Starting real shibori

Last night in class we started experimenting with shibori dyeing, using cotton muslin and indigo. The indigo was already mixed up in a big plastic vat with a lid – which is important to keep on, as indigo oxidises on contact with air, turning from green to blue. You can see this when you take your cloth out of the vat – it’s actually green at first, turning blue in front of your eyes!

The indigo is mixed with various chemicals to help fix it, including caustic soda (though our tutor, Debby, assured us that it is at such a low concentration it doesn’t damage the skin). Despite this, indigo does apparently tend to run – rather like jeans when you wash them.

Essentially, shibori entails using various types of resist to prevent the dye reaching the cloth, so it’s a negative process – in our case the marks were white against the dyed blue cloth. You can use pretty much anything – string, thread or elastic bands, stitching pulled up tight, clamps or bulldog clips, wooden or plastic blocks – to block the dye from the cloth. You can also pleat the cloth or roll it around rope,  ruler or plastic tubing, or tie items like stones into it. The world is your oyster!

When using indigo it’s important to remember to wet the cloth before putting it in the dye to prevent the indigo “wicking” through into the dry cloth inside – run it under the tap until it’s thoroughly soaked and then squeeze out excess water to avoid diluting the indigo too much.

Below are some photos of some of my experimental results, with notes on what I did. I’ve brought some muslin home to do some more elaborate stitching patterns for next week, as they can be too time consuming to do in class.

Above – I put a piece of string along one side of the cloth and rolled the cloth around it like a swiss roll. Then I pushed the ends of the cloth towards the centre so that it was all scrunched up and tied the ends of the string together. As you can see, not much dye penetrated the inside of the cloth, but the edges have a nice honeycomb effect. Debby says that a thicker piece of rope is more effective, so I’ll try that next time.

Above – I pleated the cloth in concertina folds and then wrapped several rubber bands around it. Again, the edges look nice, but not much dye penetrated the inside. Perhaps fewer rubber bands would leave more space for the dye to soak between. Or irregular pleats that expose more cloth to the dye.

This was the most time-consuming sample I did. I marked out a grid of pencil dots on the cloth, then pinched the cloth at each point and tied a thread around it. This was a bit fiddly – but it was even more fiddly trying to remove the thread without cutting into the cloth after dyeing. I was wearing latex gloves when handling the dyed cloth to try to avoid turning my hands blue – but it was impossible to wear gloves while removing the thread!

However, I think the results are worth it. I really like the creases and pinched tips that remain in the fabric even when it’s dry, though I suppose they could be ironed out. They remind me of shells on a beach.

Finally, my least successful experiment – I did this in a hurry at the end of class! I folded  the cloth diagonally into eighths and clamped it – but the indigo dyed pretty much only the outside (and didn’t even get through to the other side of the cloth). I guess it might make an interesting flag!

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