Indigo-dyeing day

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I’m more than pleased with my first try at indigo dyeing. Indigo dresses

I thought I’d share my first attempts at indigo dyeing. 

It’s all courtesy of my friend M, who has a lovely workshop because she dyes yarn for a living, and decided to invite all her friends over to try their hands at this technique. I was in the second workshop, and decided to cut some dress lengths, because in the past, when I’ve done shibori dyeing, I’ve ended up with pieces of fabric that were too small to use. 

This time I was determined not to make the same mistake, so I cut a simple sundress shape out of fabrics in my stash. One is a white-on-white stripe chintz that I’ve had for over 25 years and never used, and the two others were cut from a bamboo and cotton single duvet cover.

I also did some test samples on offcuts of kimono silk and old haori linings that I’d removed from garments that I dissassembled.

I spent the night before the workshop tying and stitching my fabrics.

mokume shibori

One dress length I did as mokume – a technique where you sew running stitches through the cloth then draw it up. I actually did this on my sewing machine, using a 20mm tacking stitch through both pieces of fabric, and when drawn up, the piece was only around six inches long. You can see here how the striped chintz adds an extra level of texture. 

 'bean' shibori and maki-nuiAnother, I knew I wanted mostly dark, so I tied individual dried beans into it, using elastic bands rather than thread. On the bodice section, I used black-eyed beans, in the middle section I used chickpeas and on the skirt part I used white kidney beans. (The different sizes proved to be a waste of time, as they all came out looking virtually identical.) I also whipstitched in between the motifs on the bodice part – a technique called maki-ori. 

kumo shibori

The third piece was a last-minute decision – kumo shibori of a sort, though very rough in technique. I just drew up a handful of cloth into a point and secured it with one or two elastic bands, going all over the cloth until it was covered. Each dress length ended up about six inches wide and a foot long. 

The indigo had been mixed in a plastic dustbin, using ready-to-use indigo crystals. Apparently it’s important to let it settle until it forms a yellowish layer on top, rather like oil on vinegar in a salad dressing. Into this, you dip your fabric, preferably wet to the ease the penetration of the dye, and trying to disturb the surface layer as little as possible to avoid oxygenating the mix.

Three of us, L, V and myself were all trying this, suspending our pieces on coathangers with bits of string, as the level of the dye was well below the height of the bin. Each dip takes a few minutes, then as you pull out the fabric it turns first bright turquoise, then – as it oxidises – blue. You allow it to dry a bit, then dip it again if you want to strengthen the colour. Between us, we did dress lengths, t-shirts, scarves and various pieces of cloth. We were later joined by C, who used cushion-cover-size pieces, each with a different design. 

Indigo vat

I dipped my mokume dress and the silk samples twice and the other dresses three times, but I now wish I’d carried on dipping perhaps another twice to get a really dark indigo blue, given that this colour will fade. Nevertheless, I’m absolutely made-up by the results. All of the silk samples were rubbish, pretty much (indigo doesn’t penetrate as far into fabric as the Procion dyes I’m used to, so my pleated efforts, etc, were totally wasted) but the dress lengths all came out exactly as I’d hoped. 

Indigo samples

An indigo vat will keep for some weeks, so I’m now going to shibori some more garment lengths – maybe trousers this time – and see what effects I can get while the going’s good. Wish me luck.  

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