Recently a material I was familiar with from my years in meditation, a cotton like fluffy cloud of natural fibers showed up in my news feed. I knew kapok was the stuffing I have been sitting on inside my meditation cushion. So when I saw it was being sold as a dubbing material, I was surprised. But the more I read about this fluffy cotton-like material, the more impressed I became. I must mention that I saw this material in my news feed being offered by the company Semperfly.
I learned in my research that kapok is difficult to dye with any consistency. With some tolerances in consistency, Semperfly had come close to breaking the code and was now offering a nice palate of dyed dubbing in "kapok." Check your local fly shop and I bet you will find some.
Being the DIY guy I am, I started looking for kapok in fabric and hobby stores with no luck. Frankly, most young fabric store clerks will not likely know what it is.
It wasn't until I mentioned to my wife, who does fiber arts and sewing, to keep an eye out for some. "Just a second she says". Then brings me a large plastic bag packed with the stuff. A whole pound of it!
What is Kapok?
Kapok is a natural fiber that comes from the seed hairs of the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra), also known as the silk-cotton tree or Java cotton tree. The kapok tree is native to tropical rain-forests in Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. It is a large deciduous tree that can reach heights of up to 230 feet. (70 meters)
Kapok is an all natrual fiber that is light, buoyant, and has a cotton-like texture. Kapok has been traditionally used for various purposes due to its unique qualities:
I took a sample from the giant bag to share with my buddy, Jason Klass. He too was curious about the kapok and had just gotten some in the mail. He was blown away by how well it dubbed. Later he sent me a photo of a fly he was tying and using the kapok for. He cleverly used a sharpie marker to dye some of the kapok I gave him. He sent me picture of the hook on his vise. I have since also tried this out myself with some sharpies and other similar permanent markers. There are a lot of color options beyond the general offerings of Sharpie black, red, and blue. Having an artistic family we have a large palate to choose from.
A few issues that must be mentioned though with this technique is that the pen color you use does matter if you want to have a "natural" or "appealing color", but maybe you are into those wilder neon colors... I won't judge. You also have to be careful in applying the color to the kapok. Take a little time to let it dry fairly well before wrapping it onto the hook. This is specifically true if you have any other material on the hook ahead of the dubbing that you don't want to have spoiled by bleeding ink.
Using kapok as a dubbing material is really exciting to me. I love finding a new material that are all natural and that can be used for fly tying. Kapok really is a material that we all should have known about sooner. I feel a little foolish knowing that the meditation cushion I have been using is stuffed with it. I have been literally sitting on Kapok for years. I plan on trying to dye some in a few different ways. The sharpie though sounds like the most practical way to me so far.
You can find kapok yourself on line in a variety of places. I hope that you get as excited as I am about this material for your dry flies. As spring teases me I am looking forward to tying up a bunch so that I will have plenty to use when the ice melts and the streams open up again.