“Tie Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It” Review!

Hi, all!  It’s back to school time (or at least very close to it!) here in the United States, and as usual, I’m in the grips of a seasonal urge to learn!  But since I know that it’s just the cool evening air and a heaping helping of nostalgia giving me these feelings, I like to channel these feelings into learning about a new skill or hobby, and I’m guessing some of you are the same way.  So this fall I’ve decided to learn more about dyeing!

Obviously all the artwork and images from the book aren’t my own…

I don’t remember where I first read about her (probably on the Textile Arts Center blog), but I stumbled across Shabd Simon-Alexander’s book, Tie Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It (available on her site or on Amazon) and instantly ordered it.  In the past, I’ve attended workshops on bundle dyeing and shibori (using indigo), but Shabd’s book is about how to use fiber reactive dyes.  As much as I enjoyed working with natural elements and indigo, it seems easier to dye large pieces of fabric or whole garments with fiber reactive dyes.

This book assumes that you have no previous experience using dyes (perfect!) and walks you through the entire process, from sourcing materials to curing your dyed garments.  For me, dyeing seems like a mysterious art with unpredictable results.  But Shabd gives lots of tips and tricks to achieve specific looks.  For example, she shows you the way that one dye color reacts differently with different fibers:

Pretty cool, huh?  Maybe you can’t know exactly how your project will turn out, but you can definitely make a more educated guess with the help of this book.

I really like that the book elevates tie dye from a sort of cheesy arts & crafts look to something much more elegant.  There’s much more to tie dye than bright spirals (I say this with love– I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit listening to the Grateful Dead and I’ve definitely worn some tie dye disasters)!  Even folks who fear obvious prints and patterns can find a look for them, like this take on polka dots:

Or this fun version of the classic Breton top:

These are both really cool, but I’m drawn to some of the wilder styles, like the cosmic leggings:

I love the simple, modern garments that Shabd dyes, like this top:

It’s so delicate and pretty, not something you would expect from traditional tie dye!  I highly recommend the book– it’s really inspirational!

I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head, but I’m really tempted to start dyeing fabric!  What about you guys?  Are you interesting in dyeing?  Are you learning any new skills or techniques this fall?  Anybody actually going back to school?

Shibori is Fun, and So Are Bloggers!

NEWSFLASH:  Dyeing stuff is way fun!

OK, you guys already knew that.  But seriously, shibori is WAY fun!  Wanna know more?

I was surprised last week by an invitation to a special workshop at the Textile Arts Center.  It was hosted by the good folks at Course Horse, and the attendees were fellow sewing bloggers.  I found the invitation especially serendipitous because I’ve been really interested in learning more about natural dyes and techniques, specifically indigo and shibori, ever since I attended the workshop at the Etsy Labs back in May.

But first– a quick word about Course Horse.  I wasn’t familiar with this site prior to receiving the invitation, but it actually looks pretty cool.  It basically gathers information about classes all over the city, so if you’re interested in taking a class in draping, for example, you type that into their search engine and it brings up available and upcoming classes.  As of right now, only classes in NYC are listed, although word on the street is that an LA version will be launching soon.  There aren’t tons of sewing classes listed, but there are quite a few in other categories (including one on egg pickling… in case you need to, you know, pickle some eggs… hmm….).

OK, back to the class!  Our teacher was Addison Walz, the manager of the 8th St. location.  Here she is demonstrating how to properly fold fabric:

You pleat the strips of fabric accordion-style to help the dye to permeate it evenly.  Below, Addison demonstrates how to find the center of the fabric to bind the fabric for a shell or spiderweb pattern.  Tip: use strong thread to prevent it from snapping as you bind.

Use tongs to lower the material into the dye vat slowly and carefully.  You don’t want to create bubbles, which introduce oxygen into the mix (your goal is to have as little oxygen as possible in the dye when you’re working with indigo).

Of course, since we were a group of bloggers, everyone was very anxious to document the process!  Do you recognize anyone here?  From left to right, it’s Addison, Wanett of Sown Brooklyn, Tricia of Clio & Phineas, and Devra of Puu’s Door of Time.


I was SO excited to meet these gals– with the exception of Wanett (we met at Gertie’s book party last month!), this was my first time meeting them in person, although I’ve been familiar with their blogs for a long time.

OK, moving on… one of the interesting things about indigo dye is that the fiber appears green when you remove it from the dye.  The oxidation process is what turns it blue.  Cool, huh?

Below is an example of using a resist to create a lovely pattern:

The jar lid, combined with the pressure of the clamp, creates a shaped “resist” that will repeat itself, forming a pattern on the fabric.  You can see that the fabric has been pleated, exposing the edges so they’ll all be dyed.  The bottom example has a series of small “shells” created by binding a little loop of fabric at the middle of the piece (like we saw Addison demonstrating earlier).  (PS– Look!  I told you it would turn blue!)

After your piece has fully oxidized (about 15 minutes or so), you can unwrap it, rinse it thoroughly, and hang it to dry.  Here’s Nettie demonstrating that for us with one of her creations:

And look!  Here’s Christine, of Daughter Fish, hard at work!  I squealed when I saw her and maybe sorta kinda petted her amazing coat.

I think we did alright, don’t you?

I love that everyone’s pieces turned out so differently, even though we made them in the same space, at the same time, with the same materials!  (The second piece from the left is the one I made with the clamp and the Mason jar seal– pretty interesting, huh?).  I found this process to be so much fun, and I love that although you can create patterns, you can’t completely predict the outcome!  Luckily, there’s a beauty in imperfection, and the slight changes and surprises aren’t really mistakes– they’re eccentricities!

Or, when you make a mistake (like I did, by using too much pressure and not allowing enough dye to permeate the fiber), you can either embrace the result, or you can just try a new technique and toss it in the vat again!  Here you can see that my pleating, shaped resist attempt didn’t carry through the whole piece– see the “x” in the top left corner?  And see how it doesn’t appear again in the piece?  Haha… I just tied it up again and bound it, starting from the middle, in a spiderweb fashion, before dyeing it a second time.  Two patterns for the price of one!

I had SUCH a great time!  I’ve been so interested in shibori for a while, but it seemed so complicated (not to mention messy!  I’m pretty sure the LAST thing Man Friend wants me to get involved in is a messy craft that has the capacity to permanently stain fingers, floors, countertops, and pugs!).  Not only that, it’s just always so fun to meet other people that love making things!  It’s great to be in the company of inquisitive, creative people (and that applies to all a y’all out in bloggyland).  🙂

The downside of this is that now I really wanna take every single class that the Textile Arts Center offers.  Sigh.  So many fun things to do, but so little time…

What about you guys?  Do you have any interest in shibori or natural dyes?  If so, you should definitely check out the Textile Arts Center (if you’re a local) or this book (if you’re not).  Do you enjoy taking classes or learning in a group?

Thanks again to Evan and Katie at Course Horse for the invitation, and to Addison for leading such a great workshop!  You guys are the best!

Tricia, Devra, Katie, Nettie, Addison, me, and Christine (photo by Evan)

Natural Dye Workshop Recap

Hi, guys!  Happy Monday!  I promised last week to give you more details about the natural dye workshop that I attended at the Etsy labs in DUMBO, Brooklyn.  It was SO much fun– I don’t have much experience with this sort of thing, but it was so fun that I can’t wait to try it again!

The class was taught by Isa Rodrigues, the studio manager of the Textile Arts Center.  If you’re in the NYC area, you should check them out!  They have classes in Park Slope and the Village, and I want to sign up for ALL of them (they also have a natural dye garden, where they grow plants they use for their textile dyes!).  We dyed small silk handkerchiefs.  You can dye any fabric with natural fibers using this technique, but silk and wool give the best results and the most brilliant color.

We started by selecting the dye materials we wanted to use and placing it on the handkerchief along with natural items for texture:

Here I’m using dried hibiscus and saffron, with some spiky pine leaves (?) for texture.  You can use many materials for dyeing– Isa suggested throwing the flower or plant into boiling water and seeing if it gives off color.  Of course, you’ll get varying degrees of color intensity, but you’ll get to feel like a plant detective!  You can also use bark, roots, or berries– you just wanna do a little research about the plants you’re using so that you dispose of your dye bath properly if the plant is toxic.  For texture– you can use twigs, bark, seashells, stones… anything you like!

The next step is to roll the fabric around a stick.  You could use a dowel rod, or anything similar.  I wanted to make sure that my fabric would be submerged equally, so I folded my handkerchief in half before rolling it around the stick.

Secure the fabric to the stick by wrapping thread, string, or twine around it tightly.  You want to make sure that it isn’t going to go anywhere!  If you use cotton string, you’ll dye it, too, which is kind of cool!

Next, we dropped our bundles into a dye bath.  We just used water heated with several tea bags in it, so the light tea stain will release the colors of the dye materials without interfering with them too much.   It’s important to use a stainless steel pot– copper, iron, or other materials will affect the color of the dye.  We simmered the fabric for 20-30 minutes, then removed it.  Your fabric will be much brighter if you wait 2-3 days to remove the string and open it up.  I placed mine in a ziploc bag and left it overnight.  Interestingly enough, you can actually leave it longer, or even bury it underground– the dye materials will get moldy, and you can rinse off fabric, but the greens and blues from the mold will stay in the fabric.  Crazy, right?

Another thing to talk about here is mordants.  To make the dye adhere better, and to make your colors more permanent, you can treat your fibers with what’s called a mordant before, after, or during the dyeing process.  Typically, you use alum (you can find it in the spice section of a grocery store or natural food store).  I plan to research this process a bit more.  I found a few books online about the natural dye process– The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, Harvesting Color, and Wild Color, to name a few.  I’m sure these are a good starting point if you want to learn more!

Here’s the first handkerchief I dyed:

The color is even more vibrant in real life.  I didn’t really care about getting an imprint from the pine needles, so I didn’t roll it super tightly or carefully, but it’s possible to see the outline of your leaves or seashells or whatever if you take pains.

Here’s a second one that I dyed:

It’s a deeper color, too… the silk is hard to photograph.  I used onion skins, walnut shells, and hibiscus for this one.

So there you go!  I’m by no means an expert on the topic, but I thought I’d share with you what I learned.  Do you guys have any experience with natural dyeing methods?  I’m really interested– I like that it’s both creative and eco-friendly.