Creative customers

When I first started doing indigo shibori I made quite a lot of fat quarters. However, since I started upcycling scarves and other garments I don’t make so many. I have limited time, and a hand-stitched and hand dyed shibori piece takes quite a lot of time to stitch (and unstitch!). This makes it look expensive compared with all the printed fat quarters out there.

So I was thrilled to receive some photos from Jane, a quilter who had bought some of my fat quarters, showing the end result.

Images: Jane Thompson

Not all the indigo work is mine – she made some of her own fat quarters (very talented!). I think you’ll agree that the overall result is stunning.

It also prompted me to go and dig out some other photos sent by creative customers. A couple of custom orders via Etsy resulted in a shibori blind and a shibori footstool.

Image: Jessica Jackson
Image: Jonathon Taylor

Then at thread 2016 at Farnham Maltings a visitor mused about the possibility of cutting up a linen shibori pillowcase to cover a lampshade she had just bought. I offered instead to make her a custom piece of fabric – this was the result.

Image: Siri Williams

Finally, of course, there was the amazing wedding dress where I provided the ecoprinted fabric and the bride’s mother made the dress.

Photo: The Kitcheners

Isn’t it wonderful seeing what other creative people do with your work!

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Safflower dyeing with Kazuki Yamakazi

Safflower is an interesting dye because it contains both red and yellow dyes so, depending on the fabric and pH, it produces different colours. Apparently it takes 400 square metres of safflower plants to produce 1kg of petals.

There’s a section on safflower dyeing in Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color, which explains the methodology. ESP and I tried this out last year, using a pack of dried safflower we bought in Malaysia, but it wasn’t very successful.

So ESP was dispatched to this workshop at 10iss to find out how it should be done!

Dr Yamazaki of Kusaki-Kobo Dye Studio is descended from three generations of natural dyers and researchers in Japan. He started teaching and creating artwork with natural dyes in 1985 and has since been active in research and education of natural dyes in Japan and abroad.

Here’s a sample of the master dyers’ range of colours, including safflower, on very fine Japanese silk – how gorgeous are they?

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First the safflower petals are soaked overnight, squeezed, strained and removed. This dye turns alum-mordanted fabric yellow (better on silk than on cotton).

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The petals are washed to remove the yellow and soaked in an alkaline solution for two hours to extract the red dye. After straining and before adding the fabric, citric acid is added to neutralise the dye bath. Distinctive small bubbles form at this stage.

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If too much acid is added the red dye will start to precipitate out – sometimes this is done deliberately to extract the dye to use in cosmetics.

Silk added to this dye turns orange, while cotton turns red or dark pink.

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The difference in colour is because the red dye also contains a second yellow dye, which is absorbed by silk but not cotton. You can see in the photo below that the silk (top row) is more orange than the red cotton below.

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To get pink silk, you need to use cotton as a “dye bank” to absorb just the red dye and then extract it. At around pH4 the dye is locked into the cotton. If you then put the cotton into a bath of pH6-7 the dye is released from the cotton. Squeeze out the cotton and remove it from the dye bath before adding more citric acid. Then add the silk – you get bright pink!

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Japanese dyers might repeat the entire process six times to get intense colours into the dye bank.

The process doesn’t work well with wool, despite the fact that it is a protein fibre like silk. This is because wool needs to be heated to more than 30C to open the scales, but the pigment begins to break down at 30C, so you just get a pale pink.

Shibori workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom

One of the pre-symposium workshops I did last November at 10iss was a folding workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom. I signed up mainly because she was covering katano shibori, but I came away with many more ideas and inspiration.

Ana Lisa hedstrom

Katano shibori, named after Motohiko Katano, is a process of stitching through several layers of fabric and not pulling the thread up afterwards. Instead, the lines of stitching channel the dye, producing softer marks that look as if they are airbrushed. There is a more detailed explanation of the technique in Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, along with some stunning examples. The World Shibori Network sells some sets of Katano postcards. Ana Lisa brought some lovely samples with her.

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I had a go at katano shibori a few months ago but it didn’t go very well and I wasn’t very happy with the result. Partly this was because I tried to pull all the threads up. I also found it very difficult to stitch through so many layers of fabric.

Here’s the piece I tried by myself, on cotton dyed with indigo:

katano shibori

And here’s the piece I did in the workshop, on silk noil dyed with cochineal and then overdyed with indigo:

katano shibori

All the dyes used in the workshop were natural – we ground our own cochineal, and the indigo vat was made using limestone and local fruit, so smelled lovely!

dyeing with cochineal

One of the other techniques we explored was machine stitch shibori. This was a bit challenging because we had only one sewing machine among 16 participants, but with patience and a rota we all managed a go. As with katano shibori, you stitch through several layers of fabric at the same time.

Ana Lisa had brought plenty of samples that inspired us, especially where more than one colour was used.

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This was my first attempt, dyed with cochineal. The stitch lines are not very obvious in real life, and are barely visible in the photo.

machine stitch shibori

This was a better attempt on a wool and silk scarf, dyed with cochineal and then indigo. Red cabbage anyone? 🙂

machine stitch shibori

We also used the sewing machine to stitch pleats in different directions before dyeing – this is the result of mine after dyeing in indigo and unpicking.

machine stitch shibori

Just as an experiment I tried stitching through similar folds by hand. The result on some fine habotai silk was very subtle – with more folds or a thicker fabric the marks might have been more obvious.

stitch shibori

And this was one of the main points of the workshop – know your fabric! Ana Lisa was very keen to emphasise the importance of learning how different fabrics behave and knowing which one to use for which technique.

We also did some traditional itajime, or clamping, shibori, but this was limited compared with the specialist itajime shibori workshop with Elsa Chartin going on next door. ESP, who also attended the symposium (having never done any shibori or dyeing before!) gamely attended this and produced some very impressive samples using vat dyes. He even dyed a T-shirt (which he hasn’t worn yet!). 😉

sekka shibori

Ana Lisa Hedstrom is a great teacher. If you can’t get to any of her workshops, she also sells DVDs on itajime, stitch and arashi shibori.

More homegrown indigo

I’ve now got a good crop of flowers on my Japanese indigo, but before they all started developing I did another harvest of the leaves – almost 200g in all.

fresh indigo leaves

Unlike last time, I didn’t do any aqualeaf indigo, as I wanted to see if I could get a stronger colour with the reduced indigo, so I needed every leaf I could get! 🙂

This time I overdyed a linen top that I had previously ecoprinted with peony leaves. It felt a little too minimal, so I thought that a pale indigo background might lift it a bit.

ecoprint linen top white

I dipped the top three times, leaving it to oxidise in between. The result was slightly darker than last time, but still quite pale and delicate.

indigo dyed ecoprint linen top

I’m drying the flowers to get seed for next year’s crop, but I’m also going to see if any of the plants survive the winter in my London garden. They are still growing – but it has been a very mild autumn so far. I’ll have to see what happens when the frosts arrive!

Dyeing with home-grown indigo

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Back in April I planted some seeds of Japanese indigo, or Persicaria tinctoria.

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They germinated pretty quickly – within a few days.

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In mid-May we had a warm spell, so I planted them out. They like to be kept well watered, but as we had such a wet spring, luckily I didn’t need to do much watering!

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I will leave a couple of plants to flower so that I can gather seeds for next year, but apparently once they start to flower the leaves won’t give any colour. So I’ve been torn between picking them and wondering whether I have enough to dye with! 🙂

This week I couldn’t take the suspense any more and decided to cut back some of the larger plants (apparently they will form new shoots, so this won’t harm them). This gave me around 100g of leaves.

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Following the instructions by Isabella Whitworth and Christina Chisholm in the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, I tried two methods of dyeing with them.

First I used half the leaves to produce aqualeaf blue, a method which they credit to Jenny Balfour-Paul and Lucy Goffin. This involves soaking the leaves in iced water before blending them and straining out the vegetable matter. Then you add  your silk or wool for 3-5 minutes. No alkali, no reducing agent – just neat indigo!

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This method gave a beautiful delicate shade of turquoise on silk. If I’d had more leaves I could have blitzed some more and done another dip, but I rather like this colour.

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On wool it was less successful, giving only a faint tinge of blueish green.

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I then added the leftover liquid and the blitzed leaves to a pot containing the rest of the whole leaves and cold water. In hindsight, adding the blitzed leaves was a mistake, because all the little bits of leaves got caught up in the wool later (as you will see!). Live and learn. 🙂

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After heating it slowly for a couple of hours to 60°C I strained out the leaves, added some washing soda and whisked it. When the froth was all green, I reheated it and added some reducing agent. Once the dye was reduced I added some silk and wool.

The silk was very pale again, more blue than turquoise, despite four dips. Obviously I need to pick more indigo leaves next time!

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But the wool turned a strange shade of green. This is the shade I often see when I first remove items from an indigo vat, but it turns blue on exposure to the air. In this case the colour didn’t change – it just stayed green. The spots are the bits of ground up leaf from the aqualeaf indigo which have got caught up in it. 🙂

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Hopefully there is enough growing season left for me to get another, bigger harvest to try again before the end of the year!