This winter I’ve been spending my studio (aka basement) time mostly wet felting. I was honored to be commissioned to fill an 8 x 11 foot wall space with felted landscapes for a winter show at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis. Over the holiday season Gallery 360 also featured my wet felted animal toys, holiday decorations, cat toys, vessels and eco-printed cards. I also felted vessels for several shops in the Twin Cities, including Three Rooms in Edina and Fleur de Lis, a flower shop in Saint Paul. Once the holidays were over andI had a bit more creative free time, I dyed some silk scarves to be ready for eco printing in spring and then got back to something I’d done twice in workshops and only once at home and wanted to try again– indigo dyeing.
In both workshops I’d taken we used Michel Garcia’s organic indigo vat recipe. I’d brought home some left over dye from one workshop, revived and added to it for one use here at home, and hoped to revive it once more. I had some trouble getting the healthy scum of bubbles on top but it had the other signs that it was a viable vat. So off I went, dipping my shibori prepared cotton table napkins, flour sack towels and toddler tee shirts and a sweatshirt I found at Axman for a dollar each.
I’d taken two classes at the Textile Center in Minneapolis on shibori folding, clamping and stitching to achieve interesting contrasts and patterns due to the dye not penetrating the fabric under the resists. I used marbles, washers, rubber bands, string, wooden blocks, bulldog clips, clothespins and nylon thread to create the resists.
When you first remove an item from the dye it isn’t blue at all – it’s a greenish, yellowish, or turquoise which becomes blue as it airs, or oxidizes. The more often you dip an item in the indigo, the darker the shade becomes. So I kept dipping and dipping my little wrapped, clamped and stitched bundles into the dye. I’d read that natural indigo has a harder time penetrating to the inner layers and that massaging the fabric under the surface of the dye helps get the dye into the fibers. You don’t want to break the surface more than absolutely necessary because that introduces oxygen into the mixture and it doesn’t dye as well. If the color turns from greenish or bronze to blue, you’ve got too much oxygen and need to rebalance the vat by adding more reducing agent, such as fructose.
Keeping all this in mind, I tried to follow all the instructions I’d learned and hoped for the best. After the final dips, I let the bundles dry for a day or so and finally unwrapped. I was delighted with all the lovely designs of white contrast on blue background. I let the pieces dry another day or so and finally rinsed thoroughly in the washing machine.
But when the cycle started emptying the water into the laundry tub, I watched all my work literally wash down the drain. The water was a deep, navy blue – darker than any of the pieces I’d dyed. I hope some would still be left in the fabric. But when the cycle was finished and I removed my pieces, some were quite light blue and some had hardly any dye left at all. What a wash out!
So I decided to add a new ingredient to the remaining dye – thiox. I’m still trying to determine whether or not this could be classified as an organic ingredient. At any rate, once I added it to the vat, reheated the liquid too 140 degrees and began dipping, I could hardly believe the results. Suddenly I had darker blues faster than I ever had previously. After an evening of dipping and re-dipping I ended up with nicely dark, blue bundles. The next morning I opened them up and was thrilled with the results. I haven’t washed them yet, but I have a feeling I’ll be much happier with the results.
Next I’m going to see if I can’t master that original organic vat recipe and process, though. The thiox made the vat smell strongly like ammonia and it just wasn’t as pleasant as the original ingredients I’d used – natural indigo powder, calc (lime) and fructose. I’ve read many an article on indigo dyeing and various recipes and techniques and know there is a vast amount to learn. This isn’t something you pick up in a day or two. It will be good for me to be working at a challenge and learning something brand new, although at times it can be frustrating and disappointing. But all the more rewarding it will be when I feel I’ve achieved a certain amount of mastery!