after trimming and painting with treated tung oil.
4. Pattern Design, Sample Template
When the folk artists created new patterns for Linyinhua, they first use a pen to scratch the outline on paper, then use a small knife to carve the mat paper along the outline of the design. The original design sheet of mat paper is not used to print, but it is used as a master template to make copies for the sample templates.
In order to make copies for the sample templates, the artists uses a brush to dust a powder form of the dye on the master sheet. The brush is made of wool (4 to 5mm in diameter) tightened up one end to 2/3 length of the brush. The dye paste should be well mixed and spread evenly over the template to make a perfect copy of the pattern.
5. Stencil Paper (template)
Stencil papers consist of 2-3 layers of oil treated paper. When engraving thedesign, hold the carving knife straight down and cut through all the layers. The engraving knife is made of an angle-cut steel metal piece and tie between two bamboo pieces. There are single and double bladed knives. Use the single bladed knife for the surface area and the double bladed for the same size of the pattern. Big and small round bladed knives for engraving round dots. When engraving, the cushion should be placed under the stencil paper, which is made of evergreen tree allowing easy control of the blade because of the hard properties of the wood. When engraving the round dots, the cushion board should be from a gingko tree. The cushion should be about 5mm thick and 20mm square.
6. Applying the Oil
First use small pebbles to sand the wrong side of a completed stencil paper to smooth out the edges and check for any defects. Then apply the correct amount of treated tung oil onto the stencil paper several times. The first coating should be thin. Let it dry and apply it 2-3 times to the front and back. If too much oil is applied, this will cause the stencil paper to be uneven and not flat. If not enough oil is applied the stencil paper will be not well coated. After drying the stencil in the sun, press down on the stencil paper and the paper will be ready for use.
7. Applying the Paste
Before applying the paste, dip a small broom into the water and spread the water evenly on the base fabric and roll it up for easy handling. Cornflower, wheat flour, and sticky rice have been used to make the dye paste over the years. With experience they finally ended up using soy bean flour; however, the quality of soybean flour itself can easily spoil in the summer and its cost is high. By adding lime chalk into the soybean flour, the mixture of the paste has greater tenacity and is easier to scrape off after the dye process. The ratio should be one part soybean flour to 0.7 part lime chalk. Sometimes they also use steamed sticky rice flour to make the dye paste depending on the special design. The more fine of the soybean flour the greater the tenacity of the paste, but it is not necessary to use greater force to scrape off the paste.
In the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu, the scrape knife is made of iron blade with round shaped wooden handle. In Hunan and Hubei provinces, the knife is made of cow horn and wood.
Applying the dye paste on the pattern is very important. A complicated pattern need to be in alignment and sequenced in the desired order. Apply the paste on the wet base fabric and then hanged up to dry.
Linyinhua has two main types of patterns: blue with white flowers and white with blue flowers. Shandong and other northeastern provinces only produce blue with white flower textiles. They use only one set of stencil paper and the pattern designs are not connected to each other. Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Hunan provinces produce both types of textiles. The white with blue flower textile need to use two sets of stencil papers. The first set is called “The Head Board.” The paste is applied on the “Head Board” first. This allows the paste to dry, then apply paste on the second stencil with a little thicker paste to prevent the Indigo from penetrating through the cloth. This is called “Cover Board.” It means cover up the connecting part of the head board so the patterns are connected seamlessly.
White with blue flower textile is very difficult to process. Only experienced masters can complete the job. Also the cost of using this method is 2-3 times higher than the blue with white flowers. This is because of the additional steps or the clients requesting special design. Therefore, only wealthy families could afford the blanket (coverlet) made of white with blue flowers design.
8. Resist Dyeing (with Indigo)
Before beginning the process of the resist dye, place about the same size basket into the dye vat and place it about 60-70mm above the bottom to prevent the cloth from sinking down. First soak the paste-resisted cloth in the water until softened (fully soaked). Then slowly dip it into the dye (Indigo) vat. The cloth will be dyed blue except for the resisted areas where the paste was applied. After soaking for 20 minutes, remove the cloth from the dye vat and hang it in the air for 30 minutes. Swing the cloth surface to oxidize it evenly. Depending on the texture of the cloth and weather, adjust the time for soaking in the dye and oxidation.
Normally, the fabric is dyed a total of 6-8 times to get the desired color. Because the resist dye is done by hand at room temperature, color may fade out somewhat after a couple times of washing. Therefore, the fabric needs to be dyed darker than the desired color.
9. Hang Dry
After soaking in the dye, remove the cloth from the vat and hang it in the air tooxidize. Allow the dyed cloth to dry completely under the sun so the color of the dye in more settled.
10. Stabilizing the Color
The dye cloth color needs to be acidified and stabilized after drying. For a green environment purpose, glacial acetic acid is used to dilute the liquid acid.Soaking the dye cloth in this mixture for 30 minutes is sufficient. Remove the cloth and hang it to dry.
11. Scraping the Paste
After the dye cloth dries completely, they can be stacked up and beaten with awooden stick to loosen the paste. After removing the paste, wrap the cloth over a frame to stabilize one end of the cloth and then wrap the other end tightly. Use a custom-made rounded head scrape knife or household knife at a 45deg angle to remove the paste.
12. Rinsing and Drying
In order to remove the residual paste and unsettled color, rinse the entire cloth with water 2-3 times after scraping off the paste. Dry the cloth completely under the sun. Due to the process of applying paste, resist dyeing, and hanging the cloth to dry, the length of the cloth will be about 12m. The masters use a long bamboo stick to flip the dyed cloth over a 7m hangar to dry. This cloth hangs as it dries provides a spectacular scenery. Finally, use the cloth hamming rock to smooth out and press down on the cloth instead of using an iron.
After pressing the cloth, it is ready for sale or making daily products. Sometimes there are small portions of unsettled color of Lanyinhua after washing. That is the most common complaints from customers. They comment that the factory should take care of the cloth bleeding after washing before selling. It is hope this can be a goal in the future.
The work of resist dye is by fermentation of the mixing dye paste and processing at room temperature. This is called “environment friendly hand dye technique” – the process consist of fermentation, reverse color blue from green by oxidation, commonly called “cold water dye.”
After several rinses and drying, the unsettled color from the Linyinhua will be less and less. For a thousand years, only the resist dye in the folk traditional dye made from plants will result in good stabilization of color. The cloth has a classic taste, calm feeling, and stores well. They are still popular with the Chinese people.