Summer school report

The full summer school ran for five days, but I could only attend three, as I had to get back to London to pack up my Morley exhibition on Friday morning. So it was pretty intensive, and I ended up stitching frantically at my godmother’s house in the evenings as well!

The first day we made up the vat in the greenhouse and then returned to the studio, where we were introduced to the infamous Cally knot, which is very quick to do and a great way to avoid your thread slipping through the fabric when you pull up! We worked on binding, using mung beans and bits of tubing, and stitching. Cally’s stencils came in very handy here. As I’ve previously stitched circles, I had a go at the chain pattern.

We didn’t actually start dipping until the second day. Cally leaves pieces to oxidise much longer between dips than I have been used to – ideally until they dry out completely, or at least for several hours, turning them regularly. However, in a workshop this is clearly not possible, so we usually left them for 15-30 minutes, or overnight. Then after several dips, she leaves the work to dry completely before washing out. Then it dries again before you untie or unbind. Of course, it can be frustrating when you just want to see the final results, but she says that this process makes the indigo more fast and gives a better depth and evenness of colour.

On the second day we moved onto itajime and I also wrapped a stitched piece I’d done on an arashi pole. So it wasn’t until the third day that we started actually seeing the results of our labours. It was a real shame I had to leave early, as I felt I was just getting into my stride – but I certainly left buzzing with ideas for combining different techniques and fabrics!

It also meant that my godmother never got to see any of the finished pieces, as I returned to London directly after the course on Thursday! So Maria – this post is specially for you. 🙂

This is my attempt at a stitched chain pattern – not a patch on the beautiful version that Cally had on display (see last post).

I also made a piece by stitching straight lines, pulling up, then wrapping it around an arashi pole:


On the third day I experimented with pleating the fabric before wrapping it on the arashi pole. The results from this were probably my favourites, and this is something I want to explore further at home, possibly in combination with stitching. However, I will need a deeper vat!

As the day went on, the washing line gradually filled with more and more interesting pieces – here are some lovely stitched pieces by Isabelle (centre) and Marilyn (right), and a clamped piece by Jennifer (left) that she described as “a kitchen floor”!

And a great piece by Marilyn (below) combining itajime and stitch on silk muslin:

Marilyn makes wedding dresses for her day job and brought with her a whole box of silk offcuts. Some of these were in different colours, and it was very interesting to see how the indigo dyed these. By using different resists, such as plastic, and dipping into the different strength vats, she achieved some interesting effects. You can see a piece of fuschia silk that she dyed using binding and stitch in the photo below:

I also have to mention the food, which was plentiful and tasty, especially the afternoon cakes. And of course, it was served on a shibori tablecloth – even the plates fit the colour scheme!

Finally – my godmother’s front garden. It’s not blue and white, but it does contain some beautiful forms and colour combinations!

Getting solid colour with indigo

I admit my heart sank when I saw that one of the things we were supposed to do for the second lesson of my online indigo workshop with Shibori Girl (Glennis Dolce) was dye a large piece of fabric a solid colour. I’ve tried this before, and  ended up instead with a lovely pattern, which wasn’t what I wanted!

But now I know that’s because I did practically everything wrong. I didn’t wet the fabric before putting it in the vat, and I just left it submerged for 10 minutes without working it beneath the surface. To minimise air pockets, you’re supposed to lower it carefully into the vat from one end, then keep squeezing and smoothing it while it’s in the vat.

At Morley College we are told always to put the lid on the vat to prevent it deranging. Although Glennis gives advice like squeezing the fabric out below the surface to minimise oxidation, she feels that it is important to keep that vat open while dyeing so that you can help the indigo penetrate the fabric properly.

I guess with your own vat you know how much you are working with it and how much exposure it has had. With a shared vat everyone could be sloshing items around and it would derange very quickly.

Anyway, following Glennis’s instructions, it was much easier to get a uniform colour across the whole piece.

The fabric on the left and in the centre is a light cotton calico, while the fabric on the right is a cotton/linen mix, which came out a brighter blue and much less grey.

Then I had a go at making a “sky piece”, so called because it resembles clouds in the sky. You wet the fabric, crumple it up and tie with string or rubber bands. After each dip, let it oxidise, rinse, then tie and dip again until you’re happy with the result. I did three dips altogether:

Sorry – I clearly didn’t manage to peg them in the same orientation each time!

Finally, I had a go at itajime, folding some very light cotton muslin and clamping it beween a couple of CDs. The sheerness of the fabric and the sunshine (yay!) made this quite tricky to photograph, but you get the idea!

The little blue circles in the middle of the CD didn’t really come out in the central part of the cloth, because that’s the area that was in the middle of the folds where the indigo didn’t penetrate. I used a syringe to make sure it penetrated around the edges; if the syringe had a needle I could have properly injected  it into the cloth!