Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ready to dye

if any of you started a natural fermentation vat of your own, by now it may be ready to dye. 

the vat is ready when all (or at least most) of the oxygen has been reduced out of it.  indigo dyeing is quite magical - the actual dyeing takes place not in the vat, like an immersion dye, but when the fibres are lifted out of the vat.  the oxygen hits them and they turn blue.

the first sign that things are going well with your vat is that you will have a kind of coppery sheen on the top of it - this may happen in the first few days even.  you know how gas spilled on the sidewalk has kind of a rainbowy, shimmery quality to it?  like that.

but to know that your vat is actually ready to go, simply take up a small scoop of the liquid in a clear container.   when healthy, the vat liquid will no longer be blue, but a greenish, yellowy blue, or if very healthy, amber.  jim liles always describes the colour as dark beer colour.

and of course the ultimate test is to stick a piece of fabric in there.  i have a pile of the selvedge edges of white fabric that i use to test my vats.  stick a piece of fabric in there, and after a few minutes when you pull it out it should be a bright, vibrant, sometimes almost neon green.  and then the magic.  the colour will slowly shift before your eyes and become the beautiful blue that is indigo.

i tried to take a photo to show this, and didn't have too much luck, since the colour shifts pretty quickly, but you can get a bit of the idea here.  the fabric on the left has only just began to turn blue, while the piece on the right is fully oxydized.

if you take your fabric out and it is already blue, or the liquid you take up in a container is still blue - your vat is not ready, and the dye will not stick.  the oxygenation process has to happen.

in other types of vats, like the zinc-lime, another sign of health is that a 'flower' forms on the top of the vat.  this will depend partly on the size of your vat - when i did my very tiny glass jar, the surface of the vat was quite small and i would only have a few little bubbles on the top.  but now that i have a bigger vat going, i've also got quite a nice little flower happening:

but, i will note that the flower on my fermentation vat is much smaller (about 2 inches across), then the one on my zinc-lime vat (about 5 inches across), even though the vats are now the same size.  photos of my zinc-lime flower, by much more skilled photographers than me, are here and here.

fingers crossed that your vats are happy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

photo shoot

i'm getting ready to go to the states for a wholesale show in a few couple weeks (with my hats, my full-time gig), and have been busy preparing.  it's going to be my first wholesale experience so i'm a little nervous, and hope that i have the right answers to any questions.  i'm also struggling to create a booth that i can fit in my suitcase....

we had a little photo shoot the other night with some of my newer products, the ever-adorable rosalyn as model, and my fabulous housemate aube as photographer.  we started with a bunch of shots of hats, but we had been struggling to come up with a good way to get photos of my mittens that wouldn't be just a static shot of hands or the mittens on a backround.  and so.....


kind of ridiculous.  but i love it.  now it feels like it needs to be some kind of animation.  which is clearly not going to happen.  but still.

one of my favorite shots from the night is also my new favorite product, this braided scarf:

super mega-thanks to aube and roz! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011


figured i would pop in quickly and answer the two questions that came from the last post, here, rather than in the comments sections.

nicole asked about the daily stirring - concerned that it would introduce oxygen into the vat, which is of course exactly what you're trying to avoid.  i do what my instructor in art school taught me, and what i saw a very experienced indigo dyer in japan do - stir in a circular motion with a (very long) spoon that reaches to the bottom of the pot.  this way, the spoon is mixing up the sludge that has settled at the bottom (which is the point of the stirring - to reintroduce the mix into the water to allow the chemical reactions to continue happening).  and as you stir you begin to create a whirlpool - not only does this mix things up fairly aggressively without adding too much oxygen, but once you have a flower forming, the whirlpool helps to bring the flower back together into the centre of the vat.

i agree with margie that it's good to do your stirring at the same time each day - then it just becomes part of your regular daily routine.  i do mine first thing in the morning - feels like a little check-in to see how they're doing....
 and heleen asked if it was possible to use a big plastic bucket to make a vat in, which it definitely is.  you can use any type of vessel you like.  preferably one with a lid, to help keep both the air out and the smell in.  currently both my natural fermentation and my zinc-lime vats are in 5 gallon plastic pails, the kind that a contractor or painter might use. 

the main consideration when choosing a vessel is what you're going to dye.  i had my fermentation vat in a smaller container (a stock pot), but then when i would dye large skeins of wool, the wool was too big and would touch the sediment at the bottom of the pot, mixing it all up, which you don't want to do while dyeing.  your goods will not only get a bunch of unreduced indigo on them, which will make them look darker blue than they are but will then wash off when you rinse (and waste the indigo), but once the liquid gets too stirred up, you have to stop and let the sediment settle again, which takes at least two hours.  so choose a vessel that is big enough that your fibres can go into it without touching the bottom two inches or so of the vat.

the other consideration is keeping the vat warm - the advantage of a stock pot or other metal vessel is that you can just plunk it on the stove to warm it up.  but this time of year your vat shouldn't need any additional warming - summer room temperature will be more than enough.  however come winter, a plastic vat will be harder to keep warm, and alive.

there's many wonderful photos of indigo dyers in warm climates, who have their vats built right into the ground, like this man in india:

photo from here

Monday, June 20, 2011

natural fermentation recipe

so i promised last time that i would detail out how i made the natural fermentation vat that we used at our dyeing party last week.  the recipe i used comes from cheryl kolander at aurora silk and you can find it right herethere is also a very similar recipe in "the art and craft of natural dyeing" by jim liles, which is one of my two natural dye bibles that i refer to all the time.  he has several indigo recipes, including old fashioned sig vats, which use just indigo and urine.  but i am nowhere near that hardcore.  and my vats are already stinky enough, thank you very much.

in any case, as i said, the recipe is very simple.  for my medium sized vat, which i did in a big stock pot (holds around 2 gallons, or 7-8 litres) i combined:

warm water, almost to the brim
50 grams of finely ground indigo
28 grams finely ground madder root
28 grams regular old wheat bran
170 grams soda ash

stir very well (especially when you add the indigo - it is notoriously tough to dissolve), put a lid on it (important, as the point is that you're trying to reduce the oxygen out of the vat), and put in a warm place.  

and that's it!  the key is that you have to look after it a little bit, but all this means is that you need to stir it once a day (quite well), and make sure it stays warm.  as i said, when i did this vat in the winter, it took almost 6 weeks to be ready to dye, but the vat that i started recently and have been keeping in a warm attic only took 5 or 6 days.  

gotta run to teach a class at the workroom (felting this time!), but i'll come back in a day or two and talk about how you know that your vat is ready to dye.

any questions so far?

Friday, June 17, 2011

dyeing party

had a little dyeing party in the backyard last night.  we had trouble getting the zinc-lime indigo vat going in the advanced dyeing class at the workroom, so i had promised the students that once i got mine going at home, i would invite them all over for some dipping.

and it was even better, because since then i have also gotten my natural fermentation vat going.  the mini one that i wrote about a few weeks ago worked out so well that i started up a second, slightly bigger one.  i had only ever done a natural fermentation vat once, years and years ago, and i had never really been motivated to do it again, since that vat took a really long time to be ready (six weeks!), and even then wasn't very strong.  but i now realise that the problem wasn't the vat, but the time of year.  last time i tried it was winter, and i struggled to even keep my vat at room temperature, just like my zinc-lime vat this past winter.  

but.....now that it's warm, and i've got my vats up in my (cooking hot) attic studio, everything is coming up blue.

the natural fermentation vat is really quite easy, and last night we were getting some beautiful blue in a wonderful range of intensities.  i linked to the recipe that i used a few posts ago, but i'll come back soon and do a post with more details of how i made my vat, and perhaps some discussion of the different types of vats.

but first, some photos of our dyeing fun:

it was lovely to see the backyard all covered in fabrics and yarns in various stages of dipping and oxydizing.

one of my favorite parts of shibori is the 'reveal', when you unfold the fabric and see what kind of design you've created.  this is karyn's lovely window pane piece.


susan put on a pot of cochineal and added some lime juice to it.  the acid from the limes brings out the red, especially on wool.  i dyed the ends of a few skeins of superwash merino to create some new variegated colourways that i'll have in the shop soon.

the evening was overseen by my trusty studio assistant, who managed to escape the fate of indigo dipped paws.

it was a great night, so much fun to be dyeing in a group like that.  arounna has posted some lovely photos, including one of the indigo flower on top of the zinc-lime vat (which is how you know your vat is ready to dye).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

solar scarves in the shop!

after nicole posted some lovely photos of herself wearing the solar dyed scarf she won in my giveaway, a few of you wrote to ask if there were any more available.  so i've been bundling and waiting, bundling and waiting, and have just listed a few solar scarves in my shop.

the process requires a bit of patience, since the dyes are set with only the heat of the sun, and so need to be left to 'cook' for at least a week or so.  but it's so satisfying to open the bundles up for the big reveal.  as per usual, i don't feel like my photography skills do the colours and details in the patterns justice, but i'm working on it.....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

cathedral windows

a few weeks ago i decided to treat myself to taking a class at the workroom, the place where i teach dyeing.  cathedral windows patchwork had long been on my list of things to try, so i was thrilled when it was added to the fantastic roster of classes at the workroom.  i'm not much of a quilter, i've only done a few pieces in my life, but i find it very satisfying and the results can be so stunning.   

whenever i do any patchwork i always gain a new appreciation for those who are so good at it (including johanna, the fabulous quilting instructor at the workroom), since it's an art that requires such precision.  this kind of meticulousness is not really my strong point, but i have found that even though my patchworks always end up a bit wonky, i'm still usually pretty happy with them.


the cathedral windows technique is a bit fiddly, and requires a decent amount of handsewing, so my piece is only going to be this big - four squares by four.  i think i'll make it into a cushion.  it would be lovely to make a piece like this which showcased a gradation of colours made with natural dyes, wouldn't it?