Saturday, January 11, 2014

Shibori Blues



I've always been very good at going off on major project tangents, particularly when I have loads of things to finish in a small amount of time. Which is precisely how I found myself embarking on a massive dyeing quest in my final week of holidays: instead of plugging away at x number of unfinished knit and sewn garments, I rustled up a vat of indigo dye and spent a solid five days dyeing anything I could lay my hands on. Which did absolutely nothing to advance any other project whatsoever, but I can now say that indigo dyeing is the. most. fun. ever!

Not being an actual dye expert, I used one of those all-inclusive indigo dye kits, which turned out to be super easy to use because all you do is dump the contents of various pouches into a big pot of water and voila: instant indigo dye vat! While it did it's thing over the next half hour, I set to work preparing my first two pieces of fabric: these were accordion and triangle folded, then clamped on all three corners before being placed in the dye for 10 minutes (results shown in middle right photo). When I first unfolded it, I actually thought I'd messed up, because all I could see was a kind of yellow/green residue and no pattern. Obviously, I had no idea about the oxidization process, but holy sh*!, was it ever magical to behold: within seconds, all that yellowy-green deepened into various shades of blue, revealing the pattern you see above (reminiscent of an especially chic 50s kitchen lino, right?).

From there, I experimented with different fabrics and resist methods: tying plastic covered chickpeas for the polka dots, clamping a single wood block in the center of square folded fabric for the grid, simple twice-dyed scrunching for the piece at the bottom right. Not pictured are a few pieces of scrunchy dyed chambray destined for a colour-blocked Archer, as well as some plain overdyed voile to be used for facings, etc. The results were a mix of pieces made with specific projects in mind and a few that are still open to interpretation.

All in all, I am really pleased with both the pieces and the process. It's true that my apartment smelled rather *unpleasant* during the week I had the vat going (for some reason, I was expecting the dye to smell like India ink, which I actually find rather pleasant, but such was not the case).  If at all possible, I would urge anyone thinking about delving into indigo dye to do it either outside, or at least in a basement or open area away from the kitchen (which is where I had mine set up).

Here are a few other quick tips I picked up:

- fabric is infinitely easier to fold when it's wet.
- wetting the fabric beforehand will also result in a sharper pattern if you're using resist techniques.
- you really need to have all your tools set up and ready to go before you begin.
- it's best to have a plan for where and how you're going to oxidize and dry your fabric. I laid out some old sheets for the fabric to rest on while it oxidized, then rolled it in old towels to get out any excess moisture post-rinsing. This step prevented my bathroom from being covered in blue drips while the fabric dried on the shower curtain rod.
- for fabric I had picked out for specific projects, I cut out pieces that were roughly the size of the actual pattern before dyeing them. Smaller pieces are easier to handle and dye, and it also prevents wasting the dye on bits you won't end up using. I wouldn't recommend cutting out the pattern pieces to actual size though, as fabric can warp during the dyeing process. For any fabric I didn't have a specific plan for, I left it in one big piece.

There's probably more, but those are the big ones that stuck in my mind. So now the question is, what do I do with all this new fabric? Well, like I said, a few are already spoken for, and should be showing up on the blog within the next month or so. The fabric I used is mostly on the lighter side (rayon voile, tencel, chambray), so not really suited to the current northern hemisphere weather. Nonetheless, I'm pretty excited to start working with it, so I may just get a jump on this year's spring/summer wardrobe :)




11 comments:

  1. These are so beautiful and inspirational! Also, thanks for the tips. I actually have the perfect unfinished basement/laundry room area to try this in. The colour-blocked Archer sounds fabulous.

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  2. Thanks a lot! Also, I totally forgot to mention the best thing about the indigo dye kit: not only does the dye keep for days (as implied in my post), but it will dye an incredible amount of fabric. So if you're thinking of playing around with it yourself, make sure you have a lot of dye-able fabric on hand :)

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  3. I love the spots! Have you ever dyed yarn? I was just given an enormous skein of super chunky wool yarn grown, shorn and spun by one of my clients! Amazing! It's cream and probably enough for a cowl..... I'm going to have to do some research on wool dyeing.....

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    1. Thanks! The spots were probably the most time consuming, but also the most rewarding. I have never dyed yarn before, but there are so many great yarn spinners and dyers on the net for inspiration! Depending on how crazy you want to go, it might be fun to start with a base dye, then do some direct application with complimentary colours...either way, it's going to be wonderful when you can tell people that you dyed the yarn yourself :)

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  4. Fantastic! I envy you going into the indigo vat not knowing about oxidation. It must have been the closest thing ever to returning to childhood-quality wonder. Yarn next time! A blend like Henry's Attic Texas (mohair and wool) is ideal since the fibers take they dye differently. And you don't need to start with white or off-white. Overdyeing a commercially dyed (red, gold, gray, green, lavender...) yarn yields lovely and surprising results. I hope it's warm enough during midwinter break (I'm a teacher, too) to whip up a vat.

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    1. Yes, it was pretty amazing! I guess I was so excited to start that I didn't read the info very thoroughly. The whole time I was working with the indigo, I couldn't help but think how fun it would be to do with my students. Maybe by the time the weather warms up enough for us to do it outside, I will have figured out the logistics of working an indigo dye vat with a class of 24 six year olds :)

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    2. You can start with other plant dyes in the meantime and really brighten up the window sills in the bleak midwinter. Have students' families bring in yellow onion skins. Cram them into a big, big jar and pour boiling water over them to get the dye started. Once that's cooled a bit, stuff the jar with yarn and top off with tap water. Let it soak in the sun for a few days. I think you can add cream of tartar to brighten the shade. If the yarn is chunky, you can teach them to finger knit with it!

      I found a more complicated way to do it here: http://www.folkfibers.com/blogs/news/6652230-natural-dyes-yellow-onion-skins

      Something beautiful from what we usually throw away!

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  5. If you don't already know about Maura's blog and amazing quilts and dyeing, you might find it interesting. I happen to think her work is gorgeous. I have linked you to the "Indigo" section, but be sure and explore the rest of what she has to offer.

    http://www.folkfibers.com/blogs/news/tagged/indigo

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  6. You've done some lovely dyes! Great job. I did take a class on this, but I would love to do more at home!

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  7. I am currently enrolled in a fabrics course in college. Through mere happenstance I happened to get a small drop of cocoa butter hand lotion on the fabric before dyeing it and did not know about it. When I dyed that particular piece the lotion resisted the dyeing very well. I then finger painted a pattern on my next piece of fabric and it turned out phenomenally. I read about a rice paste application that resists indigo. It is used for stenciling patterns onto cloth before dyeing in Japan.

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    1. Wow, thanks for letting me know about this! I've also read about rice paste techniques, but they sound pretty laborious and time consuming. I will definitely give cocoa butter finger painting a try soon :)

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