Blue Sunday: Adventures in Indigo Dying

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You may or may not know that I am a little obsessed with the color blue. So I was casually chatting with my dear artist friend, Lisa Beth Robinson, about indigo dyeing being on my maker bucket list for 2017. Turns out she was of the same mind. We made a date for Aug. 6… this was back in March.

Fast forward five months. Lisa Beth and I spent the morning prepping materials we planned to dye. We had yarn, fabric, paper, dresses, linens— everything because everything should be blue. Seriously. Blue makes me so happy. I had the opportunity to experiment with indigo dyeing earlier in the summer with Indio, an adorable little boutique in Durham that hosts great, small classes for dabblers. I had managed to find a pattern I really liked and found out how far I could push the visual textures with only rubber bands and twisting. This time I wanted to be more deliberate. 

The day of...

LB hosted at her house in Greenville, NC and generously provided the indigo, drying setup, and also coffee, snacks, and lunch because she is as amazing a host as she is an artist. The vats take a few hours to set up, so while we waited, we prepped.

Preparations

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Prepping is the most tedious part of the process. When using things like rubber bands, blocks, and other items to help create the pattern, folding is a very important. How you fold your fabric, will dictate the way your pattern is laid out on the overall piece. LB and I used an accordion fold as the foundation for our patterns. 

Dyeing- the 2nd most fun part!

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We gave our vats about 3-4 hours to sit while we prepped. To prevent a big build up of “flower”, or bubbly foam on the surface, Lisa Beth covered the indigo buckets with plastic wrap. The mixture was a little stinky too, so it helped to keep curious bugs out of the mixture. 

Typically, you would scrape off any flower from the buckets before beginning. We decided to use the flower to create some irregularities in the textures and pattern of our pieces. When it dries, it is a powder you can brush away. This was especially interesting on the paper I dyed. I’ll share some pics in another blog post.

The color of the dye seemed to depend on the type of materials we dyed. Here is what was in our collective batch:

  • cotton linens (pillow cases, sheets, dresses)
  • Wool yarn
  • Acrylic yard
  • Heavy duty water color paper
  • Linen fabric
  • plain cotton
  • Hand made paper

Good or dip again?

After you’ve dipped your materials and the dye begins to oxidize, you can make a choice about if you want to dip your item again to achieve a darker blue. We waited until the material was completely oxidized (no longer green) and JUST dry enough to take on more dye mixture before we dipped again. 

Once you have the depth of blue that makes your heart sing, you can dip the fabric or paper in water to stop the darkening process. This is a very important step. Don't skip it.  

The 1st look (aka the most fun part!)

Once we had made it through everything and our experiments were beginning to dry, we started removing the sticks and rubber bands to see how our patterns turned out.  

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By the time we finished dyeing Lisa Beth’s impressive stack of gorgeous hand made paper (this woman is amazing) we were both sweat soaked with thunder storms threatening hit. So we didn’t have a ton of time to spend mulling over our creations.

I lugged a borrowed bin full of damp blue things home to Durham. Since the fabric had not been rinsed (BTW, I HIGHLY recommend you do this as part of your dying process), I first ran everything through a cold wash (no soap) in my washing machine. 

So far, this is as far as I have gotten. Next steps will include embroidery, block printing and, most certainly GOLD.

*Lisa Beth Robinson is one of the most brilliant artists and art educators I know. She teaches at ECU’s school of art and is off and running all summer long, making and experimenting. I’m so lucky to call her a friend and to have the chance to have mini maker visits. LBR, thank you for your friendship, hospitality, and generosity. There is no one else I would rather sweat my ass off with in the late, hot, Eastern Carolina, summer sun with.

Follow up project pics coming soon!

Heart hands,
Niki

Niki Litts