This week my craft practice took a dive off the deep end… into a big vat of indigo dye. I’ve been wanting to dip my toe into the world of natural indigo shibori dyeing for a long time, and my friend Michelle and I finally got our acts together and spent a busy day at her farm in Vermont folding, twisting, tying, dunking and oxidizing like a couple of maniacs.
If this is something you’ve been wanting to do, please believe me: IT IS SO. MUCH. FUN. It’s not as hard as you might think to get set up, and the DIY gratification levels are off the chart. You’ll feel equal parts mad scientist, creative genius and dye boss.
Shibori is a Japanese method of resist dying which goes back hundreds of years. Traditionally done with indigo, you can apply the same techniques for use with other fiber reactive dyes, but in my opinion, dying with real indigo is MAGICAL. When mixed with water it is almost a clear green – it’s only when the dye is oxidized by contact with air does it turn the deep blue we associate with indigo
Shibori Dyeing Supplies
- Indigo dying kit (we used this one which includes all the components you need and will dye around 15 yards of fabric)
- 5 gallon plastic bucket
- Dust mask
- Rubber gloves
- Mixing stick
- A hose or sink to rinse out the dye
- Rack or clothesline
- Other tools to create resist impressions like popsicle sticks, pieces of wood and bulldog clips
- Natural fabric like linen, silk, hemp or cotton
Dharma Trading is my favourite source for dyeable fabrics. The prices are excellent and I’ve been happy with the quality. I tried a few substrates in this experiment. I thought the 6.8 oz linen was too coarse at first, but after washing and drying it has a beautiful, soft drape. I also got a yard of the cotton interlock to make baby outfits with, and a few yards of this lovely rayon modal jersey. All took the dye very well as you’ll see below.
To get started, mix the dye outside according to the instructions while wearing a dust mask for safety. Let it sit completely covered for about 30 minutes (you want to keep the air away from the dye since it will speed up oxidization). When it’s ready it creates this sort of bubbly floaty thing, so naturally we started calling it The Mother like it was a jar of kombucha. You can scoop it out while you’re dyeing the fabric but we just pushed it to the side.
You’ll want to have everything ready to go when the dye is done mothering itself, so you may want to prep your fabric before your prepare the dye. I’ll cover some of the folding techniques and our results below.
To dye your fabric, place it in the dye bath so it is completely submerged, and gently agitate it and squeeze out any air bubbles. You’ll want to leave it in for 1-2 minutes. When it comes out of the dye it will be a vivid green; cackle like an evil scientist as it slowly darkens to blue with exposure to air. At this point you want the fabric as exposed to air as possible in order to fully oxidize, so use an old drying rack or whatever you have lying around that you don’t mind turning blue.
The fabric will need at least 20 minutes to oxidize, but you can also let it sit out overnight. You can dye your fabric more than once to get an even deeper indigo shade, so I suggest doing a trial run first to ensure you’re okay with the colour. We only submerged our fabric once each time, and some of them did not turn out as deep as I would have liked.
After the 20 minutes is up, rinse the fabric while it’s still folded in cold running water until it turns clear. We used a few buckets and a hose to do this outside (if you’re doing this inside, I suggest using a stainless steel or utility sink so you don’t stain your porcelain). Afterwards you can wash it in your machine to rinse out any existing dye.
SHIBORI FOLDING TECHNIQUES
There are a number of different folding and tying techniques in the shibori tradition. The goal is to expose some areas to the dye while protecting others, and depending on the technique you use the results range from organic free-for-alls to more linear rectangle and triangle motifs. I highly suggest picking up a copy of the book Tie Dye for design inspiration. I experimented with a few styles and these are my results.
In order to get this linear design, you’ll need to accordion fold your fabric into one long strip, and then accordion it into a triangle shape so it looks like a fat piece of Greek spanakopita. You’ll need to secure it all together with popsicle sticks or elastics – how you secure it will effect the design. The piece on top was secured with just two popsicle sticks, and the one on the bottom was done with lots of elastics.
This is my personal favourite method. To get a striped effect on your fabric, accordion fold it as evenly as possible. A tight fold will create more close together stripes. Then wrap the entire thing in twine. Experiment with tying the string closer and farther apart, but just be sure to tie it tightly so the impressions carry all the way through the fabric. You can also angle the fabric as you fold it to create diagonal lines like on the tshirt above.
This is the style that makes me remember being a grimy little 13 year old hippie, but I think the results can be cool and modern in a deep blue (no Dead Head colour explosions please!) To get these jellyfish like impressions, I gathered a corner of the fabric and twisted it tightly before securing into place with lots of elastics.
This turned out to be one of my favourite results since it looks like space (also because I got to repurpose some old and stained Everlane tees). To achieve it, I scrunched up the fabric tightly and randomly, made a small tight ball and then wrapped the entire thing in elastics. I love how weird and organic this one is.
Overall I dyed 4 yards of linen, 3 yards of rayon modal, 1 yard of cotton jersey and 2 tshirts. Michelle dyed 4 yards of linen, a few tshirts, two pillowcases and a huge duvet cover. Not too shabby for a $9 box of dye! We had an awesome time and are already planning our next dying event.
Have you tried indigo or shibori dying yet? Any great tips to share?