Indigo is amongst the oldest dyes for textiles and printing, it’s synonymous blue tones can be spotted across the globe and seen throughout ancient history. Much of the indigo used today is synthetic and most commonly used in denim. The more I learnt about the production of clothes and the dyeing process of fabrics, the more I became increasingly interested in natural dyeing. My interest was primarily for selfish reasons, I don’t want to expose my skin to chemicals, but secondly from an environmental perspective it just makes sense to use natural dye.
I welcomed the chance to give this ancient technique a try at the Shibori Natural Dyeing Workshop at Stitched Up Co-operative . The process is messy and complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing, so I was pleased to have my hand held through it with the help of the lovely Claire from Stitched Up. Claire had already prepared the Dye vat, maintaining an Indigo Dye Vat is a labour of love, it required regular feeding of fructose and needs to be kept at a certain temperature, it requires the same commitment as a sourdough starter. So I’m glad I didn’t just embark on this project in the garage at home.
I was introduced to Shibori for the first time, it’s a Japanese method of folding, binding and bunching fabric before it is exposed to the dye, leaving behind the negative space. There are endless possibilities of patterns depending on how you fold your fabric or what you use to create the relief. Here are a few examples to give you an idea.
To begin the dyeing process you start by folding and binding your fabric. This examples below shows how the fabric is first folder and pegged together to create the relief.
Next you submerge your fabric into boiled water, this allows the fabric to be fully porous and removes any oxygen from the dye, which can spoil the chemical balance in the dye vat.
Then you’re ready to dye, indigo can stain your nails and hands so it’s best to wear rubber gloves. Carefully submerge your fabric into the dye without causing too many bubbles, again as the oxygen can alter the PH of the vat. Gently massage the fabric, especially near the edges of your binding to ensure the dye seeps right to the edges. Leave the fabric in the vat for three minutes, before removing carefully, again avoiding any drips or bubbles. You’ll be surprised as when you remove your fabric it is a yellow-green colour, the magic happens during the washing process.
Then to start the washing process, in cold water move the fabric vigorously, this time you want to create as many bubbles as possible, this process helps sets the dye so ensure you are thorough with the washing process, otherwise your dye won’t be fixed and the colour will disappear in the washing machine. We washed the fabric in three buckets of fresh water, moving from one bucket to the next, from just dyed to nearly ready, ensured the water stayed as clean as possible. The fresh water buckets were changed regularly to avoid cross contamination.
Once washed the fabric will be blue, depending on the depth of blue you requires, determines how many times you need to repeat the ‘dye/wash’ process. The example below has just been dyed once.
After the demonstration, we had a go ourselves, the best way to determine what works is simply to get stuck in. I started by clamping these circles, then I used pegs and then I wrapped thread round my fabric to create a water effect.
I really enjoyed the process and found it instantly satisfying. I love the tones that indigo produces and find it very calming. We just experimented with small squares of fabric, but still I wanted to use them in some way, so I managed to make a cushion cover and used fabric scraps to fill it. I also decided to frame a piece of indigo to put in our bedroom. Indigo is an aesthetic that I really love and I can definetely get behind the natural dyeing process. There seem to be a few brands across the globe doing interesting things with Indigo.
Stitched Up are running another Natural Dyeing Shibori Workshop next month and there was talk of a ‘Vat-urday’ event where you could drop in and use the Vat and dye your own cloth on a drop-in basis, i’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for that. In my sketchbook I recorded the process in a hope to cement the new information. Who knows perhaps next summer I’ll get a pet vat of my own on the go.
All for now.
Claire & co.