Have you noticed the recent obsession with indigo? It seems like everywhere I look there's another fabric dyed with indigo but I must confess, I'm totally hopping on this bandwagon. I'm loving all the indigo and shibori springing up everywhere and I've been wanting to try my hand at this gorgeous plant-based blue.
In my natural dye workshop I learned that indigo is one of the heirloom primary dye colors--it's the original source of plant dye for the color blue. So I think this makes its recent resurgence even more exciting--the quintessential old becomes new. I'm a lightweight when anything historic is made contemporary and relevant so this one won me over quickly.
My kind friend, Kathryn Clark, recently hosted an indigo dye party for a gathering of local fiber artists and textile lovers. She did all the heavy lifting by preparing the dye vats, organizing the shibori dye tools like rubber bands, thread, sticks, and stones, and also offering a smattering of natural fabrics for dyeing. This was my first time dyeing with indigo and it was So Much Fun. (I couldn't resist, that just required all caps. Forgive me.)
The more I work with plant-based dyes the more I realize that all the little nuances add up to very drastic results. Not just the nuances from plant-to-plant or dye vat to dye vat but also the mordants, pre-soaks, types of fibers, length of the soak time, temperature, and the list goes on.
This time I worked mostly with cotton and linen fabrics and experimented primarily with folds and threads to make my dye patterns. Of course, I've far from mastered the shibori techniques (for those of you wondering about shibori they say that tie dye is shibori's bastard cousin) but it's exciting to see what dramatic patterns you can create with just a few folds and some tightly bound thread. The possibilities are truly limitless.
I'm also still experimenting with one of the biggest challenges to natural dyes--colorfastness and lightfastness. Unlike their chemical counterparts, natural dyes don't "set" the same way as chemical dyes, even with mordants and pre-soaking and using otherwise "ideal" dye conditions, so the color can continue to fade. I'm still learning just how much fading to expect from the deep saturated colors of the wet fabric to the dry fabric several weeks (or months) after the dye is complete.
So, like any creative practice, it's a work-in-progress. I'm happy with that. I'm also happy with the stack of indigo dyed fabric resting on the side of my desk. It's sitting there reciting poetry about all the creations that are yet to come. And as you know, I'm also a lightweight for poetry. You might say it was my first true love.