Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Making the Seasons: May

Welcome to May's Making the Seasons post, a monthly project between myself and my friend Lucy. I know that, throughout this series, I have been championing the delights of the small and seasonal project, something achievable and easy to do around the demands of everyday life, but not this month. This time, I found myself with a new book and a half term break coming up, and so I deliberately set aside some hours to myself to experiment with dyeing with indigo. I know that there is nothing particularly spring-like about dyeing fabric, but it is something best done outside and so the beautifully sunny and warm weather we had over the bank holiday weekend was perfect. 

I have never dyed anything before. The tie-dye craze passed me by, and while I've seen lots of crafters dye with natural materials, or dye their own yarn, it never really appealed quite enough for me to want to learn a whole new skill. But then, on a whim really, I bought this book, and I think I am hooked. I'd really recommend it as an introduction to Shibori dyeing as the stages are set out very clearly, and the sewing projects inside are an inspiring way to see how Shibori patterns could be used on various garments or household items.

I didn't use the sewing projects though in the book though. Having already bought the book and then spent £25 on an indigo dye kit, and wanting to keep things as simple as possible, I decided to dye things I already had in the house rather than buying metres of cotton and linen, tempting though that was. I rummaged around for some unused plain white tea towels I knew I had somewhere and an old cream pashmina/scarf. I also bought a plain white linen table runner and some new cotton pillowcases and took it from there. (Indigo does not adhere to synthetic fibres so I had to make sure everything I used was a natural material.)

Making up the indigo dye is like following a recipe really; various things have to be weighed, combined and mixed to a paste, then something else is weighed and added before it's left somewhere warm for a little while. Then you get your water ready and add the dye concentrate to the water, then leave it again. I am not going to do a step by step tutorial here as I don't feel nearly expert enough, but there are loads online if you want to find out more. 

Earlier that day, I had prepared my fabric. First I tried Shibori Kanoko, which is very similar to the Western tie-dye style. Sections of cloth are bound with string (or elastic bands - so easy to snip off afterwards!) in different ways. You can create a lovely sunburst pattern by folding the fabric into a square and then tying sections from a central point going outwards towards the edge, as I did for the scarf above. Or wavy stripes can be made if you concertina the fabric and place the bands or string at regular intervals along the length as I did in the tea towel at the top of the picture below.

Next was Shibori Itajime, which uses wood to create pattern, like these pegs in the tea towel above. The two pillowcases, below, I folded into triangles then sandwiched between two pieces of wood, tying the elastic bands as tight as I could. 

Finally I tried Shibori Kumo, which I think is my favourite. Found objects, most often pebbles, are placed and secured creating lots of rings of different shapes and sizes, and this is what I used for my table runner. 

The folded fabric needs to soak in water for a couple of hours before you can dye it. 

The actual dyeing process happened much more quickly than I thought it would. It seemed to take less than a minute for the colour the take and deepen really quickly. I am curious to see what would happen if I left fabric for much longer, or even just for ten seconds, but for all that I dyed, it was no more than thirty seconds to a minute. While the fabric is in there, try to wiggle it around a bit to get as much dye into every section as possible, but don't splash it around as indigo does not like too much oxygen in the water apparently. No idea why, but it said so in the book and everything else I read online. 

As soon as you remove the fabric from the dye vat, have a bucket of water ready. I removed my bindings at this stage, although you can also do it later if you like, but I just thought it would be easier to rinse. I had a few buckets and the hose lined up next to me in the garden to I could rinse and change the water quickly. When most of the colour seems to have gone, you do a final rinse with fresh water and some vinegar, then hang it on the line to dry. 

After they'd dripped on the line a bit, I put them in the washing machine on a normal wash with some detergent, and dried them. This instantly faded the colour a little from the deep purplish blue to a softer, more denim blue which I much prefer. 

Shall we look at the results? Oh, go on then. So the Itajime technique, where the fabric is folded between wood, created the most beautiful triangular pattern with a small amount of blue over a large white area. I really like this, it's ideal for these pillowcases as it's not too much.

The pegs create small, uniform white rectangles on a predominantly blue background as you see in the tea towel on the left.

While the one of the right has the wiggly stripes from the concertinaing and tying of the Kanoke technique.

With my scarf, I folded it in half before then folding into two squares which created a beautiful double sunburst pattern which is stunning.

 This scarf was sat in the attic until last weekend, not worn for two or three years, and since dyeing it I've worn it every cloudy day this week. I feel like I have a whole new item of clothing!

And finally the table runner with the Kumo, or pebble, technique. Those irregular circles create a beautiful effect and it looks lovely on our outdoor table. (John made it a few weeks ago - I still haven't had time to put together a proper garden post but I will soon, I promise.)

There end my adventures with indigo dye. I absolutely loved it, and really want to do it again. I am very tempted to try a white duvet cover, and a t-shirt, and maybe some fabric so I can make things like cushion covers. John is threatening to stage an intervention if it all gets too out of hand. But the moment when you take the item out of the vat, undo the ties and see that it worked is so exhilarating, I can see how it would become addictive. I was giddy with excitement and dragged everyone out to the garden to see what I'd made. 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my dyeing fun. Please pop over to Lucy's blog, Attic24, to see what seasonal and creative wonders she has been creating in this beautiful month in her post.


  1. Your photos are absolutely beautiful, especially the ones of the them all hanging on the line to dry - just perfectly sunny and uplifting and May-ish! I love the excitement that bubbles up when a creative project comes to fruition, that feeling really is addictive and like no other. Ooooo I'm already excited for June....what shall we do for the start of Summer?!xxxxxxxxxx

  2. oh and I meant to say how PERFECT your new peg rail and white wooden backdrop is for photos...clever, very clever x

  3. That is very impressive & I do love how some of the designs have worked out. That is a feat in itself. Although I dyed a couple of things back in the 70/80s (sh!, old aren't I?), it was only with RIT dye to update or hide an ugly colour on something. Has Lucy tried the same challenge? Have a lovely end of week & take care.

  4. Those are all so beautiful. My girls and I had a go with a tie dyeing kit once and we got thoroughly overexcited - it was such fun revealing the final results. I love your new table and look forward to your garden post. xx

  5. You've made some wonderful things there, and the pashmina now really IS a new item! Love the outdoor table, your husband deserves extra praise for that.

  6. It looks like SO much fun, and you've made a lovely job of it all. The scarf is fantastic, I can see why you're wearing it every day. Do you ever read Soule Mama's blog? A while back she indigo-dyed practically everything. I can well imagine it being very addictive, there'd be no stopping me if I got started. The table runner is great as well, and I shall look forward to seeing John's garden furniture, it looks brilliant. CJ xx

  7. Love it Gillian! I have been tempted to try indigo, but afraid at the same time. I did a bit of dyeing with natural dyes at Easter time, and it was so exciting to experiment with different ways of making designs. For a control freak, it might be nerve racking though...

  8. Neat! I love the way everything turned out. I think the pillowcases are my favorite, I love how understated they are and how they look on your bed with the light-colored bedding and headboard. It's so much fun to try something new and different, glad you enjoyed yourself!

  9. Beautiful! As a teenager I tie dyed many things, not at all as stylish as this...

  10. Did you just rinse the dye and pour the dye out into your grass lawn? Is that healthy? Toxic? Blue grass? Does the book have suggestions for disposing the dye safely. I'd love to try this!

    1. Hi Liz. No, the dye solution I poured straight down the outside drain. With the buckets of water I used for rinsing, I poured the first one down the drain but the rest onto the flowerbeds as I thought any residual chemical must be pretty well diluted by that point.

  11. How I love all of this Gillian. And beautiful pictures too.

  12. You and Lucy have done very diverse but equally beautiful projects this month. I did tie dyeing the first time round and well remember the excitement of cutting off the bindings and drying the fabric.

  13. So pretty, Gillian! I think the table runner is my favorite.

  14. Your projects turned out beautifully, Gillian! I have yet to try a dying project, but perhaps one day... For years I saved dried avocado pits to try to dye some yarn after seeing an article in Spin Off magazine that showed an amazing array of colors one can get. Thanks for posting :-) xx

  15. I especially love the pillowcases; they are so delicate-looking. My linen cupboard had better watch out...!

  16. Honestly...what will you think of next! I can't wait to see! They look fabulous...I love that a less used article has a new life. Thanks for sharing your creative ideas...they really are inspiring!

  17. What a great post - trying something new really keeps one alive I find. My girls like to tie-dye but I never know what to do with the resulting fabric - always too small but these ideas are fantastic. A whole new skill. Jo xxx

  18. Ah, so beautiful! I'm so glad the book inspired such amazing projects for your gorgeous home. I love teaching indigo dyeing as the results are so stunning, thank you for linking to Amazon too! Nic x


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