Friday, June 28, 2013

The Perfect Indigo: An Afternoon with Musa Basaran and Natural Dye!

“Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown. Once you're brown, you'll find out you're blue. As blue as indigo. And you know what that means. Indigo. Indigoing. Indigone.”

-Tom Robbins

Mr Musa Basaran, at home in his Atelier! Cherries, wine, cheese, kilims and a friendship started many years ago!

Many years ago when I lived in Canada I wrote a blog about my old Kilim weaving landlord, Musa Basaran called Missing Musa. Lately, even though I have been living in Turkey for almost a year, I was missing Musa again. I decided once summer holidays came and the demands of my job were over, I would go spend sometime with Musa. So imagine my amusement when on the day my holiday started my phone rang. 

“Melanie! Why haven’t you come to visit me?” 
“I’m coming to see you!” 
“Yes really.” 
Okay! See you tomorrow! Come before I go home at six!” 

So I went to visit Musa yesterday and we ate cherries and cheese and drank wine, complained and gossiped and laughed. And he told me that this morning, he would dye a batch of silk with indigo. 
“If you come before nine, you can watch!” 
So I dragged my holidaying butt out of bed this morning and went to Sultanahmet, to watch Musa work his magic. 

When I got there, he was in the middle of a weaving lesson but I sat and chatted with the American woman as she navigated the warp and weft of a barely begun kilim. Every so often, Musa would come out from preparing our dyeing experiment to see her progress. “Uff! You need to come in two warp threads on each side to make a triangle!” Musa would undo this woman’s hard work in a few minutes and whip it back into shape before we had time to actually comprehend what he was doing. 

But soon we were ready to dye with Indigo. Traditionally, urine was used as the acid needed for indigo, but we luckily Musa hadn’t been saving up: we used Hydro Sulphate and Ammonia.

The silk prepared and ties to a stick for easy dipping. 

Hydro Sulphate. Into the boiling pot!

Add half a Turkish tea glass of Ammonia. Musa told me to give it a whiff before I knew it was ammonia. I think I shot out a nostril and several thousand brain cells. 

Indigo! Is not a dye like other dyes. it just coats fibres and doesn’t penetrate- which is why blue jeans fade white and aren’t blue all the way through. 

Indigo is weird because when it hits water, it loses it’s blue colour and turns yellow. The silk in the dye vat looks yellow until you bring it out and it oxidizes in the air. Like magic!

Goodbye, whitish coloured natural silk!

Musa lifts it out to show us how it works. This is yellow turning into blue (now green) when the silk comes into contact with air. 

Yellowish dye vat, but you can see it turning blue where the indigo oxidizes around the rim of the stainless steel vat. 

Musa left this in for only a minute or two- he was after a light blue. 

Next batch! This silk was yellow before it went in- dyed with Buckthorn and Camomile. Natural green is a very hard colour to come by, so you have to dye yellow and blue together to get a green. 

Oooh! Someone is good at green and knows it! he brought it out from the kitchen to show me. 

Nice looking green! I approve.

When you start dyeing, it’s addicting. Musa found some old blue he didn’t like and wanted t make it darker. At one point he jokes that I should give him my skirt to throw in. I would have been tempted, except this crap polyester skirt would have just left me naked in the kitchen with nothing to show for it- you can only dye natural fibres. 

Much better blue! One this I learned in textiles class is that there is a very large amount of chemistry and knowledge needed for natural dyeing. For instance vegetable based materials like cotton and bamboo have a smoother molecular structure, so the dye doesn’t stick as nicely as it does to silk and wool, which comes from animals. 

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble!

Part of the beauty of natural dyes is that the unevenness gives it texture and depth. 

"Melanie! The show is finished!” He said when we were done dyeing with Indigo. But Musa is not used to the show being finished if he still has your attention, so we played with a spindle and he showed  me how to spin with it. 

Spin spin spin! Funny, I usually don’t have time to sit and watch a spinning spindle, but truthfully, there was nothing I would rather do this morning than spend a relaxing visit with my favourite Turkish man. 

Musa also showed me all of his traditional tools- that thing in the back is a wool carder.  

I’ll show you how to use those net lesson!” He laughs.  
“I will bring the next bottle of wine!” I promise as I zip out the heavy door and back onto the back streets of Sultanahmet. 

Thanks for a wonderful morning, Musa! 

Video with Musa dyeing yellow to green:
The many colours of Naturally dyed silk you will find in Musa’s kilims.


  1. Well this was a blog to simply dye for... Very interesting. I love the final photo of all the different colors--funny how color can affect mood. The green dye is amazing.

  2. Yes, it feels a little hocus pokus! Musa is a dyeing wizard. :-)